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Are Amateurs leaving astronomy hobby?

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#1 Guilherme1

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 12:28 PM

Hi,
I don't know if this the best seccion to place this post. But que question is the following. I'm counting on your answers...
In my Country, Portugal (at the West of Spain), the number of amateur astronmers is reducing incredibly. Sure, the very few remaining are more specialised, and better equipped, and the majority of them makes stunning astrophotography. But the number of amateur astronomers is about 1/10 of the number it was circa 1990-1998.
Also in Librarys, where it was usual to see more then 50 different book titles in amateur astronomy books of all types and for all levels, now we hardly see more than 3 or 4 books. Also the number of persons participating in Astrofests, Astromeetings, etc, is also less than 1/8 it was in 1990-1998. It seems more and more people do not get interested in Astronomy as amateurs or observers, or even pure visual observers.
Do you see the same at your countries or States?
Regards
Guilherme de Almeida

#2 rdandrea

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 12:44 PM

I don't know that they're leaving so much as dying off. We live in an iPhone world now. Galilean tools don't hold the same fascination among the young as they once did.

#3 Binojunky

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 01:08 PM

Certainly at the yearly star party I go to they seem to get less and older to boot,a combination of widespread light pollution and no great space project like Apollo to get the imagination going,DA.

#4 BigC

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 01:17 PM

Amateur radio has the same problem.The younger people have a much wider choice of passive entertainment.And people today want to be enterained.Since the backyard scope can't give a Hbble view,many are terribly disappointed.

I have no answers.

#5 nicknacknock

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 01:39 PM

I think people today are less interested in investing the time this hobby requires.

Consider how much time we devote to reading on astronomy related matters and how we prefer to invest our time losing sleep to view / image the skies, resulting in sleep deprivation and tiredness the next day or two.

For me, this is an acceptable trade-off and I love the hobby, but younger people have a lower attention span now and are after instant gratification. So, fewer people decide to get their first scope / work at improving their skills / invest valuable funds in equipment.

Sad but true. I have a friend that worked in an astronomy shop for 3 years and left 2 years ago. He personally sold more than 600 scopes in that time. Suffice to say that only a dozen or so of those come out to observe. I guess the rest keep their scopes as decorative ornaments or stored in a shed / garage or threw them away.

This however although saddens me, does not deter me from going out and observing. I guess my curiosity about the universe is such that keeps my thirst for viewing going...

#6 svdwal

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 01:48 PM

Could this be related to the economic situation in Portugal? People having different things on their mind? I agree with the observation on the availability of astronomy books, but then, while there were lots of books being published, how many of them were actually being sold?

Regarding the iPhone generation, younger folk are oranizimg things differently. There were how many people interested in examining the Galaxy Zoo images? 150.000 according to Galaxy Zoo themselves, which is a huge number.

#7 jimbo728

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 01:55 PM

Perhaps a scope system with an entertainment option, use your imagination, would attract them.
It is sad that the worldly technology occupies the mind space previously occupied by curiosity.
Jim

#8 Niels2011

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 01:59 PM

In the UK there has been some increased interest in the last few years because of Brian Cox's tv programmes, including an annual live event over three nights 'Stargazing Live' on the BBC - coming up next week, check it out on BBC iplayer. I don't know about star parties because I haven't been able to go to any.
Regards
Niels

#9 JayinUT

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 02:10 PM

I believe there is a decline. I hope someone can give me data to show me I'm wrong but I recall that in S&T there have been articles there and in Astronomy on getting the younger generation involved as the hobby grays and people drop out of active participation due to the decline of age. Then again, I truly hope as I age down the road that I still can use some form of a telescope and binoculars to enjoy the night sky.

I'll also state that I think many people observe either alone or in a small group that have not affiliation with a group or club. Thus numbers at a club or an outreach event may appear to be less, but in truth, you may have people involved in the hobby that are "lone wolfs" or "lone wolf packs" in groups of two to five. Many times they have no club afflication or if they do, they don't attend. They have time for what they want out of the hobby and that is what they do. That happens a lot more than I think. Thus numbers may be higher then one things, just because of this. I know i observe with a close group of friends/fellow observers and though we invite all to come, it is usually the same two to four people that show up. Of late it has been me alone in the field due to others being busy with other things.

So yes, I think that the overall number of amateurs is decreasing as those who are older and turning elderly and just don't go out anymore or very rarely. They are in a club for the socialization with old friends and there is nothing wrong with that. However, the decline comes because not enough of the young generation are getting involved. Or if they do get involved, they struggle with what they want to do and the amount of support they need is often not available to them. To be successful and stay with the hobby, you have to be stubborn, determined, and patient. Then again, look at the active membership of this site and you may gain a better idea of how the hobby works. Seems some come and go quickly. Seems some come and stay for several years and then fade. Then some come and go and stay. Probably the same for most hobbies I would imagine.

#10 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 02:43 PM

I think the hobby is strong and probably growing. But the internet has made a major impact, magazines are struggling, books have been replaced by websites, clubs have been superceded by forums.

I think the modern, young astronomers are there but they are doing it differently...

Jon

#11 Westseen

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 02:55 PM

The unemployement rate in Portugal has trended from 7.8% in Jan of 2008 to 15.3% and only recently (since 2013) trended down.

source:
http://www.tradingec...employment-rate

So if people are truly leaving astronomy in Portugal this may be a key variable.

With the dawn of the internet a decrease in library variety would make sense (because of decreased use), this is conjecture... I did not find data to support or refute this in the US. Though I am sure there is data some where...

#12 Astrojensen

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 03:13 PM

I think the hobby is strong and probably growing. But the internet has made a major impact, magazines are struggling, books have been replaced by websites, clubs have been superceded by forums.

I think the modern, young astronomers are there but they are doing it differently...



This is spot on, I think. I, for one, am doing it differently. I am 37, but I don't belong to a club, for example. In my case, not because I don't want to, but because I live on a remote island and there is no club here!

Anyway. I am a member of a Danish national astronomy forum and here we see a large membership increase from year to year. And also from lots of younger people, age 15 - 30. And there's at least four Danish telescope dealers (in a country of 5.2 million!) and they are doing well! Scopes are sold by the hundreds! Alas, only a few of them will ever get into the hands of really productive amateurs, but there's certainly a lot of "lurkers" out there, who are stargazing casually, more or less actively, but rarely or never participating on the fora and therefore remains invisible.

Astronomy as a hobby has probably never been as popular in Denmark as it is now, in terms of numbers of observers, but we used to have more amateurs who observed scientifically. Those we do have, who do contribute to science, however, are at the very cutting edge of amateur science, doing advanced spectroscopy, photometry and planetary imaging and even working with ATM-made adaptive optics for near-diffraction limited deep-sky imaging!

Astronomy in Denmark is very much alive and well, despite light pollution and horrible weather. And much of that is thanks to modern social media, like internet and various fora.


Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark

#13 Feidb

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 03:18 PM

I think it waxes and wanes to tell the truth. Over the decades (I've been at it for 48 years now, as of last month), I've seen it go up and down. There used to be a lot more visual observers, those that looked through eyepieces and those that took notes and sketched. Then when the big equipment boom took over in the 80's and 90's, astrophotography took over to the point where every time I met an newbie (someone interested in the hobby) they automatically assumed the goal of EVERY amateur astronomer was to take photos, period. Today, though there is still a minor group of amateurs dedicated to visual observing, I think the hobby, at least to the general public, is dominated by astrophotography. You go onto any web site, post a pretty photo and get a thousand hits in an instant. However, you post an article with a drawing and get twenty hits. I can give specific examples.

That gets to the other side of the coin, cost. To get those pretty pictures, you need to spend a big chunk of money. Then there is the instant gratification most kids of the app generation expect. To even have that kind of money and have to sit for minutes to hours and go through the hassle to take one of those pretty pictures when they could be out ATVing or doing some other right-now hobby, see what I'm saying?

Those of us old enough to have grown into this hobby are aging with it and not a lot of "replacements" are coming along. This has always been a niche hobby to begin with, not exactly up there with the popular hobbies. It will never go away, but it will never set the world on fire either. In the small towns it will be relegated to individuals, while the actual clubs will be isolated to larger cities with enough people to make them viable.

I may be generalizing some, but see my point? To most people that enter the hobby, it's a passing interest and not a lifelong passion. That is probably why you're seeing so many dropouts. For you, it seems to be a lifelong passion. Some of those dropouts may show back up one day, but don't hold your breath. I never have. I'm still surprised when a young person shows interest. I'm even more surprised and pleased when they show particular interest in visual observing. They're out there.

I'm also grateful to the AP crowd because they keep the hobby alive. Plus I like looking at those photos too. I just have no interest in doing that myself.

Oh, and don't feel alone. Here in the states, it's the same way. People come and go. We have a fairly large club here in Las Vegas. Outside of the core group, we get a lot of members that come and go. Membership is always in flux. I can say the same for several clubs I know about around the country from friends I'm in contact with. I can imagine it's the same with any club including my writer's group.

#14 johntrob

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 03:30 PM

From my view of the Grey side -
I am sure there are others in the same boat as I am.
As I approach retirement there is more time (and some money) to invest in astronomy. Maybe not as much energy but more time to apply.

#15 Astrojensen

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 03:36 PM

I'm even more surprised and pleased when they show particular interest in visual observing. They're out there.


Oh yes. A lot of the newbies on astro-forum.dk wants to take pictures. I know very little about that, but many of the imagers are happy to chime in, so I let them guide the new guy. Once in a while, someone with an interest solely in visual observing shows up. Then I am there as soon as I see the thread, offering advice. I am getting pretty well known in Denmark as a visual observer, so people do seek my advice now and point others to me, when they ask for guidance and insight about this or that related to visual observing. I am trying to keep the candle lit and do what little I can. We are not many purely visual observers on astro-forum, but we do have a nice comradeship and some very skilled and knowledgeable observers of all ages.


Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark

#16 Niels2011

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 03:40 PM

I think the hobby is strong and probably growing. But the internet has made a major impact, magazines are struggling, books have been replaced by websites, clubs have been superceded by forums.

I think the modern, young astronomers are there but they are doing it differently...



This is spot on, I think. I, for one, am doing it differently. I am 37, but I don't belong to a club, for example. In my case, not because I don't want to, but because I live on a remote island and there is no club here!

Anyway. I am a member of a Danish national astronomy forum and here we see a large membership increase from year to year. And also from lots of younger people, age 15 - 30. And there's at least four Danish telescope dealers (in a country of 5.2 million!) and they are doing well! Scopes are sold by the hundreds! Alas, only a few of them will ever get into the hands of really productive amateurs, but there's certainly a lot of "lurkers" out there, who are stargazing casually, more or less actively, but rarely or never participating on the fora and therefore remains invisible.

Astronomy as a hobby has probably never been as popular in Denmark as it is now, in terms of numbers of observers, but we used to have more amateurs who observed scientifically. Those we do have, who do contribute to science, however, are at the very cutting edge of amateur science, doing advanced spectroscopy, photometry and planetary imaging and even working with ATM-made adaptive optics for near-diffraction limited deep-sky imaging!

Astronomy in Denmark is very much alive and well, despite light pollution and horrible weather. And much of that is thanks to modern social media, like internet and various fora.


Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark

That's good to hear. My impression also is of a vibrant scene on the web forums and a lot of activity in the clubs local to me. I'm 43, not sure if that's young anymore, and I am also mainly a lone observer and internet clubber - that's partly because of having young children. One (non-virtual) club I do go to is a university club, with mainly undergraduates, so they're all young and keen. There's also some media attention, for example we have several dark sky parks in the uk set up in the last few years and these always get mainstream media attention, and the organisation of a dark sky park takes mainstream political effort - so it feels to me like things are growing. Interesting discussion though, and maybe things are changing in flavour and format.
Regards,
Niels

#17 BrooksObs

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 04:09 PM

Without question, ALL traditional hobbies formerly popular among Americans have been in dramatic decline over the past two decades. This is obvious to anyone who has been around in the hobby circuit for a number of years. Granted, society today has moved in an entirely different direction from that of a generation or two ago, but even so the change in our hobby has been striking.

Not only has there been a decline in participation, but the make-up of the hobbyists themselves and their interests/goals have radically altered. If one goes back to the days of the early Space Age, clubs abounded in youthful membership and these were 95% active observers, too. Skies, even in fairly urban areas, were much darker compared to today and locally held star parties and group outings brought out large numbers of actual hobbyists. Likewise, various formal groups existed for the purpose of gathering scienfically worthwhile data, while the hobby's premier magazine had follow-up articles addressing eclipses, occultation, transits, etc. where volumes of reader submitted data was examined and important conclusions drawn.

Today nearly all of the above are history. The vast percentage of what remain of the hobby's participants seems to me to simply be occasional star gazers, instrument collectors, or armchair folks, the serious observers having become but a small and rapidly dwindling segment now. To be sure, there are plenty of scope's around today, many that hobbyists of 30 or more years ago would have killed for to use in unique observing programs. But these scopes seem to spend 99% of the time gathering dust rather than starlight. Astronomy clubs have few truly active participants and most are composed of middle-aged and older members. Many are kept afloat by only just a couple of enthusiastic members without whom the club would collapse.

It disturbed me to read our colleague from Portugal indicates the rapid collapse of the hobby over there as well, although I appreciate the financial difficulties his country is experiencing. In recent years I saw traditional observational astronomy become clearly the province of European amateurs, the way it used to be over here. But to learn that they are perhaps now also beginning to encounter difficulties troubles me concerning any future for our hobby anywhere.

BrooksObs

#18 Astrojensen

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 04:27 PM

these scopes seem to spend 99% of the time gathering dust rather than starlight.



So do mine! But that is because of the weather! :bawling:


Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark

#19 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 04:41 PM

Without question, ALL traditional hobbies formerly popular among Americans have been in dramatic decline over the past two decades. This is obvious to anyone who has been around in the hobby circuit for a number of years.


The hobby circuit has changed, it's just that simple. Astronomers meet on the web. People like Rod Mollise, David Knisely, Don Pensack, Alan French, Ed Zarenski, Roland Christen, they serve as mentors for thousands of astronomers.

As urban skies became light polluted, the amateur observer took the road and found not only darker skies but innovative designs that made compact scope possible and scopes larger than anyone had previously imagined became relatively common.

Today's equipment is of better quality and more affordable than that available 30 or 50 years ago. 50 years ago, San Diego was a city of 600,000 people. I doubt very much that anyone was observing the Veil from their San Diego backyard. Today, because of improvements in equipment, it is possible..

When I hear the suggestion that this hobby is declining, I say to myself, well somebody is buying all those telescope and there are sure more scopes being sold today than 30 or 50 years ago..

Jon

#20 David Pavlich

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 04:55 PM

I've been somewhat encouraged by the attendance at our NorthShore Observer's Group meetings of late (part of the Pontchartrain Astronomy Society). While the majority of the attendees are salt and pepper bearded guys like Jon and I :grin:, we're seeing some younger participation. I hope this trend continues!

There is certainly some drop off due to the sluggish economy, but with the good work of guys like Jim (Skylook 123) that really work hard at the outreach side of our hobby, it should continue to grow, albeit painfully slow. The equipment prices and quality are such that even a modest budget can bring terrific nights of viewing to the curious.

David

#21 TheObserver

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 05:37 PM

i think it's true. there's more people retiring than joining the hobby. how do i know I'll share with you my story
I am relatively young compare to most observers, well at least in the club am in. i had love for astronomy at an early age but i think that's due to the fact i was born in area so dark i can see the milky way with naked eye miss those days :bawling: :bawling:. but usually when we host public session and we do that twice a week from March all the way to late October early November, we get a lot of people mostly people in there late 30's mid 40's that get excited and want to know more about the hobby. young generation gets really disappointed by what they see as they all expect Hubble images and they end up leaving few minutes late.

#22 Odell

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 06:39 PM

This will probably get me flamed but...

Being 60 years old I don't feel qualified anymore to address why the youth aren't entering the hobby. The experience I have had though may be indicative of us older noobs getting out. I have noticed that when I divulge the fact that I have only two years of experience in the hobby my peers have a tendency to not be quite as helpful. On a few occasions I have been told to figure it out myself because "it's not that hard."

Don't get me wrong it's the exception more than the rule. I donate gear and money to an area club to support the hobby, but one has to pose the question of whether some astronomy clubs have become more of a clique than a freely sharing repository of knowledge. At outreach events I have attended I have yet to see video astronomy in practice. What I do see frequently is wizened geezers posing as Obi Wan Konobi pontificating esoterica over an expensive piece of gear.

My club, personally, is Cloudy Nights and the Yahoo groups specific to the gear I own. I am presently upgrading a CGE and would not have even attempted it were it not for a new found friend that lives a couple of hours south of me. I met this gentleman on a yahoo group. I met another gentleman here on CN that has invited me to accompany him to his dark site property just north of the town in which I live for no other reason then he discovered we lived in the same town.

I not trying to generalize here, but if it weren't for the communities on the internet that I frequent I'd be pretty bereft of resources.

And then there's always the distinct possibility that I am just an old PITA that nobody likes. :grin:

#23 Kraus

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 06:39 PM


The majority of Earthlings would rather be constantly drunk and high on drugs.

I offer no other explanation.

#24 David Pavlich

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 06:45 PM

The majority of Earthlings would rather be constantly drunk and high on drugs.

I offer no other explanation.


I assume that this is meant tongue in cheek. I lived through the late 60's and 70's and even then, this wasn't true.

David

#25 TheObserver

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Posted 04 January 2014 - 06:54 PM


The majority of Earthlings would rather be constantly drunk and high on drugs.

I offer no other explanation.


I assume that this is meant tongue in cheek. I lived through the late 60's and 70's and even then, this wasn't true.

David

i think it's true i invite couple friends and co-workers to go stargazing and they rather go drinking than do that.


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