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FAQ

What is the ASP’s mission?

To increase the understanding and appreciation of astronomy — through the engagement of our many constituencies — to advance science and science literacy.

Who does the ASP serve?

The ASP directly serves diverse education and public outreach audiences through its formal (K-12 classroom) and informal (parks, museums, clubs) programs and workshops. We also serve research astronomers through publications and workshops. We strive to build bridges between professional astronomers, researchers, teachers, amateur astronomers and the public. We foster scientific curiosity, science literacy and the joy of exploration & discovery through astronomy — to connect, educate and inspire the science, technology and academic leaders of today and tomorrow.

Why does the ASP have “Pacific” in its name if it’s an international organization?

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific outgrew its name a long time ago, however we were founded on the Pacific coast of the U.S. in 1889, and, at the time, focused on providing a meeting and publishing venue for Pacific coast astronomers. Over the past 125 years we have grown into an international organization that continues to welcome members from all continents. Over the years, people have suggested we change our name to reflect our extensive programmatic footprint. However, so many people in astronomical circles know us as the ASP that a name change would not serve us well. Nor have we found a better alternative!

Who supports the ASP?

As a 501c3 nonprofit organization, many people and organizations support the programs and services of the ASP. Our revenue streams are diversified and include membership dues, donations, bequests, grants, AstroShop sales and publication subscriptions. The ASP offers many ways for people to help support science literacy through astronomy.

How do I know my donation will be invested wisely?

The ASP is one of the oldest and most respected nonprofit organizations in the U.S. Our books undergo an external audit every fiscal year, and the finance committee of our board of directors meets six times a year to review the budget and cash flow. When you donate to the ASP, join as a member, purchase a gift membership, buy one of our products or attend our Annual Meeting, funds go directly into ASP programs and services. Donations to the ASP are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Please see our Annual Report for more details.

Whom do I contact if I don’t see an answer to my question on your site?

Our Staff List includes phone numbers and email addresses. Also, if you read about the work of one of our staff members and would like to contact that person, all emails at the society are in the form: first initial of first name plus last name@astrosociety.org (as in aeinstein@astrosociety.org).

I want to be an astronomer. How do I start?

If you want to be a professional astronomer who does scientific research to understand the workings of the universe, you must study physics, mathematics, and astronomy in college/university and then in graduate school. The American Astronomical Society publishes Careers in Astronomy which you might find helpful.

You don’t have to become a professional research astronomer (with a PhD degree) to be part of the astronomical community. Many people become astronomy teachers (requires a master’s degree) or work in a planetarium or other public outreach organization explaining astronomy (often you only need a BA). Others become “amateur astronomers” (hobbyists) who observe with their own telescopes at home, while others join astronomy clubs nearby. Still other find great interest and excitement in the ASP’s Mercury magazine and Astronomy Beat.

Where can I find a local amateur astronomy club or “star party?”

The ASP’s Night Sky Network (managed on behalf of NASA) is a great resource. The Network consists of amateur astronomy clubs that have an interest in sharing their passion for astronomy with schools and the public.

Other useful resources:

Where can I learn more about astronomy?

  • Ask an Astronomer at Lick Observatory (Graduate students and staff members at this California observatory answered selected astronomy questions, particularly from high school students.)
  • Ask an Astronomer for Kids (A site that was run by Caltech’s center for infrared astronomy; it let kids submit questions and read the answers to questions other kids have asked. Does not accept new questions.)
  • Ask the Astronomer (This site, run by astronomer Sten Odenwald, is no longer active, but lists 3001 answers to questions asked in the mid-1990s. They are nicely organized by topic.)
  • Curious about Astronomy (An ask-an-astronomer site run by graduate students and professors of astronomy at Cornell University. Has searchable archives and is still answering new questions.)
  • Ask an Astrophysicist (Questions and answers at NASA’s Laboratory for High-Energy Astrophysics focus on x-ray and gamma-ray astronomy, and such objects as black holes, quasars, and supernovae.)
  • Ask an Astrobiologist (On this site from the National Astrobiology Institute at NASA, astronomer — and former ASP President — David Morrison answers questions about the search for life on other planets, the origin of life on Earth, and many other topics.)
  • Ask an Infrared Astronomer (A site from the California Institute of Technology, with an archive focusing on infrared (heat-ray) astronomy and the discoveries it makes about cool objects in the universe. No longer taking new questions.)
  • Ask the Space Scientist (An archive of questions about the Sun and its interactions with the Earth, answered by astronomer Sten Odenwald. Not accepting new questions.)

I love the astronomy pictures I see in the media or in your publications. Where can I see more really beautiful astronomical images?

There are many sites on the Web where astronomy images are collected and displayed. Just about every observatory and many amateur astronomical photographers have galleries of some images. To get you started, here are a few that are especially broad or well organized:


I am inspired by my interest in astronomy and am thinking about getting a telescope. But there are so many different kinds and the prices vary so much. Where can I get some advice on what kind of telescope to buy?

Buying a first telescope is very much like buying a first car or a first computer. Every owner has an opinion and people rarely agree. So much depends on what you want to use the car/computer/telescope to do and what your budget is! Our best advice is to find an astronomy club near you and attend one of their public events. You’re likely to see a wide variety of telescopes and mounts and can experience first-hand what might work for you. Here are a few places to do some homework: