Astronomy Project – Day 1

This is kind of a long story, but stick with me, because I’m excited about it.


Earlier this year, I set a goal for myself to learn Python. I started on learning, but I didn’t really have any practical application for what I was doing.

Rising Action

I’ve always enjoyed astronomy, looking at the stars and planets, and more recently, trying to take pictures of them in my back yard.

I’m planning on buying a telescope in the near future, and part of that is going to include a simple motor to make sure I can aim it accurately and efficiently.

I’m also starting a master’s class in a couple weeks at MSU which is focusing on the maker culture idea and its implications in the classroom. Rather than purchasing a textbook for the course, we’ve been asked to buy a Raspberry Pi, Makey Makey, Squishy Circuits Kit, or a LittleBits kit.

And that’s when I had my stroke of insight. (I won’t be presumptuous and say genius. Yet.)

My project this fall is going to be going back and actually learning Python to create a program on the Raspberry Pi which can be used to control my telescope.

After doing some searching, I even found a Python library, PyEphem, which is a database of astronomical data put together (in part) by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Those are the guys that landed Curiosity on Mars. They know what they’re doing.

I know this is going to be a crazy six weeks of learning, working, and applying that to the classroom. While working full time. And raising my daughter.

Bring it on.

The Conflict

I’ve already started by looking back at the Python I’d already learned to see if I could begin to tap into what I’ve already found. I’ve got a public Github repository to hold all of the code as I write. Right now, it’s five lines of code that allow you to pick a planet and a date (even a future date…awesome) and it will tell you which constellation the planet appears in.

If you’ve got experience with Python, I’d really love to have your input as I go through the process.

I’m not expecting to have this totally done by the end of the semester, but I know I’m going to be learning a ton that I’ll be able to take back to the classroom someday.

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