How does one go about popularizing astronomy?

To individuals already interested in space, astronomy is fascinating. But for many people, astronomy does not hold any immediate appeal. One reason for this lack of general interest is that many perceive astronomy to be inaccessible. To be familiar with the subject requires expertise that not everyone has. Brian Fulda, who we interview here, is passionate about making astronomy more accessible to everyday people. To that end, he recently established a website called Astronomy For Anyone. We ask Brian how he came to be interested in astronomy and what he is doing with his website.

How did you become interested in astronomy?

As a kid, I had a mild fascination with astronomy, mostly through my dad. When I was around 10, we took a family trip to the Grand Canyon. One night, my dad, my grandfather, and I all went to sit on the rim of the Grand Canyon for some stargazing. Having grown up on the light-polluted east coast, it was the first time I saw the Milky Way. I’ll never forget that experience. My dad noticed two bright orbs faintly glowing close together on the horizon. The three of us sat there for a minute or so trying to figure out what they were. Finally, we turned on the flashlight, only to find a mule deer’s eyes glaring back at us from about 20 feet away.

Despite all of that great exposure to astronomy at a young age, it wasn’t until 2014 that I truly got into the hobby. My roommate at the time asked if I wanted to go see this new movie Interstellar on opening night in IMAX, so we bought tickets. The night before the movie, I stumbled on a Business Insider article explaining how some of the physics phenomena in the film were based on real theories. I saw the movie, was blown away, and instantly became hooked trying to absorb as much astronomy knowledge as I could. Since then, I’ve read about a dozen astronomy books, bought a telescope, picked up astrophotography, and launched Astronomy For Anyone. It’s become my biggest passion.

What drove you to start Astronomy For Anyone?

I created Astronomy For Anyone (AFA for short) because I wanted to connect more of the general population to the hobby of astronomy. When I was looking to buy my first telescope, it took me about six months of near-daily research to figure out which one would be best for my wants and needs. I went down an internet rabbit hole of astronomy-jargon-filled articles, convoluted forum threads, and websites that looked like they hadn’t been updated since 1997. Although I finally settled on a telescope, I thought to myself: “There has to be a better way.”

I soon realized that was just the tip of the iceberg. Most people don’t realize that they likely live within an hour’s drive of a public observatory, that taking astrophotographs of deep space objects is possible with even a modest setup, or that they can observe the planets even in a light-polluted city, among a million other things. It was this disconnect between the general public and astronomy that inspired me to create AFA. So, I created all of the features I wish I had when I was first looking to get into the hobby that I’d never seen before. Some of those resources include a telescope buying quiz that recommends an actual telescope tailored for your needs and budget, a map of dark sky sites and observatories near you, and a glossary of astronomical terms. I want to make astronomy as accessible as possible, no matter what your budget or background knowledge is.

What role do you think astronomy plays in society?

Astronomy plays a much more important role in society than I think people realize. I often hear people argue that astronomy and space exploration are a waste of money and a lost cause. Obviously, I take great issue with that because I believe both astronomy and space exploration are helping us answer some of the most difficult questions asked by society, like “How did we get here?” and “Are we alone in the universe?” Even if you don’t believe those questions are important, astronomy and space exploration have played huge roles in technological advancements that have major impacts on everyday life. Without astronomy and space exploration, we wouldn’t have GPS, accurate clocks and calendars, X-ray machines, and many other inventions. The combination of answering humanity’s greatest questions and producing technological advancements is a win-win for society in my book.