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link to IYA2009 Special Task Group - Philately
The scientific study of the universe and the objects in it, including stars, planets, nebulae, and galaxies. Astronomy deals with the position, size, motion, composition, energy, and evolution of celestial objects. Astronomers analyze not only visible light but also radio waves, x-rays, and other ranges of radiation that come from sources outside the Earth's atmosphere.
The collecting and/or study of postage stamps, revenue stamps, stamped envelopes, postmarks, postal cards, covers (and similar material relating to postal or fiscal history) as a hobby or an investment. (Astronomy falls under the philatelic umbrella as a topic for specialized study.)
The two disciplines defined above are combined here to present a means of experiencing both within a single framework. The study of astronomy, through the lens of philately, offers a unique portal through which basic concepts and historical timelines can be gleaned, understood and presented in a non-technical manner to young enthusiasts. At the other end of the spectrum, those of a more advanced standing using a variety of tactics and strategies can also pursue the study of astronomy from within the philatelic realm.The interdisciplinary aspects offered through the broad application of the terms "astronomy" and "philately" carries the potential to open vistas that can encompass some very wide panoramas while conversly they can just as easily be refined in focus to the very narrowest of pursuits. Listed below are just some of the possible directions available and there certainly exist even greater possibilities than can be defined within this limited format.
1. Astronomy subjects depicted on stamps cover a wide range of categories such as:
a. Our Solar System including the planets and their satellites, asteroids, comets, meteors & meteorites, eclipses, aurorae and transits.
b. The Stellar System which consists of stars, constellations, the Milky Way, nebulae, galaxies and other deep sky objects.
c. Astronomers, physicists and other persons whose work or research has crossed interdesciplinary boundaries.
d. Instruments, including positional instruments and time keeping. Pre-telescope instruments, planetaria as well as land, air and space based observatories. Probes, landers and remote explorers could also fall within this category.
e. Archeological sites that were used as astronomical observation points, as well as, artifacts with an astronomically related subject and or purpose.
f. Mythological figures that so many of the familiar constellations were modeled after.
2. Nations have used stamps, and other postal devices such as postcards, cancellations etc. to promote their achievements. National pride in well known personalities has generated hundreds of stamps depicting astronomers, from Thales of Miletus c.625-c.547 BC to present day Edwin Hubble 1889-1953 and Clyde Tombaugh 1906-1977, and many more will be depicted in the future.
3. Nations are also proud of their technical achievements and to that end they issue stamps depicting astronomical instruments including, but not limited to, telescopes (both optical and radio) and observatories.
4. The members of and events within our Solar System have long served as very popular subjects for stamp designers the world over. For instance in 1986 the return of Halley's Comet generated stamp issues from most nations of the world. Other comets have been widely depicted. Solar eclipses often generate large numbers of stamps, particularly from those countries lying in the eclipse path.
5. One of the problems facing the topical collector of astronomy stamps is to differentiate between astronomy and space related subjects, and sometimes that delineation is not always clear. Other subjects which produce some overlap, such as meteorology, can produce some indecision. For example should a collector include rainbows which require sunlight, but not all the other necessities of life which would not exist without the sun. The field is ripe for interdisciplinary cross-over.
6. The topic of astronomy on stamps is a large but reasonably well defined theme. It is therefore a topic for which the average collector may strive for a reasonably complete collection without bankrupting him or herself. Of course the scope can be expanded as much as the collector desires by the inclusion of mint and used stamps, plate blocks, sheets, perforate and imperforate examples, errors, forgeries, artist proofs etc. Also First Day (of issue) Covers (FDC's,) postcards, and cachets could be included.
7. Another area of specialized interest surrounds the cancels applied to most surface mail. Pictorial postmarks might feature a person, place, event or thing related to astronomy or even the name of an astronomical object/event as the name of the city of origin (examples: Sunspot, New Mexico U.S.A. or Minerva Jupiter, Spain.)
The beauty of topical collecting is that there are very few rules and the collector is free to include whatever interests him or her.