Beginners Guide to Astronomy

To get into astronomy, you don’t need a degree in maths or science. In this post, I will provide a Beginners’ Guide to Astronomy that explains how easy it is to get started.

What is astronomy?

Astronomy is the study of celestial objects beyond the Earth, including stars, planets, moons, galaxies, and everything in the wider universe. It is an established branch of the natural sciences, but many of its objects of study can be enjoyed by hobbyists.

You Don’t Need a Telescope to Get started

While a telescope is a great way to view objects in the night sky, it’s not the only way. With just the naked eye, you can enjoy a much larger field of view. Under the right conditions, it’s possible to see thousands of stars at night, as well as the planets in our Solar System, including Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (and sometimes Uranus). Annual events like meteor showers can also be enjoyed without any optical aids.

Picking a telescope

If you would like to get started with astronomy equipment, a pair of binoculars is a great first option. You might already have a pair lying around the house. Binoculars offer a wide field of view and can give spectacular close-ups of nearer objects, such as our Moon.

If you are ready to choose your first telescope, it’s well worth taking the time to do some research so you can be assured of buying a quality model – there are plenty of junk ones out there you want to avoid!

For the beginner, you could get yourself a decent telescope in the range of $150 – $700.

Where to stargaze?

Whatever you’re using to stargaze, it’s important to choose a good spot. Unfortunately, light pollution from big cities obscures much of the view. For the optimal view of the night sky, getting out to the countryside is your best bet.

If that’s not possible, try to get away from local light sources like street lamps. Get to find a high vantage point, such as the top of an apartment building. The winter sky tends to offer a better view – the summer’s heat creates a haze. It will be more chilly, of course, but you can always stargaze from the comfort of your car or even from your house. Just remember to switch off all local light sources.

Finally, remember to give your eyes some time to adjust. Wait at least 20 – 40 minutes and you will start to see more stars and celestial objects reveal themselves in the night sky.

Use a stargazing app

The beauty of the night sky can be enjoyed for its own sake. But if you’re curious to know what exactly you’re looking at, there are some helpful apps you can download.

Stargazing apps use the date, time, and your location to display what is presently visible in the night sky with a virtual map. Your phone’s built-in compass and gyroscope detect which direction you’re pointing at.

There are a number of options available, including SkyView Lite, Stellarium, and Star Walk 2. Many of the apps will have free and paid versions.

How many meteor showers happen in an hour?

Meteor showers are always a highlight in the stargazer’s calendar. As the Earth passes through a region where there is orbital debris from the tail of a passing comet, it manifests as bursts of flame striking the atmosphere.

There are dozens of meteor showers every year. There’s a huge variation in duration and intensity, and the number of meteors you can observe will depend on the light conditions where you are. Some of the most famous and high-rate showers, such as the Perseids in July and August, can create up to 50 to 100 meteors during peak hours.

Can you see the International Space Station with the naked eye?

As well as natural wonders in the night sky, you can also spot an intriguing array of human-made objects. One of which is the International Space Station (ISS). Though it’s traveling at thousands of miles an hour, viewing the ISS can be done easily. It takes a little bit of planning, and you’ll have better chances of spotting it on a cloudless night.

NASA has this website that can help you plan your observation: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Find an astronomy club

A great way to get into stargazing is by joining an astronomy club. You can learn a lot from local enthusiasts, such as the best stargazing techniques, as well as learning the names of celestial objects. They can organize group trips to observe the sky – especially useful for those highlights in the astronomy calendar.

Astronomy clubs are also a fantastic way to meet new people and make friends. There’s nothing quite like the bond that develops amongst people with a mutual passion, and stargazing is especially suited to doing in a group.

Enjoy the process and be patient

Looking at the sky is easy, but learning the finer points of amateur astronomy takes time. Sometimes, conditions may conspire against you and spoil your observations – whether due to cloud cover or light pollution. Observing certain celestial objects often requires precise timing and, when you’re first starting out, you might occasionally get it wrong.

Try to enjoy the process and be patient. Learn from more experienced astronomers. Read up on the subject and use the wealth of websites and apps available that can guide your observations. And go stargazing whenever you can. Things won’t go perfectly every time but, trust me, your patience will be rewarded.

Summary

With this Beginner’s Guide to Astronomy, I hope I’ve convinced you how easy it is to get started. But I also hope you’ve gained an appreciation that stargazing is a skill that can be improved with time and dedication. Follow the advice I’ve given you and soon the universe will begin to unveil itself in all its majestic beauty.