A beginner’s guide to Astronomy

Around this time, last year, I bought my first telescope. It was a fascination that was brewing inside me for quite a while before I dived into actually ordering it. If you’ve been keeping up with this blog from the beginning you can probably infer that I love space.

I’ve often shared many images that I’ve taken and other people’s work too, and they have always elicited the reaction ‘I would love to come over and see that on a telescope!’.

I’ve been writing space blogs and articles for a while, long before this blog existed, too. As much as I try to sell Astronomy as a hobby to others, I hope that one day I’ll have a group of people to go stargazing with! Well, if you’ve been trying to get into astronomy, this blog should help you out with the basics. Too many newcomers to astronomy get lost in dead ends and quit in frustration. It shouldn’t be that way.
Perseid Meteor Shower that happened on the weekend of 13-14th August 2016

The first step to learning the night sky, is to observe it. A quick google on constellations will bring up thousands of resources. This is the stuff you need to understand to reach the stage where you can locate planets/stars on your own.

All you really need to do to get started in astronomy is look up. The night sky is an amazing treasure chest of astronomical wonders, even if you don’t have a telescope or even binoculars.

Secondly, you should keep up with the news. Many sites such as universetoday.com or space.com have news sections where you can read up about current events, upcoming events and other deals and news related to astronomy and space. As you read, you’ll educate yourself about the terminology associated with astronomy. Also doing some research into the different types of telescopes, their abilities, their shortcomings is a great way to learn. Also, register on forums, such as stargazerslounge.com, if you have any questions, and to participate in a community 50,000+ strong.

Many people have access to a pair of binoculars, but never think to turn them on the night sky. A decent pair of binoculars is a great way of getting in to astronomy. Binoculars gather in more light than the human eye so not only do they bring things closer, you can actually see a lot of stars that are invisible to the unaided eye.

Take a trip along the milky way with binoculars and you will see just how many stars surround us. Turn the binoculars on the moon and you can see many craters jump into focus. In the winter you can see the Orion Nebula (a stellar nursery) and star clusters such as the Pleiades and the Beehive cluster. In the summer months you can see the Great Cluster in Hercules. This is a tightly knit group of about one million stars that appear like a faint ball of light. Also visible with binoculars is the Great Galaxy in Andromeda. A huge galaxy about 2.5 million light years from earth.

Thirdly, use binoculars. Before you get your first handy-dandy telescope, invest in a good pair of binoculars. Binoculars are effectively your first telescopes, simply because they can show a wide view of the night sky. Binoculars are also relatively cheap, widely available, and a breeze to carry and store. And their performance is surprisingly respectable. Ordinary 7- to 10-power binoculars improve on the naked-eye view about as much as a good amateur telescope improves on the binoculars — for much less than half the price.

Did you know you can see a galaxy 2½ million light-years away with your unaided eyes? Craters on the Moon with binoculars? Countless wonders await you any clear night. The first step is simply to look up and ask, “What’s that?” Begin gazing at the stars from your backyard, and you’ll be taking the first step toward a lifetime of cosmic exploration and enjoyment.

Fourth, try to keep a journal. This one is 100% optional. Personally, I don’t do this, but as a beginner, it may help out to keep a track of what you’re seeing, just so you can refer to it from time to time to see how you’re doing. A journal will also keep you focused on astronomy. Being able to look back on your early experiences and sightings in years to come gives deeper meaning to your activities now.

Also, try to find amateurs. Working together will not only keep you accountable, it will also keep you motivated. Call or e-mail a club near you, or check out its website, and see when it holds meetings or nighttime observing sessions — “star parties.” These events, some of which draw hundreds of amateurs, can offer a fine opportunity to try different telescopes, learn what they will and will not do, pick up advice and new skills, and make friendsForums are a great way of doing this.

Fifth, and probably the most interesting part, choosing a telescope. Trust me, you’ll know when you’re ready/ By this point, you’ll have already come across all the different styles/types of telescopes, their abilities and which ones you prefer.

Eventually, you’ll know you’re ready. You’ll have spent hours poring over the ads and reviews. You’ll know the different kinds of telescopes, what you can expect of them, and what you’ll do with the one you pick. This is no time to skimp on quality; shun the flimsy, semi-toy “department store” scopes that may have caught your eye. The telescope you want has two essentials. The first is a solid, steady, smoothly working mount. The second is high-quality, “diffraction-limited” optics. Naturally you’ll also want large aperture (size), but don’t lose sight of portability and convenience. Remember, the best telescope for you is the one you’ll use most. Sometimes gung-ho novices forget this and purchase a huge “white elephant” that is difficult to carry, set up, and take down, so it rarely gets used. How good an astronomer you become depends not on what your instrument is, but on how much you use it. -skyandtelescope.com

There’s also a growing impact of the internet and software on astronomy. Download Stellarium on a computer, a free planetarium software that is immensely powerful and easy to use once you get it all set up. For mobile alternatives, Skyview on ios is a powerful tool even though it may be free.

Lastly, lose your ego. Astronomy teaches patience and humility — and you had better be prepared to learn them. Not everything will work the first time. You’ll hunt for some wonder in the depths and miss it, and hunt again, and miss it again. This is normal. But eventually, with increasing knowledge, you will succeed. There’s nothing you can do about the clouds that move in to block your view, the extreme distance, and faintness of the objects of your desire, or the special event that you missed because you got all set up one minute late. The universe will not bend to your wishes; you must take it on its own terms.

Part of losing your ego is not getting upset at your telescope because it’s less than perfect. Perfection doesn’t exist, no matter what you paid. If you find yourself getting wound up over Pluto’s invisibility or the aberrations of your eyepiece, take a deep breath and remember why you’re doing this. Amateur astronomy should be calming and fun. Learn to take pleasure in whatever your instrument can indeed show you. The more you look and examine, the more you will see — and the more you’ll become at home in the night sky. Set your own pace, and delight in the beauty and mystery of our amazing universe.

Some other things you need to consider
We live on a planet where one-third of the population can no longer see the Milky Way galaxy, thanks to light pollution. It may be a strange new term for some, but light pollution is a major contributor to the obscurity of stars. Excess artificial light from cities or populated areas drowns out the light coming from the sky and the stars, and now most countries cannot see it at all. You can read more in the sources below, but one thing that you need to consider is where you’re viewing from. Choose a desolate, slightly less populated area away from main centers of population and light. You can use a dark sky app or website, one such as lightpollutionmap.info or an app such as Light Pollution Map on IOS.

The night sky is part of our natural heritage. It is beautiful, it is awe-inspiring and being able to see it is a way for us to connect to the wider universe and understand our place in the natural world,” said Kukula. ”If we lose that it is a shame because we have lost that direct connection with something much bigger than us and something that is very beautiful.

Also, consider what you’re trying to see. Some parts of the year are better for observing some things, while other parts may be better for other phenomena. You can use a website such as the Mudgee Observatory’s Planets this Month page to tell you what’s visible during the month.

Lastly, have fun! Consider astronomy as a pastime to help you unwind and make you more inquisitive and curious to learn about the heavens above.

Sources and other resources

All of these are links, click on any and it’ll take you to the respective page. Good luck, have fun!
  1. Milky Way no longer visible to one-third of humanity, light pollution atlas shows
  2. Planets this month
  3. Stellarium – free open source planetarium for your computer.
  4. Stargazers lounge – Astronomy Discussion Forum
  5. Lonely Speck – Photographing the Milky Way
  6. Glossary of Astronomy terms
  7. How to start right in Astronomy
  8. Other topics
  9. Primers and Tutorials

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