Stargazing and Astronomy
Last updated on February 18th, 2021
Every dedicated astronomer is first and foremost a stargazer. Stargazing is the act of seeing subtle details, comparing and contrasting what you see from what you know.
A clear sky with no prominent moon is a beautiful thing. Seen from the gaze of a beginner, a clear sky can seem almost chaotic and confusing with stars spread throughout the sky, often clearly in groups and elusive patterns. The stars in the sky slowly change hour by hour and season by season. The moon mystically moves throughout the sky; slowly growing in size and brightness then shrinking in size. Many prospective observers remain deeply concerned and intimidating in learning how to get around in the sky and how to find interesting things to observe.
Five rules of thumb
- Don’t spend a lot of money on it, at first. It is better to find some way of sampling many things; then you will know how interesting you find it and what you kind of equipment you need to do what you want.
- Learn as much as you can. Astronomy is definitely a learning hobby and the dedicated observer takes great joy to learn as much as he can about what he is seeing.
- Seeing is not easy. One thing many non-observers do not appreciate is a person’s tendency merely looking over (rather than really seeing) things.
- A little social contact can make this hobby enjoyable. While to some extent stargazing (especially if done seriously) is personal, a little social contact can do wonders.
- Be comfortable. Dress warmly, don’t overdo observing to the point at which you’re tired and groggy, make your expectations reasonable.
Choose a location
Most people that think about observing celestial objects think of far-away skyscapes in the desert where the man-made lights are eliminated. While this might be useful later on, such a place is rarely easy to reach. Most amateur astronomers live in town; your backyard might be a good enough place to start learning.
A few reminders:
- Keep all bright lights out of sight. Turn off the porch light, find some kind of shadow to get the neighbors’ security light out of your eyes. Use a red flashlight to read charts and make notes – if you don’t have one, covering a flashlight with a red cloth will do.
- The sky should be as clear as possible. Even broken clouds will prevent you from seeing the patterns you need to see to start learning how to recognize constellations.
- You need a good horizon. You need to be able to observe most of the way to the horizon without trees or buildings. The North horizon is particularly important.
- Don’t go too far. Being close to your observation spot means you can go there more often, which is a very good thing when learning.
Sometimes the backyards aren’t the best place. But often a neighborhood park, river, lakeshore, or overlook is great. If your nearest place is particularly dark, you will actually work a little harder. Darker skies mean more stars, Which will make it tough to see the basic patterns of the bright stars that form the constellations. Take heart! Any difficulty when beginning is greatly rewarded when particularly beautiful cosmic sights are in the back yard or around the corner instead of hours away.
Many people are not aware of the interesting and pleasant observations they might be able to do with little to no equipment. If you are going on a trip, one of the most important items would be a map, preferably one showing the major intersections. Similarly in the night sky, you need a map as well. Unfortunately, the Earth’s wobble through the season creates some definite changes in the sky over time. Luckily, nowadays you can use an app.
Binoculars are very helpful when it comes to stargazing as they offer a wide field of view and greater magnification. Many Globular clusters and Nebulae with low magnitudes are also observed with a pair of binoculars.
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