The Night Sky
Have you have ever looked up at the night sky, been marvelled by what you see, and thought about taking a closer look?
If this is you, then I can tell you that you are not alone.
Amateur Astronomy has really taken off in the past two decades, with the abundance of well priced, eminently capable, high quality equipment available today. But for the absolute beginner with no experience, the one question that will be especially obvious is, – “What do I need to get great views of the heavens?”
What Not To Buy
The first introduction many people have to Astronomical equipment is when they visit their local Department Store, and find cheap telescopes offered in brightly colored boxes claiming 525X magnification and showing impressively detailed color pictures of planets and nebulae.
Don’t be fooled by this. This is NOT the performance you’ll get, and it’s definitely NOT what you’ll see – especially with the telescope in this box from this Department Store. This is so deceptive and has been responsible for more disappointments to wannabe astronomers than any other single thing, I’d suggest.
These are just toys. And unfortunately, even with equipment costing many, many times more, you still won’t see the detail and color depicted on these types of boxes.
What To Expect
Firstly, when you look into even a decent telescope, you won’t see color. The minuscule amount of light coming from heavenly objects is just not enough to register as color – usually – on our retinas. That said, it is possible to see some basic color detail on planets and nebulae that are large and/or close enough to provide sufficient light output. But these are relatively few and far between.
For the most part, astronomers observing by eye have to content themselves with ‘black and white’ seeing. Astro-photographers on the other hand, have a whole different range of possibilities open to them. Using even modestly priced equipment, it’s possible to produce impressively detailed color images of some of our most beautiful heavenly objects.
Even with all these limitations, there is something very special about looking through your telescope, and seeing stars, planets, nebulae, star clusters and so on, with your own eyes.
I can say that without exception, when I have introduced family and friends to their first ever view of Saturn in all it’s glory with clearly visible rings and the gap known as the Cassini Division, the reaction is always a wide-eyed gasp and a “wow!”. Jupiter, likewise with it’s four clearly visible Galilean Moons which move in real time if you watch for several minutes.
Moving Across The Sky
Naturally the objects you’re viewing are moving the entire time you’re looking at them. In case it’s not obvious, that means your scope as to follow them for as long as you want to view. Some telescopes you just push to follow. These are called Dobsonian Mounted Reflectors after the great sidewalk astronomer John Dobson, who introduced astronomy to the masses as a hobby.
These are great telescopes for beginners and represent fantastic value for money. Alternatively, you can buy telescopes that move on electronically controlled mounts. These are many and varied and usually cost quite a bit. But these are mainly for photographers, where quality and stability are paramount.
Either way, to see these celestial objects this close and personal, as you’ve never seen them before, gives you a wonderfully strange, yet eerie, feeling of being just a tiny speck in a universe far larger than you’ve possibly ever considered before.
To see things in your eye-piece that are so far away that they may actually have ceased to exist millions of years ago, seems totally incomprehensible in a simplistic sense. It’s so difficult to imagine the light from that dim and distant object taking millions upon millions of years to reach your eye.
If you’re interested enough that this has whetted your appetite for more, then just take a note of the following points before dashing out and buying equipment that may not suit your needs.
Tip #1- Don’t rush out and buy a Department Store telescope. They are just toys and will only frustrate and disappoint.
Tip #2- Be aware that there are three or four commonly available types of telescope. Without going into too much detail here, they are:
Refractor, Reflector, Schmidt Cassegrain, Dobsonian Mounted Reflector
Each is great for some things and not so great for others. Do a bit of research to make sure you get the one that’s right for you
Tip #3- There’s a saying in astronomy that says “Aperture is King”. That means the larger the objective mirror, the more light captured, the better the view. This is so true. Don’t ever underestimate the need for aperture if you’re observing visually (rather than imaging)
Tip #4- Don’t buy cheap. As with anything, you get what you pay for.
Tip #5- Consider just buying a pair of decent binoculars first and have a scout around the night sky. This is so much fun, and the beautiful wide-field, ‘3D’ views you get with binocs are an incomparable delight.
Tip #6- Join a local Astronomical Society. That way, you can look through everyone else’s gear first to see what you prefer. Plus these kindly folk will be only too happy to share their info and point you in the right direction.
OK, that should be enough to get you started, and looking in the right direction. There’s so much information available on the web if you just Google it.
Tips For Budding Astronomers
Here’s wishing you a lifetime of enjoyable heavenly viewing.
Astronomy is a serious science. However, the excitement and fun that come along with the education it brings are not limited only to the scientists. In fact, many people have made astronomy a hobby. Of course, this is not just watching the stars, the planets, and other heavenly bodies.
From mere observations, come small discoveries that many gazers treasure. They may see things and occurrences that have been seen by others before but the feeling that they themselves saw it is definitely something to be proud of. If you want to learn astronomy, you can consider the following basic tips.
1. Before you start gazing at the night sky, you have to read a few books or articles on the internet about astronomy first. At least, you will be able to identify immediately planets and stars.
2. Get yourself a great telescope. You may be able to see stars with just naked eyes but then you will never be able to appreciate them better if you do not use a telescope. As a beginner, you do not have to use very powerful one.
3. Join an organization of people who love astronomy. This will enable you to interact and to learn from the experiences of others. Unlike books and internet articles, your colleagues can be sources of practical information.
4. Learn the constellations. The sky is so immense that you can be lost in it too. One of the most basic things that a budding astronomer must know is the constellations. These will make it easier for him to locate stars and planets.
5. Do visual warm ups. Before putting your eyes on the telescope, exercise it first so that it can be accustomed to darkness. This will make it easier for you identify the stars afterwards. Do this by staring into the dark in five minutes.
6. Observe both the moon and sun even with your bare eyes. For beginners, it is unthinkable for them not to know the movements of both. Of course, there are books to tell you these but seeing these actually is better.
7. Take notes of every discovery and observation. Every scientist has a journal to record his discoveries. You need to take notes like them. This may just be a small notebook. You can also write a chart here.
8. Read blogs and other such exchanges online. It may be impossible for you to observe the stars on a nightly basis. However, if you regularly read blogs, you can get the updates that may prompt you to schedule a stargazing activity soon.
9. Make it a point to look up into the night sky always. Even if you do not have plans of peering at your telescope, you may just notice something unusual that can make you gaze at the stars with it.
10. Gain progress in your astronomy hobby. Try to learn more always. Get a more powerful telescope, if necessary.
Everybody has peered up at the night skies and viewed the expanse of bright stars at some point in time, and yet, not everyone goes the next step in order to witness more closely the many hidden spectacles the heavens possess.
In the event that you actually are one of these people which are aiming to enter into the world of amateur astronomy and stargazing, the following suggestions ought to prove beneficial.
The first bit of useful information which I would definitely give to a novice astronomer, is to sit and learn one or two constellations, and how to spot them in the sky. The major technique which is called for with amateur astronomy is positioning yourself in regards to the sky and then finding whatever celestial bodies which you are currently trying to observe. In order to get going just pick a few easy targets for example the Pleadies or the Little Dipper and practice tracking them from night tonight.
Among the biggest and best tasks a learning stargazer could possibly perform to find out as much as they can, is to enroll in a regional amateur astronomy or stargazing group or society. Doing so delivers a number of advantages. To begin with you will instantaneously get accessibility to many individuals who will be privy to tons of invaluable guidance and know-how learned through past experiences. The alternative is that you are likely to be stuck reading by way of literature and website content which often are tremendously informative, yet still not the same.
Additionally you probably will will have the opportunity to sample and use the best telescopes with out having to invest in them first. The last and best benefit to signing up with an amateur astronomy group is that you will now have several individuals and pals to have your stargazing outings with, and as a result will be that much of a greater and fun undertaking.
In addition I’d encourage everyone looking to learn more about amateur astronomy to subscribe to at least one of the numerous periodicals and magazines that exist on amateur astronomy. The two major stargazing magazines that you can get nowadays are Sky & Telescope Magazine and Astronomy Magazine. Both of them are fantastic periodicals on all the latest and evolving info in the realm of amateur astronomy.
You certainly shouldn’t end up getting occupied on on not having all of the appropriate gear. A person doesn’t need to have any gear in the least to go stargazing. All that you really require is your own eyes. If you’re unable to find the money for a telescope at this point, buy a set of binoculars. If you cannot acquire binoculars yet, go with out them. The important thing is to keep getting out there as many times as you’re able to.
Finally, don’t get held back about your geographic location too much. For many of us it is not easy to get away from all of the intense lighting generated by today’s metropolitan sprawl. Even if you cannot visit the pitch black country side it is still achievable to get to do some stargazing in the suburbs and even in the cities.
With a pair of binoculars stargazing in city parks can be quite fulfilling. Needless to say attempting to find dark ideal stargazing locations is a great move to make, just don’t allow being unable to reach an ideal location keep you from proceeding outside the house to go stargazing.