Astronomy for Beginners: How To Get into Astronomy

Anyone who has ever scanned the night sky looking at the moon, stars, and planets is well on their way to walking the path of a backyard astronomer. However, mastering the art of stargazing takes a little more effort. Beginners often learn the hard way that observing the universe is not as simple as 1-2-3. The entire process involves more than just grabbing a telescope and heading out to your backyard. An introduction of how to get into astronomy doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Many different resources exist to make astronomy for beginners easy to understand. Guidebooks, star charts and equipment guides are a few examples.

Astronomy Guide Books

Guidebooks are helpful, providing supplemental information and resources on how to get into astronomy. These guides typically contain information on equipment (telescopes, binoculars, accessories), how to guides, star charts, diagrams, pictures, and general astronomical theory. Overall a necessary addition for anyone wanting to get better acquainted with astronomy.

Night Sky – A Field Guide to the Constellations

This compact field guide contains constellations, maps, astrophotography, diagrams, and charts, perfect for any beginner or more experienced stargazers. The small size makes the book portable and easy to take on the go. The overall organization is impeccable, making it easy for the reader to locate particular star arrangements. A feature worth mentioning is the ordering of constellations according to difficulty.

50 Things to See With A Small Telescope

This guidebook, designed for astronomers who do not own an expensive telescope provides tips on getting the most out of a less expensive model. Included is an abundance of astrophotography to use as a referencing tool. Detailed diagrams and star searching strategies simplify the process of scanning night skies for particular arrangements or celestial bodies.

Star Chart

Star charts are astronomical maps designed to help stargazers locate celestial objects including stars, planets, and constellations. To make the process of searching for specific stars or galaxies easier, astronomers divide areas of the map into sections using a grid system. Inside each grid are coordinates that correspond to the particular star arrangement found within that region of the universe. In layman terms, an equivalent to star charts are roadmaps, but landmarks like buildings and forests represent constellations or other celestial objects.

There are a few important things to note for anyone unfamiliar with using a star chart. Maps are frequently changed and updated due to earth’s orbit around the sun. As a result, the locations of celestial objects also change throughout the year. In addition to ensuring you have the correct star chart for the month, the direction you’re facing is also necessary before matching your map to the universe. Larger dots often represent brighter stars with dimmer stars depicted as smaller dots. Locating the brighter stars make it easy to figure out your position and surroundings.

A helpful beginner tip is to first work on finding one or two constellations, rather than attempting to learn them all at once. A great starting point is Orion, as this constellation is easily recognizable and beginner friendly.

Equipment

Astronomy for beginners can be confusing, especially when it comes down to the vast amounts of equipment available. Anyone venturing into the world of astronomy for the first time comes face to face with the issue of choosing the most appropriate piece of equipment for his or her needs. With so many different models of telescopes, binoculars, and accessories on today’s market, making a decision is difficult without any prior knowledge. Listed are the pros and cons for each category to make the buying process easier. Equipment guides are a helpful aid on how to get into astronomy.

Telescopes

Pros
A larger aperture and greater magnification mean more power when viewing objects at a further distance away.

Cons
Although telescopes range in size, most often they are bigger and heavier than binoculars. They often require additional set up equipment, such as a tripod or rocket-boxes for stability.

Recommendation
The Gskyer Instruments Infinity 70mm is affordable and top quality for the price. Optical capabilities are astounding; assembly is simple, straightforward and even comes with a travel bag. The compact size and lightweight make the telescope easy for transport.

Binoculars

Pros
Binoculars are a great alternative to carrying around and using a bulky telescope. Often cheaper than purchasing a basic telescope. Wider lenses make binoculars a more suitable choice for viewing entire constellations or galaxies in one frame.

Cons
Binoculars use smaller and less powerful lenses than most telescopes, resulting in limited and reduced viewing capabilities. Binoculars with greater viewing capabilities than standard telescopes exist but are incredibly expensive.

Recommendation
The Celestron Cometron 7×50 is the perfect pair of starter binoculars for anyone on a budget. Although there are limitations on the optics, with a maximum focus of 30 feet, the wide-field lenses can easily observe larger celestial objects in the sky. The Celestron Cometron is also water resistant to withstand nights with slight amounts of humidity or moisture.

Dim Red Light

Not particular mandatory but helpful when referring to a guidebook or star chart while out on the field. A dim red light will allow one to maintain dark adaption.

Note: Cheap filters do not work well. Choose red LED lights or properly filtered flashlights. Cyan-green lights are also an alternative.

The Best Time and Place to Stargaze

Unfortunately, your backyard is probably not the most suitable location to set up your telescope and begin stargazing. Also, weather conditions, light pollution, and other factors can make or break a stargazing session. Thoroughly planning out your session will ensure the highest visibility.

Light Pollution

The excessive amount of light pollution found in towns and cities is a major interference regarding observational astronomy. Artificial light is scattered in every direction, causing the sky to become illuminated. This illumination makes it difficult to view or photograph dimly lit objects, such as stars or constellations. No type of corrective lenses exists that filters out artificial light.

Ideal Conditions

First and foremost, to get the most out a stargazing session the sky must be clear and dark. There cannot be any haze, clouds or pollution present. The general location does not matter, with limited amounts of scattered light being most important. Areas typically further away from the city are more suitable. Higher elevations are also a helpful factor in stargazing conditions. Being close to the stars means a reduced amount of air and atmospheric distortion, thus being able to see celestial objects more clearly.

Astronomy Clubs

The many benefits of joining an astronomy club range from a way to meet people, getting informed to providing tips and tricks on how to get into astronomy. Beginners get hands-on help from other experienced members willing to answer any looming questions other members have.

Advice and Information
Astronomy clubs provide individuals the opportunity to make connections and converse with like-minded people. From here people share their knowledge and learn from others. Members possess varying levels of expertise and come from different walks of life. Lectures provide new information or reinforce the knowledge members already have.

Trusted Place to Buy and Sell
Anyone looking to sell or purchase used equipment can do so from people they know and in a safe environment. Telescopes and other pieces of astronomical equipment are often confusing and difficult to use. The major advantage of buying from a club is help from amateur astronomers on how to use your new planetary gear.

Get Involved
Many clubs offer members the opportunity to get involved. Levels of involvement range from teaching lectures, volunteering at meetings to engaging with others at social events or field trips.

Beginner Friendly Celestial Objects in the Night Sky

A frequent problem many come across when first diving into the world of astronomy is not realizing how vast the universe is. Many are unaware of how to get into astronomy or what is visible in the night sky. Listed here are some of the larger celestial objects that are perfect for viewing under any beginner telescope or a pair of binoculars. These celestial objects, in particular, are bigger and an excellent introduction to astronomy for beginners.

Moon – The Moon is an excellent place for beginner stargazers for several reasons. Easily viewed throughout the year and requires limited amounts of equipment. During different stages of the moon’s lunar cycle, various craters and landscape features become visible. Keep an eye out for lunar seas, mountain ranges and craters scattered across the surface.

Jupiter – Four moons and visible cloud bands characterize the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. The planet is incredibly bright, and with a powerful enough telescope, the famous “red spot” becomes visible. These four moons are always changing position around the planet.

Mars – The red coloration of mars is a dead giveaway and hard to miss.  During clear nights it becomes possible to see the polar ice cap and dark surface features.

Saturn – Saturn is well known for possessing the most extensive planetary ring system of all the planets in the solar system. Due to the distance away from the sun, the planet receives less light resulting in a fainter appearance. Smaller telescopes or conditions not adequate for stargazing, result in the planet’s rings appearing as “ears.”

The Big Dipper – The Big Dipper is made up of seven stars and is apart of another constellation, known as Ursa Major or Great Bear. This constellation is commonly used to locate the Northern Star. By finding Dubhe and Merak, the two brightest stars at the outer edge of the bowl and factoring in five times their distance, you’ll locate the Northern Star. The “Horse and Rider” are two additional stars found within the Big Dipper. Situated on the handle bend is Mizar, the brighter star, and Alcor, the dimmer star of the two.

Andromeda Galaxy – Belonging to the constellation Andromeda, this galaxy despite the massive distance away from earth is easily spotted without the aid of equipment due to the sheer size. In fact, the celestial body is so large the galaxy fills up the entire view piece of most telescopes, appearing as a bright, massive cluster of stars.

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