Simple Tips For Anyone Looking To Become An Amateur Astronomer

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People take up astronomy for many different reasons. They may love to gaze into the vastness of space and consider how small we seem in comparison. Others get excited about space exploration and all things NASA. People who enjoy science and using technical equipment also enjoy getting their teeth into this subject. 

It may be that you are planning a staycation and are using the time to take up astronomy as a hobby. There are so many things you can read or buy, it can often feel overwhelming. This article will provide you with some helpful tips as you step out into this exciting and rewarding pastime. 

Consider Buying A Telescope

As with any new interest, it’s best to buy cheaper products at the start in case you don’t continue with your hobby. Over time, you can upgrade and buy additional equipment if required. It’s best to understand what you’re looking at before you buy the equipment, so you can fully reap the benefits. It’s worth knowing that telescopes are more costly than binoculars, and they are harder to use.   

Because a telescope may be your most expensive purchase, it’s wise to learn about mounts and focal lengths, fields of view and mirrors before you buy. According to American Eclipse USA many beginners want to discover the best telescopes priced below $300. They want to read product reviews and consider the pros and cons of each model. Many specialist websites feature helpful FAQ sections and information on things like accessories, apertures and eyepieces. 

Buy Some Binoculars

Whilst they are not as powerful as telescopes, they are better than using the naked eye – and this could be a good starter option if you are limited financially. Binoculars are much lighter than they used to be, which is great news considering you would be looking upwards for extended periods of time. 

Whilst not as powerful as telescopes, binoculars can still see a surprising number of things. You could look at the Orion Nebula and Jupiter’s moons, the phases of Venus, or craters on the moon. 

Join A Club Or Group

People are always more likely to continue with their interests if they find kindred spirits. Joining an astronomy club can be a great way to make new friends and gain helpful tips. There may be an observatory near you, in which case this will probably be their (pardon the pun) focal point. You may also be able to attend viewing nights and star parties. If you are considering buying some new equipment there may be a member willing to let you try theirs first. 

You could also join a Facebook group. They can be a great way to connect to like-minded people who enjoy sharing pictures and advice. In many cases you can join for free, which is great news if money is an issue. 

Come Higher

If you live in a town full of streetlights and shop signs, the light pollution will be a distraction, and it will take a while before your eyes acclimatise to the sky. You will no doubt want to have a clear view of the Milky Way, and this can be best achieved if you are 20+ miles away from streetlights. 

It’s therefore best to head for areas of open country that provide clear views of space. If you can’t leave the city, get as high up as possible to avoid your view being inhibited by tall buildings. The winter months are good providing you don’t have mist or rain in the air, whilst hot summers can create heat haze that can blur your views.   

Know What To Look For

Obviously this will depend on whether you’re standing in an observatory or merely squinting at the sky. If you own a telescope or pair of binoculars, check out the moon, Jupiter and Saturn. It’s also worth looking for the Hercules Cluster, Andromeda Galaxy and Orion Nebula. If you research these sights online first, it will be easier for you to know where to look, and to identify them when you see them. When it comes to the major constellations, the time of year needs to be considered. You can see the Summer Triangle in the warm season and Pegasus during the fall. There’s Orion to see in winter, and Leo during the spring. 

You may also wish to research the best times to spot shooting stars. When meteor showers occur, you can even see them without a telescope or binoculars. It’s important to not dismiss the moon as an overfamiliar and unrewarding sight. With the right equipment you’ll be able to view craters, valleys and mountains that are normally invisible to the naked eye. 

Download Phone Apps

They say there’s an app for anything, and astronomers need not be disappointed. One example is Stellarium, where you can establish your location and view the position of the planets. There’s also a handy night mode so you eyes can better negotiate the light. 

If you don’t know what you’re currently looking at, download Starwalk. You can then point your smartphone at it in order to receive the answer. Whilst you’re probably familiar with Google Maps, you may be unaware of Google Sky Map. It harnesses data coming from such sources as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra satellite used by NASA.  

Never Stop Researching

People who are short of cash can still access quality learning material through their local library. The internet is accessible to most people, and it provides access to multitudes of specialist astronomy sites. Many contain free articles and blogs, and even free e-books. Youtube is a great option for people who don’t like reading, and it provides a great showcase for space videos and photos. 

These have been just a few helpful tips to get you started. You could also follow famous astronomers on Twitter or buy a red flashlight. Once you begin your journey you’ll never look back. There will be sights to see and friends to make, and a whole world of exploration ahead of you.

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