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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Garner

The Novice's Guide To Stargazing: How To Get Started As An Amateur Astronomer

If you're here reading this, you probably look at the night sky and feel a sense of wonder (like me!). Are you interested in making astronomy your hobby? - Take a journey with me, from your backyard to the far reaches of the universe, with some of my pro tips and hacks.

Are You Interested in Astronomy as a Hobby? Well, You've Come to the Right Place!

Astronomy is the scientific study of celestial objects like the sun, moon, stars, galaxies, and the phenomena that occur outside Earth's atmosphere. While this might sound like a realm exclusively for scientists, astronomy is a field that warmly embraces hobbyists. Now, you might be thinking, "That's great, but where do I begin?" Fear not, the good news is that I am here to guide you through the process.

Star Constellation,

Kicking Off Your Astronomical Journey

As far as starting a new hobby - it can seem overwhelming at first, but remember that everyone was once a beginner.In astronomy, you don't have to go big from the start. Start small by merely looking up. Yes, you heard it right! You can start your stargazing journey right from your backyard.

Familiarize yourself with the night sky by identifying the brightest and most visible stars. This will eventually lead you to 'star hop', a process of finding patterns in the stars, thereby increasing your knowledge of the cosmos. The University Lowbrow Astronomers have an excellent guide on naked-eye stargazing which can be very helpful to beginners.

Stepping Up to Binoculars

Once you're comfortable with naked-eye stargazing, it's time to step up to binoculars. They offer a wider view compared to a telescope and can help you locate objects in the sky with ease. Binoculars can reveal up to 50 times more stars than the naked eye, bringing the heavens much closer to you.

When selecting binoculars, consider their lens size, optical quality, and coatings. Larger lenses will gather more light, allowing you to see faint celestial details. Good optical quality and coated lenses are essential for clear and bright images.

For beginners I am always recommending about this model: Celestron – SkyMaster 25x70 Binoculars

Celstron 25 x 70

Credit: Amazon

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Advancing To a Telescope

If you're feeling comfortable with binoculars and want to dive deeper, it might be time to consider investing in a telescope. Telescopes are incredibly powerful tools that can gather more light, offering better views of celestial objects.

When choosing a telescope, keep in mind features like aperture, focal length, and magnification. Go for a larger aperture and a longer focal length. As for magnification, don't fall for the hype of incredibly high magnification. Aim for a maximum useful magnification that's 50 times its aperture in inches.

Here is my telescope guide, if you are feeling adventurous!

The World of Astrophotography

Photographing the night sky can add another dimension to your astronomical journey. While it might seem daunting at first, you'll be surprised at what you can achieve with a bit of practice and the right gear. The essential equipment you'll need includes a decent camera, a sturdy tripod, a headlamp, a wide-angle lens, a lens hood, a remote shutter release, and backup batteries.

Plan your stargazing excursion with a quality sky map. This could be a traditional paper map or a digital one. Sky map apps can offer additional features, such as identifying celestial objects just by pointing your phone at the sky.

Join the Community with Astronomy Clubs

The experience of stargazing can be enhanced by immersing yourself in a community of like-minded individuals. Become a member of an astronomy club to learn from experienced members, borrow equipment, and meet like-minded people. You'd be surprised how many astronomers clubs you can find online, or even in your community, just by searching Google!

Key Points Of This Beginner's Guide to Amateur Astronomy

In order to help you remember everything you need to know, here is a quick list of all the information you need to know:

  • Starting Out in Astronomy:

    • Begin with naked-eye observations to familiarize yourself with the night sky.

    • Use star charts to help locate galaxies, stars, and planets.

  • Progressing to Binoculars:

    • Invest in a pair of binoculars to see more details and more stars.

    • Choose binoculars with large lenses, good optical quality, and high-quality lens coatings for better visibility.

  • Upgrading to a Telescope:

    • Telescopes gather more light and provide high-quality views of celestial objects.

    • Reflectors are ideal for beginners due to their utility in low-light conditions.

    • The telescope should have a large aperture, the right focal length, and decent magnification.

    • Purchase a mount (altazimuth or equatorial) to track celestial objects more effectively.

  • Joining Astronomy Clubs:

    • Join an astronomy club to learn more about astronomy and meet like-minded people.

    • Clubs often have events at dark-sky observing sites for optimum viewing conditions.

    • You can find local astronomy clubs at a planetarium, science center, or a university's astronomy department or from astronomy magazines.

If you've made it this far, you're on the right track to becoming an astronomer! Take it one step at a time!

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