Astronomy is a hobby that is suitable for all ages and abilities. Getting started with astronomy need not be expensive nor difficult. For the young, it instills an interest that may aid their educational development and appreciation of mathematics and engineering. For adults it provides a fascinating way to explore the night sky in all its glory as it changes through the seasons.
It’s also a hobby that suits all budgets. You can begin your astronomy hobby with the naked eye and continue to explore the heavens without spending vast sums on equipment. On the other hand, if you can afford it there are all kinds of binoculars and telescopes that will bring distance objects closer to you and reveal those that are too faint for the naked eye.
Astronomy is a hobby that builds on experience. As you become more familiar with the more easily recognisable celestial bodies you can deepen your knowledge with more background information and detail about them. If you want to take it a stage further there are plenty of courses in astronomy you can undertake, either online or in a local college.
The Need For Dark Skies
The only drawback to any successful exploration of the night sky is either the weather and/or light pollution. Most of us live in urban areas so light pollution is a significant problem and this of course is why so many observatories are positioned not only far away from population centres but high up in the more rarefied air of mountainous regions.
Aside from the obvious problem of clouds obscuring the night sky, various levels of pollution, dust, and water vapour can spoil the view, so it’s not only a question of where one hopes to see the night sky, the time of year is also significant. The cold clear air of winter is more advantageous for star gazing than the dusty air of late summer when the dust from the harvest fills the air.
Getting Started With Astronomy
The best way to begin is to download a free star chart or add one of those astronomy apps to your phone or tablet, like Sky Guide. These apps are excellent aids to getting to know the night sky. They use the GPS functionality of your device to work out where you are on the Earth’s surface and show you the astronomical objects (as well as satellites and other man-made objects) on the screen so that you can quickly identify what you’re observing.
You can practice with these apps in daylight and it can be fun to check what’s around in you, above or below the horizon, even if you can’t see anything, apart from perhaps the Sun, the Moon, and maybe Venus in the early evening.
Tip: Be sure to change the viewing settings to ‘night vision’ when using for stargazing. Your eyes need about 15 minutes to grow accustomed to night vision and a sudden view of a blue screen or artificial light will mean you have to wait another 15 minutes for your eyes to adjust.
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the most easily recognisable constellations and planetary bodies, with just your eyes and the aid of an app or star chart, it might be time to use some binoculars or a telescope.
There are various reviews elsewhere in this blog so we won’t repeat them here. All we can say is, buy something within your budget and make good use of it before upgrading. It’s all too easy with a new hobby to spend too much and fail to learn how to use the equipment properly. Astronomy is no exception so choose wisely.
Beginner’s Equipment Guide
Suitable clothing and footwear. Nothing will put you off your evening’s entertainment more than getting cold and damp. Check the weather and wrap up warm. Even if you go out on a summer’s evening it can get much cooler later. Wear layers so that you can take some off if you get too warm.
Telescope or binoculars. Check your equipment before you leave the house. Obviously if you’re your own garden it’s no big deal if you forget something but if you have to travel to a site that it’s very annoying if you arrive to find you’ve left a key component behind.
Star charts or apps. As described above, there are several available. Some apps are free with an optional inexpensive subscription upgrade that delivers more features and details. If you do use apps make sure you’ve got some backup power supply for the phone or tablet so that you don’t have to interrupt your viewing by returning to vehicle to plug it in. A Pebble portable power pack is a useful device.
Weather checks. Check the forecast before you set out and for the next few hours ahead. Then occasionally check again as your evening progresses as forecasts will often change. As well as cloud cover and precipitation, the wind factor will also have a bearing on your choice of clothing.
A Visit To The Planetarium
If you are unable to stargaze due to the weather but you can’t wait for another fix then an alternative option is a visit to a planetarium. Of course, you can visit one at any time so check your nearest for its schedule of events. They show all kinds of lectures and films, not just about astronomy but also about space exploration and space flight. Lectures and films are sometimes designed for a mix of ages, so you’ll find day time or half term shows may be for children with the evening schedule for the grown ups.
- Royal Observatory Greenwich (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 224 Pages - 10/06/2016 (Publication Date) - Collins (Publisher)
- Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
- Daniel Vega (Director)
- English (Playback Language)
- English (Subtitle)
- Dunlop, Storm (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 112 Pages - 08/20/2020 (Publication Date) - Collins (Publisher)
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