Skywatching

Astronomy – Top Ten Hints & Tips

Astronomy is often considered to be the oldest of the sciences. Since early history, humans have gazed in wonderment at the night sky, watching the every changing appearance of the Moon, planets and stars. Today astronomy is without doubt more popular than ever, even with the often cloudy skies that we have to contend with.

 Astronomy is a hobby that can be enjoyed with or without a telescope. Indeed even some ‘seasoned’ amateur astronomers still just use their unaided eye or a small pair of binoculars to enjoy the wonders of the universe.

 If you are new to astronomy, these top ten tips will hopefully get you out stargazing and on the way to a lifetime of enjoyment amongst the stars.

Find a suitable place to stargaze: This will quite often be from you own backgarden but may be from a local park, village green or another open space. Try to find a site without any direct light on it, that way you will give yourself the best possible view.

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 Give your eyes time to ‘dark adapt’  When you come out from a brightly lit room, at first you will likely only see a few of the brightest stars in the sky. Gradually over a period of a few minutes you will see more and more. Astronomers call this process ‘dark adaption’ and it takes about 20 minutes or so for an average persons eyes to become fully dark adapted. Using a white torch or being subjected to a light after being outside for a few minutes will result in this dark adaption being lost.

Use a red light  A dull right light is used by astronomers to read star charts and maps whilst observing. This type of light does not cause dark adaption to be lost and is why  we ask for everyone to use this light at our group observing sessions.

 Wrap up warm:  Even during the summer, it can soon get noticeably cool outside, therefore if you want to enjoy your astronomy you will need to dress warmly.  Pay particular attention to your head as most of your body heat is lost from there, as well as your feet and hands.

 Stargaze comfortably: ‘Astronomy Is Looking Up’ or so the slogan of one national astronomical society used to say. As you are going to be looking upwards,  you may find that a crick in the neck can be a real pain. To counter this, why not press into service a reclining deckchair or sun lounger? This will make your stargazing session much more comfortable and enjoyable!

Learn the constellations:  During your first few observing sessions it is likely that the stars will appear to be totally randomly spaced in the sky. Do not worry about this, as with a little patience you will soon be able to start making out their patterns and shapes. Use one of the star charts on our site to find out what is currently viewable in the night sky (or download one from a site like www.heavens-above.com). When I started to learn my way around the night sky, I made a resolve to learn a new constellation every clear night and within a few weeks was able to identify most of the major constellations.

Find out where to look for planets and other events  Unlike the stars, planets move around the night sky, some faster than others. To find out where the planets can beseen in the sky, then check out Dave Eagle’s monthly guide on this web site. Dave also mentions the dates when the Moon will be nearby the planets and some of the brighter stars during the course of the month, which can greatly help in identifying objects.

 

Use Binoculars  A small pair of binoculars will reveal much more than the unaided eye. Star clusters, star forming areas (nebulae) and even one or two bright galaxies can brought into view.

 

 Don’t be afraid to ask  Astronomers are on the whole a friendly bunch, who are always willing to share there interest with others. So if you have any questions or want help in identifying a planet or star, then don’t hesitate to ask.

Above all enjoy  Everyone has there own particular reason why they stargaze. For some it is an interest in finding out about our neighbouring planets, for others it is the satisfaction of finding a faint galaxy, whilst others just enjoy looking outwards into the universe. Above all astronomy should always be fun and enjoyable!