Astronomers estimate that there are around 100 billion stars in our galaxy. Approximately three new stars form in the Milky Way every year. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope revealed that there are around two trillion more galaxies than astronomers originally thought.
With statistics like these, there is no limit to the depth of things to explore in the nighttime sky. But where should an amateur astronomy student begin? Check out our complete guide to astronomy for beginners to learn how you can become a “Galileo-wanna-be.”
Astronomy for Beginners: Getting Started
Basic astronomy isn’t too hard to start learning. Learning new topics keeps your mind open and strengthens your smarts. Follow these nine smart tips and you’ll be navigating the cosmos in no time.
1. Look for Ideal Nighttime Conditions
Your first step on the road to learn astronomy is picking a night where the sky is dark and clear. Try to avoid observation points where there are any clouds or haze present.
There should also be a limited amount of scattered street lights present. Areas typically closer to metropolitan areas with light pollution will be troublesome.
Higher elevations can be ideal for amateur astronomy. When you’re closer to the stars, you’ll have less atmospheric distortion that can hide celestial objects.
2. Consult Star Charts
Star charts are maps that can help you find planets, stars, and constellations. Maps are divided into grids that correspond to a specific constellation within that area of the universe. Large dots represent brighter stars and smaller dots represent fainter stars.
Star charts are updated monthly because the earth’s orbit around the sun is constantly changing. That means the locations for these galactic bodies will also change. Be sure the direction you’re facing lines up with your star chart.
3. Observe the Moon
Watching the moon is also a great way to learn astronomy. You can learn about how the moon was formed and what’s its surface is like. You can also learn about how the surface craters were created.
You don’t need any special equipment to be able to see this natural satellite. Familiarize yourself with eclipses. Study the moon’s phases so you can understand how they affect ocean tides.
4. Study the Sun
Amateur astronomy should also include a review of the sun. Learn the sun’s patterns and what happens during a solstice or equinox.
You can also explore why the sun rises and sets at different locations during different times throughout the year. You can also learn about the different rising and setting patterns during Alaskan seasons.
5. Purchase Astronomy Guides
Astronomy books for beginners are useful resources. They include start charts, diagrams and background information on astronomical history. Astronomy guides will also have helpful equipment advice as well. You can find answers to all your equipment questions ranging from binocular prices to “how much is a telescope?”
6. Download Free Astronomy Apps
There are many free astronomy apps that you can use to enhance your experience. These apps can replace your use of traditional star charts.
SkyView Free lets you use your phone’s screen and sensors to show you a view of what’s happening in the sky in real time. You can also use this app to identify constellations and planets. SkyView has a “moment in time” feature that lets you see what the universe would have looked like in the past.
Star Walk 2 is an app that has many camera modes that offer scroll or manual capabilities. Star Walk 2 also has a “moment in time” feature that lets you see skies in the future and from the past. It also has a “What’s New” source on the latest astronomy headlines.
Star Chart operates a default sky view as well as lets you travel throughout the universe. This app also has a “moment in time” function that lets you see important galactic events from the past. You can also use Star Chart to buy and download many other astronomy-related apps.
7. Start With Binoculars
Binoculars are a perfect “first telescope” for many reasons. They are commonly available, easy to carry and reasonably priced. They give a wide field of view, as opposed to high powered telescopes that magnify tiny sections of the sky.
Binoculars reflect what’s right in front of you. Telescopes lenses, by contrast, reflect mirrored images upside down. Images are then aligned at right angles in the direction your facing.
8. Graduate to a Telescope
There are two different kinds of amateur telescope for beginners. One is called a reflector telescope. The other is called a refractor telescope.
Refractor telescopes are built with convex lenses. These lenses bend light to a specific target or focal point. Light is then directed to the telescope’s eyepiece. Then the eyepiece directs the light to your eye’s retina.
Reflector telescopes have mirrors that collect and direct light rays to your focal point. Light travels through a tube until it reaches a second mirror closer to the top of the tube. After that, the light is pointed to the eyepiece.
Whether you choose a refractor or reflector telescope, be sure to pick one that’s portable and easy for you to carry. Some new telescope models may have built-in computers that can direct your scope to any object at the push of a button. These “Go-To” scopes are certainly novel but can make it heavier to carry.
9. Join an Astronomy Club
Astronomy clubs are a great place to find others that share your stargazing interests. Members will have different levels of expertise and can share their knowledge with you. Sometimes these clubs will organize lectures for their members to learn new insights.
Purchasing a telescope can be a confusing experience for a rookie. When you buy your equipment from other club members, they can show you how to use your new gear.
Ready to start learning more about astronomy? The good news is you can start today.
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