Astronomy is a great hobby to get into. But a lot of people are put off because it sounds so complicated for a beginner. So I’d thought I’d share my experiences of getting into astronomy.
Getting an interest
lots of people are introduced to astronomy in many different ways. Some are influenced by other famous astronomers such as Sir Patrick Moore, TV shows that promote astronomy such as The Sky at night or Stargazing live, the latter being one of my favourites. Others take inspiration from books or famous astronomical events such as the moon landings in 1969. Professor Brian Cox said in a recent interview that he was inspired by the moon landings. You can read the full interview here.
As for me, my interest came from a few sources. I remember looking out of my bedroom window one evening and seeing a bright flash across the sky, which I later learned was that of a meteor or a ‘shooting star’. I had a children’s science book, which I spent the rest of the night looking through, cause I wanted to find out more about that mysterious flash. I came across a page on constellations in the sky. It told me about a few famous constellations and how to spot them, so the next night (which was fortunately clear) I went to see if I could find my very first constellation: Orion. I remember being delighted when I found the famous Orion’s belt, and then even more so when I found the entire constellation, I spent ages staring at it, I then wanted to find more constellations. I managed to find a map of all the constellations in the northern hemisphere, and I started looking for each one. This curiosity drove me on to find all the constellations I could, until by the same time a year later I had seen and recorded about 40 constellations…and all because of seeing a shooting star.
After you have managed to get an interest, through whatever source, you need to start stargazing. Now people often think this means they need to spend loads of money on expensive telescopes and other equipment, but when starting off this isn’t necessary. The first thing to do is to learn the sky, by observing the constellations. A good way to learn them is to do what I did above, and to help you with this, buy a Planisphere or look at some online. These tell you what is in the sky on an exact date, time and at your latitude. Also, until you are able to find the north star on your own, it may be helpful to have a compass so you know where north is. For more information on how to use a planisphere click here. Once you have pointed out the constellations, you are ready to start observing other objects and events. These may be meteor showers which are best found by looking for their radiant. this is the point in the sky where the meteors appear to come from and the meteor shower is often named after the constellation the radiant is in, such as the Perseids meteor shower which comes from the constellation Perseus. This type of astronomy therefore needs little equipment and so is the best way to start of.
Other things that are good for beginners to observe are planets. 6 of the 8 planets in our solar system can be seen by the naked eye as bright points of light in the sky and can often be mistaken for just being another star. however, the best way to view these are in a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope. This will up the cost of your newfound hobby slightly but it will be well worth it. The planets through binoculars or a telescope is such a beautiful site.
As you get more experienced with the night sky, your telescope will become more and more of a use to you. It will allow you to observe fainter objects not visible to the naked eye. These include:
- nebulas such as the Orion nebula
- galaxies such as the Andromeda galaxy
- binary stars such as Mintaka A and B in the belt of Orion
- open star clusters such as the Pleiades star cluster
- Globular star clusters such as the Great globular star cluster in Hercules or M13
As your interest grows you may wish to get a bigger or more advanced telescope, or more accessories such as a solar filter that will allow you to observe the sun safely. never observe the sun through binoculars or a telescope directly without the correct filtering equipment as it can seriously damage your eyes and could lead to blindness.
Expanding your knowledge of Astronomy
Once you have become more advanced in observing objects and events, you will find your interest and thirst for knowledge will grow. this certainly happened to me and led to me writing this blog! It also led to be regularly buying astronomy magazines and viewing astronomy websites such as Astronomy picture of the day
So enjoy your stargazing, it is a great experience and will change they way you think when you look up at the sky, grab every opportunity to stargaze, but most importantly, don’t allow it to become a chore, let it be something that you will enjoy doing.
- information on Professor Brian Cox sourced from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/mar/07/brian-cox-solar-system-interview
- planisphere information sourced from: http://www.wiziq.com/tutorial/16383-How-to-Use-a-Planisphere-Star-Finder
- reference astronomy picture of the day as an example of expanding your knowledge of astronomy sourced from: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/lib/aptree.html
- reference to observing the sun safely sourced from: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/sun/Viewing_the_Sun_Safely.html