Everybody needs a hobby. Better, still a hobby that teaches you lots, engages you for a lifetime, and doesn’t (necessarily) cost a penny.
For many people, that hobby is stargazing. You don’t need to be a professional astronomer by any means, and it’s surprisingly simple to get started.
Whether stargazing is a hobby, in brief
Stargazing is a simple and satisfying outdoor hobby. It’s educational yet relaxing at the same time, and all people from all walks of life can enjoy it. Some hobbyist stargazers and amateur astronomers have even made important discoveries! To get started, all you need is your own two eyes, clear and dry skies, and a few easy objects to look for. You don’t need any special equipment, like telescopes or binoculars, but they are worth it later when you want to see more.
3 Things You Need To Start Stargazing As A Hobby
It’s hard to beat totally free access to some of the most spectacular sights in the universe. And even fellow hobbyists have had a huge influence in the field. (We’ll talk about some of the most famous ones farther down.)
All in all, seems like a pretty interesting hobby, right?
If you’re ready to cast your eyes upward, and be amazed by the stellar beauty overhead, then here’s some good news.
You can start today if the weather is right.
There’s a little more to it, of course, but actually not a whole lot. Here’s what you’ll need to try out this hobby for yourself.
The right conditions
Stars are extremely bright up close–just think of the Sun–but they’re too far away to shine through much cloud cover.
That’s why it’s important to choose an evening with a clear sky. (But if that doesn’t quite work out, all is not lost. Check out this article for tips on stargazing on a cloudy night.)
If in doubt, then looking up barometric pressure is a great way to tell. High pressure usually indicates clear conditions.
Poor air quality can also interfere, since tiny dirt and dust particles keep light from reaching you uninterrupted. This is often a problem during the summer, when pollution and wildfire smoke tend to flare up.
There are other considerations, too, but you don’t need to worry about them for now.
For example, things like the turbulence of Earth’s atmosphere itself (known as “seeing”) affects how steady versus “twinkly” the stars might look. It generally improves later in the night, but unless you’re looking for detailed sights with a telescope, it won’t get in the way of beginning stargazing.
A little knowledge of what to look for
As a new hobbyist, you’re probably starting out with just your eyes, so you’ll want to target some of the easier sights.
For instance, the planet Venus is one of the brightest objects in the whole night sky. From earth, it’s actually many times brighter than just about any star.
Constellations are another terrific starting point. Classics like Orion or the Big Dipper are easily spotted in the Northern Hemisphere. However, the time of year makes a big difference, since the earth’s rotation affects where and how you’ll see stars.
(Pro tip: give your eyes plenty of time to adjust to the dark. And once they do, avoid screens or other light sources!)
Optionally, some basic equipment
Do you need equipment? Nope, not at all.
You can see plenty with no gear at all.
However, a little magnification does go a long way. Sights like the colors and moons of Jupiter are accessible with decent binoculars.
While naked-eye stargazing gives plenty to wonder at, the experience is on a whole other level when you start seeing otherworldly features like those.
So, if you’ve got a pair of binoculars sitting around, then it’s time to dust them off!
There’s really no need for a telescope, and it’s probably best to wait until you know stargazing is the hobby for you. But if you’re curious anyhow, then check out our more detailed write-up on telescopes vs. binoculars for stargazing.
Your phone might also be a valuable tool, but not for viewing. Instead, go download a top-rated astronomy app, which will show you what to look for that very night!
(Again, as mentioned above, don’t look at your phone while stargazing! Do your research and planning beforehand, as much as possible. Otherwise, the sudden brightness means your eyes will have to keep readjusting to the dark over and over again.)
Some famous hobbyist stargazers
Did you know that home stargazers and amateur astronomers made some of the most important discoveries in that field?
For instance, you might have heard of the Hale-Bopp comet. It was named for two men who discovered it at the same time, but separately from each other. The latter, Thomas Bopp, was a passionate but totally amateur astronomer–he even used a homemade telescope at the time!
Many decades earlier, there was a lesser-known hobbyist named Grote Reber (nope, I don’t know how to pronounce that either!). He was one of the inventors of radio astronomy, which is a way of detecting radio frequencies that come from celestial objects. This paved the way for some of the most important evidence for the Big Bang. Not bad, for an amateur, huh?
Or consider Walter Scott Houston, one of the most famous astronomy writers of all time. He wasn’t a professional scientist by any means, yet his magazine columns ran for nearly 50 years, and inspired countless other stargazers to keep learning and exploring.
There are dozens–maybe hundreds–of folks who made contributions like these, despite doing something else for a living.
Of course, they were deeply dedicated to their hobby, and you might not want to take it quite that seriously! But if stargazing really does captivate you, then know that you’ll be in fantastic company.
Conclusion: Stargazing As A Hobby
Stargazing is a wildly popular hobby, and for good reason: almost anybody can try it.
And as we’ve seen, the field of astronomy can thank hobbyists for some of its best-known discoveries of all time.
With the right conditions and a simple plan of what to look for, you too can try out this hobby right away. Equipment like binoculars or a telescope are nice, of course, but they really aren’t necessary.