However, anyone who’s started dabbling in stargazing will tell you that this isn’t a simple thing to pick up.
If you allow yourself to be overwhelmed in the start, it might seem like the learning curve is just too much for you to handle. However, that’s not true. In fact, it really can be as simple as stepping outside and looking at the stars with a sense of wonder and curiosity.
Of course, there are some important and non-obvious things to help you along the way, and those are exactly what we’ll cover below.
Do you need any equipment to start stargazing?
The first thing that most people think about when they consider getting into stargazing is — don’t I need a lot of expensive equipment to get started? Actually, no. It’s best to begin stargazing with your naked eye and learn your way around major sights like the Big Dipper. Save the telescope or binoculars for later on, when you have a better idea of your interest level, observational goals, and budget.
Indeed, many of the planets found in the solar system are actually observable with your own naked eye; such as Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus. If you don’t wish to spend money on new equipment right away, you can even use a pair of binoculars for a better view.
But when you want to see more close-up details, then it’s time for a gear upgrade. We believe a telescope is usually superior to binoculars, at least if you want to see deep-space objects.
Beyond binoculars and telescopes, today’s amateur astronomers have some other simple tools at their disposal for a better stargazing experience. For instance, you can subscribe to astronomy magazines, which will give you some helpful tips on what kind of stuff you can observe in the night sky during which period.
Also, there are augmented reality apps (here are our favorites) that use technology to help you spot specific constellations and objects in the sky. You’d do well to buy a star atlas as well — which is a book containing some basic star maps.
Meanwhile, we’ve even written a whole guide to studying astronomy at home for beginners–no gear required!
What are the best conditions?
So, now that you know what kind of stuff you need to get started, the other question is — where and when. Naturally, you need the darkest possible conditions — allowing the light of the stars to stand out properly and reveal the night sky in all its majesty. Of course, that means you’ll be stargazing at nighttime.
However, the specifics of your astronomy experience will largely depend on where you live; at least in the beginning, before you start going on stargazing adventures a little farther from your comfort zone. So, if you live in a big metropolitan area and you don’t own a car; you won’t have an easy time spotting detailed constellations.
In cities, light pollution is a problem that clouds pretty much all but the brightest stars. However, you might manage to see some of the bigger planets from there as well. So, city-dwellers often stay at that beginner level of stargazing; at least until they invest in a better scope and start going to the countryside.
There’s a little more to it, including moon phases and even atmospheric conditions, so take a look at our article on ideal stargazing conditions for some useful details.
How should you learn the night sky?
Luckily for you, today there is an abundance of free sources of astronomy knowledge online; as well as plenty of forums, social media groups, and websites dedicated to the myriad discussions surrounding stargazing. Considering that, it would be a good idea to immerse yourself in all available online content on stargazing.
Also, begin with the basics — like the Moon phases, which describe how our natural satellite goes from a thin crescent to a full circle over the span of a month. This is important, seeing as the Moon’s light can sometimes be an obstacle if you want to spot fainter objects.
Apart from that, you should also learn about the seasonal constellation — like winter’s Orion and Taurus, or Cygnus which you can see in the summertime. Don’t go for the fainter, more difficult ones right away.
What websites should you check out first?
Our primary advice for you is to seek out the public forums frequented by other amateur astronomers; they will turn out to be your biggest allies in overcoming this sometimes steep learning curve. One huge benefit of forums is the ability to find locals who know the ins and outs of your region’s weather patterns, light pollution sources, and so forth.
And speaking of light pollution, another great resource is the Dark Site Finder. It’s tremendously helpful in finding great spots for stargazing, among heaps of other useful information.
What’s the hardest part of getting into stargazing?
At the end of the day, stargazing is a hobby just like any other; it can just be a bit more complicated than, for example, golf or fishing. And while it isn’t hard to obtain useful information on stargazing, we believe that’s precisely one of the most difficult parts about this pastime; in the beginning, it may seem like you’re about to be overwhelmed with all kinds of information. From the history of astronomy, to sky maps, and the functioning of a telescope; all of that can seem pretty daunting to someone who’s never dabbled in this before.
However, it’s incredibly important not to let that dissuade you from learning more about astronomy. The key here is going one step at a time; don’t spread yourself thin by trying to learn everything at once, because that’s the best way to stress yourself out and give up. Instead, take in astrology knowledge only at the rate that you need to — and everything else will fall into place!
When is it worth upgrading your equipment?
After a certain while, you will notice that your stargazing equipment has become lacking. So, the question here is — should you buy and upgrade your equipment? And when is the right time to do so? Luckily, telescopes don’t require you to upgrade as often as many other mainstream technologies and hardware these days. In fact, if you buy the right telescope and do all of the proper maintenance — it could be at your service for a decade, perhaps even more!
The main reason why people upgrade telescopes is not malfunctioning or some new revolutionary model; instead, it has more to do with a user of a telescope becoming too advanced for the hardware that they’re currently working with. And luckily for you, there’s not always a necessity to buy a completely new telescope. There are plenty of ways you can upgrade your current one to render you better views of the night sky!
As you can see, getting into stargazing is not always easy; but if you overcome the initial learning curve, you will find that this is absolutely one of the greatest hobbies that you can partake in! Once you learn the basics and acquire rudimentary hardware, you’ll be able to start enjoying the night sky. Don’t be afraid to spend some time being frustrated with the basics — it will all pay off in the end.