starting out skywatching or amateur astronomy

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Here's a few tips to get the most out of skywatching or to help become an amateur astronomer

1) Don't be put off by light polution

2) Buy or subscribe to an astronomy magazine

3) Visit a local observatory or planetarium or even find a local star party

4) Get some skywatching aids

5) Buy or borrow some binoculars

6) Join an astronomy club

7) Get advice before buying a telescope

8) Blow your mind


1) Don't be put off by light polution! - it's obviously not great, but it doesn't stop you checking out some of the most mindblowing sights in the night sky - even from downtown inner cities you can see all the 5 major planets and with a £50 telescope even see the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter.

The full Moon causes more light polution than streetlights, so really it's a matter of timing as much as location. Also light polution can even help the amateur as it means all the major stars of a constellation can be seen clearly whilst trying to find the same constellation while up a mountain that has no skyglow can be quite tricky as it's lost in amongst all the other stars and the Milky Way!

No way am I defending light pollution here, but use it to your advantage -  if you're starting up, certainly don't use it as an excuse not get interested, but perhaps think of it a stabilisers - making it easier for you to find stars, constellations and planets. It's like turning the brightness/contrast button on your TV. So when you do get to go to the desert or up a mountain at new moon and see the splendour of true night skies you will have some starting points and awareness of how it fits together because it is truely overwhelming

2) Buy or subscribe to an astronomy magazine - Full of tips as well as tell you what celestial events are coming up over the next month. It's best to try a few out so you can see which is one you like the layout and tone of

3) Visit a local observatory or planetarium or even find a local star party - It's good to have someone experience to help you navigate the stars and you will always pick up tips as to where to take your new hobby next. A star party is where a group of amateurs get together with their telescopes and are usually open to anyone and people are more than happy to let you look through their telescopes, offer advice and talk cosmic - if there isn't one near you locally then why not drag a few mates out with some binoculars

4) Get some skywatching aids - Either starmaps which can be downloaded from the internet or there are some excelent astronomy books for the complete beginner in all libraries and are pretty much indispensable. A planisphere is a small handheld view of the night sky and this will help point out the constellations and major stars for you. You can get an astrolabe which is a customised and very accurate planisphere to really help you find out about your local sky

5) Buy or borrow some binoculars - it's much better to start with binoculars and you can see so much with them - a decent pair will let you see Jupiters moons and even a cheap set will show you amazing craters on the moon as well as nebulae and star clusters

6) Join an astronomy club - you don't have to be a particle physicist to join amateur astronomy clubs, most of them are full of keen helpful and curious like-minded people and if you don't find them, well start your own!

7) Get advice before buying a telescope - I'm pretty sure there's a guide on this here on ebay so without getting carried away advice is:-  get a 'cheap' 3inch telescope (as it's lightweight you'll tend to take it out more) - plus a decent tripod that has micro adjustments (easy and reliable to use) and a red dot finderscope (cut out loads of hassle)

8) Be prepared to see and discover some truly outrageously mind-blowing cosmic stuff


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