New to amateur astronomy? Or perhaps you’ve been a stargazer before and you need a refresher? Here are a few resources to help you get oriented. You can bookmark these pages and come back to them as you need, and share them with fellow stargazers.
A Free ‘Crash Course’ in Basic Stargazing
First, here’s a series of helpful e-books (including audio) about astronomy and stargazing.
Here’s a link to the first e-book. It’s called Stargazing 101: The Night Sky for Beginners. There are two versions, one for the northern hemisphere and one for the south.
This second e-book, What to See in the Night Sky. It takes you through the basics of what you can see in the night sky, from stars and planets to the Moon and most distant galaxies.
And here’s a link to a third e-book, Choosing Binoculars and Telescopes for Stargazing. If you’re thinking of getting a scope, this is the place to start. It will save you a lot of time and money:
Feel free to share these e-books with your friends and family, and with members of your astronomy club. You can also download the files to your own computer. Or you can read them and stream the audio right from your computer or tablet.
Two More Useful Resources for Finding Your Way Around the Sky
Now for a couple of useful (and free) tools for stargazers, one for beginners and one for just about anyone who is actively interested in the night sky.
There are also Stellarium apps for tablets and smartphones at a cost of a few dollars on your favorite app store.
How to Choose Binoculars and Telescopes
Once you get oriented in the night sky, you may wish to acquire some optics. That means binoculars and telescopes (and several additional accessories). The e-book mentioned above will help you get started understanding these essential tools.
Compared to telescopes and cameras, binoculars are fairly simple devices with just a few important specifications. But there’s still a lot of choice out there, and there are a lot of binoculars that will let you down. We’ve also assembled some hard-won wisdom to help you choose and use a reasonably-priced pair of quality binoculars for astronomy. You can read it at this link.
Telescopes are a little more complicated. But this series of videos shows you the various types of telescopes, mounts, and accessories available along with the pros and cons of each type of telescope.
Learning to See in the Dark
Getting a telescope is one thing. Learning to see through it is another. Many newcomers to visual astronomy get frustrated that they can’t see much at first. Of course, no matter how experienced you are, the view through a telescope is never going to look like pictures in the astronomy magazines.
Still, you can see a surprising amount once you make sure your eyes are conditioned to see faint objects. This article explains two critical concepts, dark adaptation and averted vision, that will help you get the best view of faint objects through a telescope (or with binoculars or even your unaided eyes, for that matter).
And this short article will explain a simple step-by-step approach of how to look through a telescope and see something good. Like playing a musical instrument, looking through a telescope is a skill, one that’s developed by practice. The more you look, the more you will see.
A Little Inspiration
For a little inspiration, here’s a short but beautiful video that get as close as it comes to the actual feeling of being under a clear dark sky. It’s a great piece to inspire you to go out and see the night sky for yourself. In this video, along with wide-field views of the late-summer sky, you see stars reflected in the primary mirror of a big telescope, a live view of the star Capella through an eyepiece, and a view of the Perseid meteor shower. Who doesn’t want to be an amateur astronomer?
And one more short video to brighten your day… the writer and film maker Wylie Overstreet took his big 12″ Newtonian telescope into the streets of Los Angeles to show the Moon to passersby. The result? Well, see for yourself. But it’s nice to know that so many overstimulated city dwellers can still enjoy nature at its finest.