Do you love gazing up at the stars? There’s so much more to explore that can’t be seen with the naked eye! Here’s how to get started with backyard astronomy–without breaking the bank!
Choose Your Ground
First, you need to make sure that you have a good home base for your new hobby. If you live in a congested urban area–or even a large town with a lot of light pollution–you’re going to have a tougher time. Folks who live in the country or on top of a mountain have the advantage, but that doesn’t mean you need to give up your dream.
Find the highest elevation you can–safely, of course! You also want to stake out someplace dark. Getting out of populated areas is the best option. If that’s not feasible for you, then head to a park. Just make sure that you aren’t blocked by trees.
One more word of warning–respect no-trespassing signs! Wandering onto private property at night is not a wise idea.
Download an App–But Don’t Neglect the Analog
We’ve come a long way since Galileo! Now there are multiple apps that can help you find and recognize constellations, planets, and stars. At the same time, you shouldn’t rely on technology to do the exploring for you.
An inexpensive planisphere, or star wheel, is a great piece of gear. It allows you to find out which constellations should be visible overhead at any given time. It also forces you to do a little more work than simply tapping on an app.
Although its not required, keeping a journal is a wonderful way to chronicle your journey as you master backyard astronomy. Keep notes on times and places, the stars and planets you spotted, and exciting phenomena you see.
Don’t Buy a Telescope
Many amateurs make the mistake of buying expensive gear before they even try stargazing in their backyard. That’s a classic–and costly–error. If you’re absolutely insistent on buying gear, go for binoculars. You’ll be able to see a lot with binoculars–in fact, people have discovered new comets with nothing more sophisticated than that!
Beginners who work their way up to telescopes may find that a go-to scope–one that uses a computer to automatically sight objects from a pre-programmed list–is much less frustrating. A traditional scope requires more knowledge and skill. Some people will love the challenge; others just want to see something cool.
Make a Backyard Astronomy Bucket List
As you get started with astronomy, it’s fun to make a bucket list of objects you want to study. Many people start with observing the moon and then the planets. With a powerful set of binoculars, you can even observe the phases of Venus!
Hunting for the major constellations is also a good way to see as much of the sky as possible. You could go on a tour of the Zodiac, for example, or look for the constellations recorded by Ptolemy in the 2nd century.
Final Words of Wisdom
We’ll leave you with two final pieces of advice. First, always keep learning. Read books, take classes, and join clubs! There will always be more to discover.
And finally, remember to wear warm socks and carry a bottle of water! A warm, hydrated astronomer is a happy astronomer.