Resources » Go Observing! » Observing Guide
Enjoying the night sky is simple and straightforward, anybody can take part and no expert knowledge or equipment is needed. To help you make the most of your stargazing, here are ten tips to starting and developing your interest in astronomy.
1. Choose your instrument
The old saying “the right tool for the job” applies to stargazing, too. Your eyes are excellent instruments for astronomy as you can see a huge amount of the sky and detect moving objects like shooting stars. To see even more stars, consider a good pair of binoculars. These are good value for money and are easy to use. Serious astronomers may like to invest in a telescope. These instruments gather much more light than your eyes, so allow you to see faint objects such as galaxies and nebulae more easily.
2. Choose your location
The ideal location for stargazing is far away from town and city lights as this will give better views of the night sky. However, beginners may actually find it easier to get into the hobby using light-polluted skies, as the dimmer stars are drowned out making the brighter constellations even easier to see. So if you live in a city, do not be put off! Always remember to stay safe. If you go to a remote location try to visit it during the daytime and always let others know your plans.
3. Choose your equipment
Stargazing does not necessarily require a lot of equipment, but a few items are highly recommended. At the top of the list is warm clothing as it can get bitterly cold at night. A reclining chair will allow you to lie back and stay comfortable. Torches covered in red plastic, or painted with red nail varnish will help you see while keeping your eyes adjusted to the dark. A hot drink and some snacks are advised, as are sky maps, a fully charged mobile phone, and an accurate watch.
4. Be prepared
Only a small amount of research will let you maximise your stargazing time. Learn what is visible and when. As well as the obvious stars and planets, consider finding out when man-made objects pass overhead, such as the International Space Station. Checking the weather forecast will also save you a lot of frustration if cloudy weather is imminent.
5. Learn the night sky
Getting to know the constellations is one of the most rewarding parts of amateur astronomy. Tracking down new star patterns will help you find your way around the night sky quickly and before long your knowledge will be greatly increased.
6. Become a story teller
The constellations come laden with myths and legends that have been told for many hundreds of years. Knowing these tales will allow you to tell stories with the stars, become familiar with patterns in the sky, and make you a hit around the camp fire.
7. The more you look, the more you see
The secret of astronomy is persistence. If it is cloudy one night, try again the next. Keep observing and build on your experiences. The night sky changes over the year, so there are always new things to look at.
8. Get involved with other people
There is a lot to be said for enjoying the peace and tranquillity of the night while observing on your own, but stargazing can be a social activity. If you would like to take things further, consider joining an amateur astronomy society. Then you will be able to learn from others and share your new hobby.
9. Keep a log book
Jotting down all of the things you see and notice in a journal will help you to learn and make the most of your observing sessions. In no time at all you will be star hopping from the great nebula in Orion to the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus.
10. Enjoy it!
Remember that star gazing is fun and simple. Avoid getting caught up in technical aspects if that does not interest you. It is incredibly satisfying to just go outside on a starry night and look up!