How to Start Stargazing as a Hobby

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Stargazing as a Hobby

Our universe contains so many wonders, you’ll never see them all in a lifetime. Even after 20 years in the hobby, experienced observers still see sights they have never seen before, and even the well-known celestial bodies may impress season after season. Stargazing is a hobby that provides endless enjoyment as you learn to observe the beauty of the sky above. 

To boost this joy and impression upon a journey of exploration, we suggest taking the following steps for beginners who are considering stargazing as a new hobby. Tips below provided by veteran backyard stargazers and optics experts.

Choose a Weapon – Figuratively

You always have to be prepared with the right gear when starting any new activity. Despite that a telescope is originally known as an astronomy device most expert still suggest buying astronomy binoculars for beginners. 

Most people believe that buying a telescope is enough to start your stargazing way.

It is not so.

Buying a telescope at the very beginning is actually a hasty decision, in worst cases even a dead end. If you’re certain you’ll love it or you have an experienced observer by your side, you could invest 300-500$ dollars at this point and get an entry-level telescope. But first it you need to know how to set up and aim the telescope. Sure, there are computerized telescopes with 4000+ objects in database that able of looking for celestial bodies around the sky. But setting one of these up still requires some basic knowledge: finding north, finding bright stars, then knowing what and when there is to look at.

Start with Binoculars

This will be your first product to begin your astronomy experience. Technically, any binoculars with magnification X7 and more can be considered as an “astronomy”. 

A pair of 7×50mm or 10×50mm binoculars (50mm lenses and 7 or 10 magnifying power) will work for astronomy and you don’t need to spend more than $300. They can show a great number of sky objects: The Milky Way, Jupiter’s moons, double stars, nebulas, star clusters, lunar features even some galaxies. Several months spent exploring the sky with binoculars in hands, will provide enough experience to start considering a telescope for advanced observing.

Before you make a purchase of your first ever binoculars, check out some reviews and forums, talk to fellow amateurs or consult with a local optics dealer (most big cities have at least one). Google for “How to Choose a Telescope” or “Best Binoculars/Telescope for Stargazing” help files on-line. Trusted dealers will take care to offer you binoculars that certainly suit your needs; they want us as happy customers so that we will come back to buy a 2 500$ Swarovski binoculars after becoming astronomy professionals.

Some experts often recommend entry-level Orion Resolux 15X80 or extra affordable Celestron Cometron 7X50 to be your first binoculars for stargazing.

PRO TIP: Look for ultralight binoculars (5 lbs or less) to hold them steady enough, otherwise you will need a tripod which is a one more piece for your collection and extra expenses.

Light Pollution

Light pollution can be called the greatest enemy of the night sky, since it washes out starlight and other cosmic objects, it interferes with astronomical research in all forms. More than a hundred years ago, people could walk outside at night even in a city and see the Milky Way with a naked eye. By allowing artificial lights to wash out the night skies, we are losing touch with our cultural heritage (literally, what has made us who we are). 

With more than half of the world’s population now living in big cities, 3 out of every 4 people have never experienced the embarrassing of genuine dark skies.

According to recent data, more than one-half of the people living in the Europe and more than two-thirds of the continental U.S. will never be able see the Milky Way with the naked eye.

For a newbie stargazer it works simply: the further you are from the city lights, the better.

Thankfully to a big number of uninhabited and distant places around the world you still have a chance to truly discover the night sky’s brilliance.

Best Places to Go Stargazing

IDA developed their Map of Dark Sites which mostly consists of campsites, national parks and reservations. That means you can try your first stargazing while camping/backpacking as well. But only if you have considered those ultralight binocs, haven’t you?

Actually, since you are the beginner, this new hobby can be started at the backyard of your house. You can always leave planning a trip to Grand Canyon National Park for later.

Don’t worry about travelling to a dark site; your backyard or city park with an open view of the sky will do fine. (Not well enough to see The Milky Way for example, but still well for the first time experience) All you need to find in the dark skies are just the brightest stars, which is all that city light allows. A dark sky consists of hundreds of stars – that is more than enough to get started.

Perform your star-identification sessions throughout the year, say, once a month or two, so that you will be able to see the constellations shift through the seasons as Earth orbits the Sun. When winter is ending and it turns to spring, you’ll see Leo rise and Orion set, to be replaced by the Summer Triangle, and then by Square of Pegasus in fall. You don’t have to learn every constellation (pro observers do). Just focus on recognizing the brightest stars and the better-known star patterns, such as the Taurus, Pegasus, Gemini, Cassiopeia, Orion, Taurus, — one constellation per month, two or three constellations per season.

Astrophotography

Finally, the best part! Grab your smartphone or camera closer to the objective and start creating cool pictures for your social media.

That’s it. You can easily take awesome astrophotos with a DSLR camera or smartphone, like the one you might already own. Aim digital cameras into the eyepiece of any astronomy device and get stunning close-ups of the constellations or the Moon.

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