Astronomy for Beginners: Your Guide to Unveiling the Wonders of the Universe

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Welcome, stargazing enthusiasts, to the fascinating world of astronomy for beginners! Whether you’re looking up into the sky from your own backyard or considering the purchase of your first telescope, amateur astronomy holds an allure that can stir passion and excitement in any curious soul.

“Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another.” – Plato

For me personally, I have been interested in space since I was a small boy, just five years old. That was back in 1969, when the first astronauts walked on the moon. I couldn’t believe what I was watching, and I wanted to become an astronaut!

That never happened, obviously, so the next best thing was to enjoy astronomy in my own small way. Fast forward to the present day, and I am an amateur astrophotographer!

astrophotgraphy

Amateur astronomy isn’t merely observing celestial objects; it’s about understanding, appreciation, and the thirst for unravelling the mysteries of the universe. As you set out on this journey, you’ll not only learn about the stars, nebulae, galaxies, and other celestial objects, but you’ll also come to feel a part of a global community that shares a love of stargazing.

I hope you enjoy my guide to astronomy for beginners, which I have carefully put together from my research and experience of this wonderful hobby or pastime.

In this guide to astronomy for beginners

Whether you’re pursuing astronomy as a hobby or looking to dip your toes into the vast pool of cosmic knowledge, this comprehensive guide aims to provide a clear path by covering various aspects important for beginners, including:

  • Stargazing Basics: Discover the fundamentals of stargazing, from understanding constellations to identifying planets.
  • Choosing Equipment: We’ll help you navigate the world of telescopes, binoculars, and other essential gear, making sure you get the right tools for your stargazing journey.
  • Night Sky Highlights: Learn about upcoming celestial events, meteor showers, and the best times to observe planets.
  • Astronomy for All Ages: Explore how anyone, young or old, can partake in the wonder of universe.
  • Resources and Tips: We’ll recommend books, websites, and apps to aid your exploration, along with expert tips for enhancing your stargazing experiences.

Astronomy is an adventure of the mind.
– Patrick Moore

Patrick Moore, that quirky and slightly strange English astronomer, has written many popular guides to astronomy for beginners that can entertain and teach you. They are all written with his infectious brand of enthusiasm, which he has left as his legacy in the world of astronomy. Check out this list on Amazon of his best astronomy books.

Exploring the Night Sky: An Introduction to Amateur Astronomy

Over 50 million people worldwide participate in amateur astronomy.

I’m one of the many millions around the globe. I take photographs of astronomical objects, especially galaxies and nebulae. Check out some of my best images here.

One interesting but disappointing fact is that the vast majority of astronomers are men. I hope this changes in the future, as many more women seem to be becoming scientists now. That’s great news! In the past, it was very much a male-dominated pastime. Most of the famous astronomers are male.

The most popular celestial objects observed by amateurs are the Moon, planets, and deep-sky objects.

For a beginner, I would suggest starting with observing the targets that are often in the sky and the ones that are so bright that they can be observed or photographed very easily.

someone doing beginner astronomy with a telescope

When I first got my telescope, I aimed it at the moon and was amazed at the view I got. The other objects I tried to view were Jupiter’s and its many moons, and the amazing Saturn.

As soon as I observed these objects, I wanted to photograph them, and my desire to become an astrophotographer was born.

As a beginner, you’ll find the moon is extremely easy to locate, and focusing your telescope on such a large and close object is easy for a beginner astronomer.

The planets come next, starting with the two biggest ones, Jupiter and Saturn. However, it is frustrating to observe or photograph them because your telescope will move slightly and may even shake. Also, these objects are so bright that it is difficult to see fine details.

Astronomy for beginners is possible with only a small telescope. You’ll start by observing these easy targets and learning more about them. Later on, a larger telescope will be needed to see more details and allow you to study even more distant objects.

Preparing for Your Stargazing Adventure: Essential Equipment and Tools

Stargazing can be done from various locations, including your backyard, a park, or a dark sky site.

However, you’ll need the right equipment for beginner astronomy. Stargazing can be started without tools, but limiting yourself to your eyes alone will not satisfy your curiosity. If you wish to get started in astronomy and actually study these objects, you’ll need binoculars or a telescope, for sure.

Telescopes are commonly used by amateur astronomers to observe distant objects in the universe and solar system.

The cost of a beginner-level telescope can range from $100 to $500.

My first telescope was a Celestron 130slt. I still use the optical tube of the telescope for my backyard astrophotography.

I also started astrophotography with a DSLR camera. I used a Canon 600D, which I had modified to make it more sensitive for astronomy. This takes some great photographs of objects that are within the reach of a beginner, such as the Orion nebula.

You need to be aware that this is not a cheap hobby, but at first, you shouldn’t spend too much as you will need to upgrade your equipment as you advance in astronomy.

For beginner astronomy, this is the equipment I recommend you consider starting with:

  • A telescope with an alt-az mount A Goto mount will help you locate and follow astronomical objects.
  • A camera if you plan to do astrophotography.
  • A good pair of binoculars will help you locate objects in the sky and observe them more closely.
  • A moon filter to reduce the glow. Believe me, the reflection of the light from the sun off the moon’s surface hurts your eye if you observe for more than a few minutes!
  • A good astronomy for beginners book is always helpful. On this page, I have suggested some helpful beginner books for astronomy.

Here are a few items you can check out that I recommend from Amazon:

Choosing the Perfect Telescope: A Beginner’s Guide

There are different types of telescopes, such as refractors, reflectors, and compound telescopes.

Reflectors have always been popular, and I use one with a 130mm aperture from Celestron. They are easy to use and lightweight. They are good for observing all kinds of astronomy targets and can be used for astrophotography.

I found out that when you want to switch to astrophotography, you may find that your reflector was designed for viewing. Such was the case with my Celestron 130SLT. The problem was that the mirror may need to be moved so that focus can be reached on your camera.

I modified my telescope tube quite easily and cheaply with the use of 3D-printed parts. The solution I followed is explained here in this video. This saved me a bundle of money, a lot of time and effort, and possible damage to my telescope tube. Once you get the parts printed, it takes five minutes to solve the prime-focus problem.

The size of a telescope’s aperture determines its light-gathering ability and potential for high-resolution images.

For beginner astronomy, you do not need a large telescope, and it is definitely not necessary for beginner-level astrophotography.

Refractors are also very good telescopes because they require less setup, are easy to use, and are very portable.

Astronomy binoculars are a popular choice for beginners as they provide a wide field of view and are portable.

Even advanced astronomers generally have a pair of binoculars ready because they are very useful.

Celestron - Cometron 7x50 Binoculars
9.7/10
  • Beginners binoculars
  • Manufactured by celestron
  • $24.33 (price may go up)
  • Absolutely ideal!
Canon EOS Rebel T7 DSLR Camera and two lenses
9.5/10
  • 24.1 MP resolution
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • 1080p video
  • 18-55mm and 75-300mm lenses
  • Approx. $600
Celestron - NexStar 130SLT Computerized Telescope
9.1/10
  • Reflector telescope 
  • 130mm aperture
  • Go to System Computerized
  • 4000 object database
  • Perfect starter telescope
As an Amazon associate I earn a commission. Thanks for your support!

Understanding Astronomy: Stars, Constellations, and Planets

The sky at night is filled with numerous objects, including stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae, and comets.

Being able to identify the constellations comes with practise. I can quickly find my way around the sky, and this is important for finding objects that will be important for beginner astronomy.

Identifying the pole star is vital for any beginner astronomer. It is the point around which the other stars seem to rotate during the night. This is because the pole star is very close to the projected point in space, which extends through the axis of the earth around which our planet is rotating.

Next, several stars can be used as a reference point to find one’s way around the sky. Also, bright stars can be used to align a telescope setup so that your mount knows where it is pointing in the sky.

Some of the stars I found easy to spot are Betelgeuse (in Orion), Arcturus, and Vega, and there are several others. These are all in the northern hemisphere, of course. If you live in the southern hemisphere, you’ll have to learn about different constellations and stars.

I remember being so excited last year in Bali when I had the opportunity to photograph the Carina Nebula and look at Orion in the summer!

Constellations are patterns of stars that have been recognized and named by ancient civilizations.

Some of the most important constellations you should learn to recognise include:

  • Orion (in winter and autumn)
  • Cassiopeia
  • Ursa Major
  • and others..

My friends are always surprised when I point out the planets. Oh, there’s Jupiter or Saturn, I say. Venus and Mars are also quite easy to see when you know what to look for. Jupiter is virtually one of the brightest objects in the sky, appearing as a star to those who don’t recognise the planet.

Mars is also very bright but has a reddish-orange colour.

And here is a picture I took of Jupiter using a DSLR camera. Can you see the moons?

Jupiter and its moons taken with a DSLR

The Wonders of Planetary Observation: Exploring Our Solar System

One of the things that is exciting about astronomy for beginners is the sense of discovery. How many moons can you see when you look at Saturn or Jupiter? There are so many.

Saturn has 82 moons! But this number may change as new moons are sometimes discovered as our technology improves.

Currently, we believe that Jupiter has 79 moons, but again, more may be discovered; we just haven’t seen them yet.

This is one of the joys of astronomy for beginners: amateurs sometimes make new discoveries that the big boys haven’t spotted before. The growing number of home astronomers and astrophotographers and the improving technology we have access to now make discoveries more possible.

So, today for you, it might be astronomy for beginners, and tomorrow you might discover a planet or asteroid and give it a name!

Unveiling the Mysteries of Deep Space: Observing Galaxies and Nebulae

Astronomy apps and software can help identify celestial objects, track their positions, and provide information about them.

Astronomy is split into observation, astrophotography, and many other areas. Many astronomers use a telescope, but as a beginner, you may wonder: What can you see with a telescope? The answer is quite a lot but a beginner to astronomy may be shocked at what things actually look like in a telescope.

Don’t expect to see colour in your telescope. Our eyes cannot see the colour of nebulae and galaxies. They are not sensitive enough. You’ll see faint smudges of grey. As you practice observing with a telescope you’ll see more details.

Most distant objects, such as galaxies, may be invisible to your telescope unless you have a very large and powerful one. Even viewing Andromeda, which is huge and the closest galaxy to us, you will only see a faint round object, which is the core of the galaxy. It will look like a faint grey haze, but you won’t believe how excited I was when I realised I was looking at a galaxy the first time I found it.

The full answer to what can you see with a telescope is the moon and planets in our solar system. The moons of some of these planets are visible. You’ll be able to see nearer nebulae, such as the Dumbell Nebula very faintly grey against the black background of the night. Other things you’ll see may include comets and brighter galaxies but you’ll have to look hard for these!

Observing is tough, as most nebulae appear as faint smudges grey in colour. Galaxies are even worse because they are so far away! Don’t expect to see those colourful swirls of gas when looking through a telescope!

Astrophotography, however, can open up this possibility with dedication and practise over several years. The results can be seen in some of the pictures I have taken.

Elsewhere on this website, I have listed some of these, but here are a few of the apps I use:

  • Stellarium (a star map) enables you to find different targets and see where they will be in the sky at a certain time in your location.
  • Sky Safari mobile app It shows a map of the sky as I point my phone upwards, and I can easily identify stars, planets, and many other objects.
  • APT (Astrophotography Tool) I have this app on my laptop that enables me to use plate solving to locate and track any target throughout the night. It also controls guiding and takes many photos of a set exposure time in a plan that I enter.
  • SharpCap. This has an accurate polar alignment routine and helps me focus my telescope.
  • PHD2. Guidance software
  • Photoshop. This is one of many kinds of processing software.

Tips for Successful Stargazing: Finding Dark Skies and Ideal Conditions

Every astronomer should look for the very best sites near them where the conditions are best for stargazing and observing astronomical objects. This is something that is getting more difficult as light pollution spreads and becomes a bigger problem. Please check out this page I’ve written to learn more about the effects of light pollution on astronomy and astrophotography.

The International Dark-Sky Association works to preserve dark skies and reduce light pollution.

If you want to know where the best skies close to you are located, then you can check one of the many useful apps available, such as the Light Pollution Map available on mobile. This is one I use all the time when I’m out looking for better conditions.

The best places for astronomy are away from big cities. Go to parks, forests, and deserts beside the ocean to find spots that are not saturated with lights. Consult the Bortle scale and if you can find anything 5 or less, you’ll do much better when you try to observe distant objects or photograph those faint deep sky objects I talk about on this website.

Capturing the Cosmos: Astrophotography for Beginners

Astrophotography is a technique used by amateur astronomers to capture images of celestial objects using cameras and telescopes.

I’m not going to go deep into this topic on this page because this website covers everything you need to learn about astrophotography. Also, send me an email with any questions you have about astrophotography, and I’ll be very happy to help you.

Joining the Amateur Astronomy Community: Clubs, Events, and Resources

Astronomy clubs and societies exist worldwide, providing opportunities for amateur astronomers to connect and share their passion.

Amateur astronomers often participate in star parties, where they gather to observe and share their knowledge and equipment.

Besides the community and social aspects of meeting like-minded astronomers like yourself, there is so much to learn in astronomy, both in theory and practise.

I joined the British Astronomical Association to link up with others more experienced than myself and to broaden my knowledge of astronomy. I suggest you join your local astronomy club or association, as it is money well spent.

Personally speaking, I love the opportunity to talk to others about my passion astrophotography and explain the details of how I take those amazing photos. I have also felt that this is a hobby that I want to share with others, especially as so few know what we do to create these images.

Astrophotography can be a lonely pastime spent in the dark late at night with not a soul around. But if you join others, there is a social connection you can make with others who share your interest in space.

astrophotography

This picture above shows the awesomeness of capturing a Milky Way image.

The Science of Astronomy: Delving into the Mechanics of the Universe

Learning about astronomical objects can deepen our understanding of the universe and inspire a sense of wonder.

From my point of view, looking up is only the first of many steps in astronomy for beginners. The internet and books can help you learn the theory and even discuss your ideas. However, beginner astronomy is practical, and I advise that you get a friend who shares your passion for astronomy and learn together. This is much more fun and can lead to collaboration.

The study of astronomy dates back thousands of years, with ancient civilizations making significant astronomical observations and discoveries.

I am pretty much glued to videos about space and the universe and watch them every day. If I studied astronomy every day for the rest of my life, I could only learn so much. Astronomy for beginners has a steep learning curve, so I hope that this page has been just the first of those helpful steps you have taken on your journey.

I’m here to help and guide anyone wanting to venture into astrophotography, but I can also advise on the equipment that you need for beginner astronomy. What should you buy first, and where should you start? Sign up for my newsletter and get a free astrophotography cheat sheet. I’ll then have another point of contact with you.

Here’s to your success in astronomy!

Common Challenges in Amateur Astronomy and How to Overcome Them

Here is a list of five of the biggest challenges you may face as a beginner astronomer:

  • Learning how to navigate around the sky at night. Stars, constellations and more are all waiting for you to discover them!
  • Understanding the equipment used in astronomy for beginners and beyond and how to choose what is right for you Luckily, I can help you with this.
  • Learning how astronomers talk and the words they use to describe the many objects and scientific discoveries in space. This is a difficult job and definitely involves a real effort to expand your thinking and learn new concepts.
  • Learning to be patient. Astronomy is challenging and demands patience. You need determination and your skills of problem solving will be tested!
  • Finding a good location from which to observe or photograph a dark sky is becoming a real challenge these days!

From Novice to Expert: Advancing Your Skills in Amateur Astronomy

Amateur astronomers spend an average of 10-20 hours per month observing the stars and other objects. This is the best way to improve your skills, get started and make mistakes. Learn by doing.

Common Astronomy for Beginners Questions

Here are some of the most common questions that beginner astronomers have:

What is amateur astronomy, and how does it differ from professional astronomy?

As a beginner to astronomy you might wonder what is the difference between amateur and professional astronomy and astronomers. One major difference is that amateurs are not trained in the science of astronomy. Professionals usually have qualifications and experience behind them in astrophysics or something similar. Probably a Phd.

Another difference is the reasons why someone does astronomy. Are you in it as a hobby or passion? Or is it your job? An amateur would answer yes to the first question and a profession would answer yes to the second.

A professional astronomer normally works in an educational institution, such as a university or research facility.

Professional astronomers use different equipment to amateurs. professional equipment is more sophisticated, complex and specialised and this generally means more expensive also! Amateurs are learning as they go and as they don’t usually have access to a large budget they start with simple and inexpensive equipment. As they progress the equipment gets more expensive but we are general talking small sums of money compared to the large amounts that the likes of NASA and others spend.

One of the most distinct differences is the why regarding astronomy in the professional and amateur fields.

A professional normally specialisies in some specific aspect of astronomy and devotes time to researching this. Professionals seek to expand the existing knowledge and theories of astronomy and pursue discovery and confirmation of existing ideas and theories about space and the objects in it.

Amateurs are more interested in astronomy for the pleasure that it provides. They may approach astronomy in a more general manner but still have a sense of wonder driving them. Some amateurs do get involved with professionals, and they can help them out and even make discoveries that scientists have missed.

There, of course, far more amateur astronomers than professionals and cooperation can be a wonderful thing as recently has been seen with discoveries amateur astronomers made about the Andromeda Galaxy.

How can I identify different constellations?

This comes with experience. I learned about constellations when I was young and learned to recognise them over the years. I read books about the different constellations but I have added so many additional ones that I can now recognize since doing astrophotgraphy over the last few years.

I can recognize the common constellations:

  • Cassiopeia
  • Ursa Major
  • Ursa Minor
  • Orion

In addition, I can easily find stars such as Alkaid, Vega, Betelgeuse, Polaris and many more.

What are some beginner-friendly telescopes for amateur astronomers?

There are many beginner-friendly telescopes including the one I started with and would recommend the Celestron 130slt with Goto Az-Alt Mount. Check it out below if you’re looking for a great beginner scope (incidentally I still use the telescope tube from this telescope today for high quality astrophotos!

Celestron - NexStar 130SLT Computerized Telescope
  • Reflector telescope 
  • 130mm aperture
  • Go to System Computerized
  • 4000 object database
  • Perfect starter telescope

Check out this page for my advice about the best telescope brands and models to choose from. I’ve mentioned some great telescopes here!

Are there any smartphone apps that can help with amateur astronomy?

Go check out my page about apps that can be used for beginner astronomy including the best ones for astrophotography.

Can I see planets and galaxies with a basic telescope?

Again, I answer your questions about how to choose and use a telescope for seeing planets and also for photographing galaxies here. Answers are just a click away!

How can I take astrophotography with my smartphone or camera?

If you’d like to learn more about using a camera for astrophotography then click here. Basically, you can use a smartphone, but the best solution is to either use a DSLR camera or an astronomy camera. I use two cameras, a Canon 600D DSLR and a ZWO ASI533MCPRO. If that sounds confusing you need to click the link to learn more about what I am talking about!

What are some upcoming celestial events to look out for?

Celestial events to look out for include comets passing by, planet conjunctions, meteor showers, eclipses of the moon and sun etc.