Welcome, stargazing enthusiasts, to the fascinating world of amateur astronomy! 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!
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 beginner astronomy, which I have carefully put together from my research and experience of this wonderful hobby or pastime.
In this guide to Beginner Astronomy
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 the night sky.
- 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 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 this list on Amazon of his best astronomy books.
Here are my suggestions for a great book that will help you on your journey into astronomy:
Exploring the Night Sky: An Introduction to 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.
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.
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.
Beginner astronomy 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
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 advance in astronomy and actually study these objects, you’ll need binoculars or a telescope, for sure.
My first telescope was a Celestron 130slt. I still use the optical tube of the telescope for my 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 in the night sky.
- 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 book or guide 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
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.
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.
Even advanced astronomers generally have a pair of binoculars ready because they are very useful.
- Beginners binoculars
- Manufactured by celestron
- $24.33 (price may go up)
- Absolutely ideal!
- 24.1 MP resolution
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- 1080p video
- 18-55mm and 75-300mm lenses
- Approx. $600
Understanding Astronomy: Stars, Constellations, and Planets
Being able to identify the constellations in the night sky comes with practise. I can quickly find my way around the sky, and this is important for finding objects that will be important for 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!
Some of the most important constellations you should learn to recognise include:
- Orion (in winter and autumn)
- 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.
The Wonders of Planetary Observation: Exploring Our Solar System
One of the things that is exciting about beginner astronomy 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: 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 beginner astronomy, 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 is split into observation, astrophotography, and many other areas. 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 in the night sky.
- 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
Capturing the Cosmos: Astrophotography for Beginners
I’m not going to go deep into this topic here because the majority of this website covers whatever you need to learn about to start and develop your astrophotography skills. Plus, feel free to 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
Besides the community and social aspects of meeting like-minded astronomers like yourself, there is so much to be learned 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 go join your local astronomy club or association, as it is money well spent.
The Science of Astronomy: Delving into the Mechanics of the Universe
From my point of view, looking up is only the first of many steps in astronomy. The internet and books can help you learn the theory and even discuss your ideas. However, astronomy is practical, and I advise that you get a friend who shares your passion for the night sky and learn together. This is much more fun and can lead to collaboration.
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. Beginner astronomy 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 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!