Time of year, knowledge of the beginner and light pollution are about criteria for astronomy newcomers to consider – more about this later.
These criteria also influence, Whether an entry is frustration-free and gives much pleasure, or just not.
You know this for sure:
You are looking forward to a supposedly new hobby, are full of eagerness and anticipation, and then realize at some point that you are have made rash decisions..
…about buying the wrong equipment.
If you want to make the smoothest and most cautious introduction to amateur astronomy, you should familiarize yourself with some basic terms and acquire basic knowledge.
Also, before potentially investing in expensive equipment, it is advisable to know the different constellations in the night sky. In addition you take yourselves best a good rotating sky map of Amazon to the hand.
"Don’t expect to see just by looking; seeing is an art that must be learned".
Wilhelm Herschel (1738-1822)
Tip 1: Learn the orientation in the night sky – Stargazing for beginners
For stargazing (observing stars) you first have to do a little Basic Knowledge have, both about the Starry sky as well as the Celestial Mechanics.
Before one goes euphorically on the hunt for certain constellations, one should consider once that there is The location of the observation determines which stars and constellations can be seen at all.
If you were to stand on the South Pole, we would only be able to see stars in the southern hemisphere; those in the northern hemisphere would not be visible. At the equator, however, it is possible to see all the stars and constellations in the sky at different times of the year.
I give the following points as rough introduction for orientation in the night sky:
- The stars move at night as well as the sun during the day from east to west.
- As is well known, the earth rotates around its own axis once in 24 hours, but around our sun only once in a year (the orbit of the earth around the sun we call ecliptic).
- If you would draw an exact line in the night sky from north to south, you would get the meridian. Halay between north and south – directly above the observation point – lies the zenith, the highest point in the sky.
- The coordinate system in the sky forms a fictitious sphere around the Earth (Celestial sphere), which is intended as a guide and Basis of celestial maps is.
- Right Ascension (RA) and Declination (Dec) are like lines of latitude and longitude on maps, they help to determine the stars and their positions.
- In the constellation Ursa Minor you will find, pretty much at the northern celestial pole, the famous Polar star Polaris. It serves as a fixed orientation point in the sky, since from the rotation of the earth around the north-south axis the stars in the south and north seem to rotate around a fixed point.
In my opinion, the easiest way to get started in stargazing is with good tools.
For this I expressly recommend good rotating star map, like the rotating star chart from the Oculum publishing house, which Amazon sells.
So why do I need a rotating star chart?
Thus one learns already the later necessary handling with this tool. I must admit that the above facts are very theoretical. But this is how you manage to use it practically and handle it safely.
The star chart is a simple way to easily find your way around the night sky.
I recommend to those who are fit in English, the video series Stargazing Basics at Youtube.
Tip 2: Seasons influence stargazing
First of all, everyone who does not have it on the shelf yet, should read the Book Kosmos Sky Year 2022 – Sun, Moon and Stars in the Course of the Year by Hans-Ulrich Keller to the heart put (current price with Amazon).
As every year the Kosmos publishing house brings its yearbook also 2018 on the market.
Why is the book relevant for the time of stargazing?
You will find here on 304 pages a kind of Calendar of celestial events for the current year. You can find here not only calendar data, but especially when which planets are visible, data on the sun, moon, stars and constellations.
In addition, the book series is now considered Standard work in astronomy and is interesting for beginners, but also for advanced students. For more tips on astronomy literature, check out my post on astronomy books.
Basically: different seasons offer different star constellations. This is how you see the two constellations "The Big Dipper" and "Cassiopeia" as the two guideposts in the sky – they are circumpolar, which means visible every night and they are facing each other.
With these signposts and the information from the above book resp. Armed with a star chart I can observe the following constellations in the course of the year:
- In spring can be found in the night sky for example the so called spring triangle observe. Arcturus in the constellation Bear Keeper, Spica as the main star of the constellation Virgo and Regulus as the main star of Leo.
- The bright stars Deneb in the constellation Swan, Vega in Lyra and Altair in Eagle form in summer the striking Summer Triangle.
- If I go against it in autumn on observation tour, I can discover the four bright stars Algenib, Scheat, Markab and Sirrah. These form the so-called Autumn quadrilateral. By the way, the first three of them are at the same time the main stars of Pegasus.
- I would rather like to see in winter observe, because the cold doesn’t bother me any more, for central Europe the Winter hexagon at: Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, Prokyon and Pollux form the rather distinctive winter hexagon. If, on the other hand, I take only the very bright stars Sirius in the Big Dog, Prokyon in the Little Dog and Rigel in Orion, I observe the Winter triangle.
So you see, the "when do I want to observe stars" just also determines what we can see in the first place!
Tip 3: Consider temporal factors
In addition to the seasons, there are other time factors that you should definitely consider:
- Find out about the weather on the planned day of observation. namely if haze is coming up, this is enough to spoil your fun.
- If the night is really clear, you have also at the same time little Problems with the so-called star flicker (scintillation). By this we mean the atmospheric flicker, the flickering of a star, caused by air turbulence. Reason: From the same star light rays of different wavelengths, with different paths into the atmosphere, fall into the human eye. By movements of the air striae, which function like weak lenses, the rays are affected differently strongly and can then lead to the fact that the star shines in many colors. As an amateur astronomer you should avoid scintillation at all costs, especially if you want to observe something like double stars!
- Another temporal factor to consider in any observation of stars: When will the sun set on the day of observation? When is thus the dawn over and pitch black night? These questions directly affect whether you can detect faint stars or perhaps even nebulae!
- Finally it also depends, when and how the moon shines in the sky. If there is a full moon, it may outshine many of your coveted observing objects! Equally, if you plan to find a faint crescent next to a bright planet, it may be an incentive for you to do so.
Tip 4: The ideal location for stargazing
The ideal location for stargazing is certainly not the Big city with the inevitable light pollution (also called light smog). With it one means that artificial light sources cause a brightening of the nocturnal sky and thus "pollute" it. This pollution is of course greatest in cities – in some places you can see only 5% of the stars that are actually possible!
On the other hand, if you live in a small town or in the countryside? Good for you and your sky observations!
Well, at least theoretically. You must consider also here that Their knowledge of orientation in the night sky again plays a major role. Imagine yourself ideally living in the high mountains. Great, or? You will be rewarded with a magnificent night sky – or bludgeoned – depending on how well you can orient yourself! The otherwise rather dim stars shine brightly in the mountains. This leads fast to frustration with beginners, because it leads to confusion.
So it is not such a bad thing for the rank beginner, if the initial excursions at night are not connected with kilometer-long car trips to the countryside. The part of amateur astronomy you will experience soon enough as an urban resident and absolute astronomy fan.
If you nevertheless, together with your astro-equipment, want to go to the countryside In my article about the transport of a telescope I give tips on what to pay attention to when transporting astronomical equipment.
So, to be able to observe the most important constellations, it would be advisable to start only a little outside the big city. The brightening will serve you well if you successfully match the brighter stars with the templates from the star charts!
With or without aids, I go as a stargazer always outside. Just when you try to observe something useful with a telescope, the window glasses will put a spoke in your wheel!
Your home balcony is not an ideal condition either, but if it faces south it will do for a start. You can observe the peak of planets and stars above the horizon in southern direction.
Better you find a place though in the yard or in the dark garden without walls and house barriers. Preferably you have a clear view of Polaris, even if this will not always be possible.
Generally the Location in any case as dark as possible be.
There are many amateur astronomers, who exclusively observe stars in their home garden, from their terrace or from the sky. your property from stars observe and even with the astro-photography amazing results can show up.
Sometimes the point has come when these astronomy fans turn to more difficult objects and the Deep Sky Astronomy want to dedicate. These are all celestial objects outside our solar system, but they are not counted to single stars. So we are talking about nebulae, galaxies and star clusters. At the latest then an evening car trip to the countryside, far away from urban light pollution, really makes sense. If you want to have success with various very faint objects, the brightened night sky disturbs just too much.
One last tip for the location: You will find Public observatories everywhere in the German-speaking world. Go nevertheless on a visitor evening to the nearest observatory and collect free of charge or for a small entrance fee impressions with the view by a (high-quality) telescope! If you already have some experience with orientation in the night sky, a visit is especially rewarding.