Instructables

How to Get Started in Amateur Astronomy

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Astronomy is the study of the stars, planets, and other celestial objects that populate the sky.  It is an endlessly fascinating field, the oldest of the natural sciences, and one of the few areas of science that amateurs can directly assist the professionals.  It is open and accessible for any level of interest and involvement, from folks who just want to learn how to recognize the constellations all the way to near pros with telescopes worth more than their houses.

My goal in this instructable is to provide a set of resources for anyone interested in getting started with this hobby, in the form of a step by step guide for someone who just isn't sure where to begin.  When I got started a few years ago, I couldn't find any guides like this that really made sense to me, so in a way this is written to my past self.  If I had this guide, I could have avoided a lot of trouble, pitfalls, useless purchases, and dead ends.  Furthermore, I've been interested in astronomy since I was little, but I always assumed it was an expensive hobby that I couldn't afford to get into--I was wrong, and I wish someone had been there to tell me!

If you can think of anything I should add to this guide, make sure to leave a comment below--if I use your suggestion, I'll send you a DIY patch.  If I think it's a big enough suggestion or oversight on my part, I'll also send you a coupon for a three month pro membership.  Also, as I live in the northern hemisphere and only see the northern sky, if you're reading this from a southern hemisphere perspective, I encourage you to write a supplementary southern hemisphere version of this instructable.  If it's up to my standards (as determined solely by me and my whims) I will link to it here and send you a coupon for a one year pro membership!  I envy you, too, I'll probably never get to see the Magellanic Clouds.

Finally, please lend me your vote in the Space Contest.  If you found this useful or interesting, cast a vote my way!
 
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sandeep yadav made it!2 months ago

really helpfull article.

NASA_Science_Update_-_The_Voyager_Spacecraft_-_Humanity's_Farthest_Journey_-_detail.jpg
depotdevoid (author)  sandeep yadav2 months ago

Thanks, glad you found it useful!

dvitale35 months ago
Very informative. Thank you.
depotdevoid (author)  dvitale35 months ago

Thanks!

dvitale35 months ago
There is an app called starlight, you can point your I phone or I pad to the sky and it will tell you what planets and stars are above u. U can move it around too, it's reall cool. It will also show you the constellations.
imesquita9 months ago
This is just awesome! Great job on this tutorial!
I've been an astronomy fan since I can remember (though Saint Seiya helped on it...) but sadIy I was never good on Mathematics, so I couldn't go to Astronomy school, otherwise I'd be killed by Calculus!
Thank you for helping me getting closer to this amazing world (or rather, this amazing universe!)
depotdevoid (author)  imesquita9 months ago
Thank you, I'm glad you liked me instructable!
eilu11 months ago
Pretty good guide. I live in the Philippines, and I enjoy looking at the stars. Orion is always visible from my house, but I've yet to consistently see Polaris!

Another good tip for beginners is to go to local observatories (if any are nearby). They have a wealth of resources and a live-in Astronomer. Sometimes they even let you look through their telescope.
Using a green laser pointer is likely to get you in trouble if you ever do it at a star party...
depotdevoid (author)  steveastrouk1 year ago
Why do you say that? At the local star parties the Eugene Astronomical Society puts on, they use green lasers all the time. They talk a lot about laser safety and not pointing them at airplanes, but they're in pretty broad use.
If you're just messing around visually and there's no aircraft, they're not too bad, but as soon as people have imagers on their scopes, and a flash of light destroys one of their exposures, you rapidly become less popular.
Great instructable! I love astronomy; it is truly astounding to see the various celestial gems which are too often ignored. A great guide, and well thought out. However, I noticed that while you took several of the pictures, there is no instruction regarding how to take good photographs of the night sky. Perhaps you might add a short blurb for astrophotography? I have taken some of the Moon and Jupiter using a simple point-and-shoot camera and my 6" dob; but the results are always rewarding!
As a side note, the Orion Nebula is my favorite, too!
Flooflox1 year ago
Wonderful instructable. Lots of great tips. I'm in southern Ontario and we have a lot of light interference in my area but we went skiing farther north and were amazed at the nighttime star show.
depotdevoid (author)  Flooflox1 year ago
Thanks Flooflox!
Mr.A-Z1 year ago
Duh.you don't know how's the condition here in asia..
anyway,astronomy isn't about what size did you rolled in.
but it's how do you use it.
anyway,a 6" is a start.10" is more than enough.But if you want a cheap one,either make it yourself,(which takes hours..and hours) or buy a smaller ones.4" is not bad.
Mr.A-Z Mr.A-Z1 year ago
ANyway,great instructables..Really,it's rare I ever read some astronomy guides.
Oh,please add more:
Books,
and Photos!
it's great if you can add some more of planetary photos.that's what everyone look for .and books.
I suggest you read Turn left at Orion,really,a great book! (and honest one)
And you should add how to pick telescope.
And another links.
I found astronomyforum.net quite helpful .
Looking forward to see updates.

creativeraj2 years ago
Hey.. Great write up buddy. This is what exactly the informations I was looking for. You have provided many great information for a starter and have saved a lot of money for me at this point of time. I am mad to buy a telescope (though its far beyond from my budget) all these days but you made me realize there is much more out there to do before actually investing on the telescope. Thanks a lot.

I should get a lot familiar with the sky and your write up added as great motivation for me to do so..

depotdevoid (author)  creativeraj2 years ago
I'm glad to hear it, that's the best kind of praise we instructablers can get!
zimzum712 years ago
absolutly, i actualy found out by accident about venus (while i was waiting for my binos to arrive from the U.S, so a good omen i think). yeah solar projection looks very damn interesting, i might try and rig something up, like put some effort into making a totaly slick and reuseable setup. my solar sheets arrived like 3 days ago and its been solid overcast day and night. good call with stellarium (was using winstars2) a great tool for getting your bearings, a little funny to calibrate tho (tells me orion is below the horizon when i can physicaly see it) even if i enter correct time and location.....
zimzum712 years ago
hey great write up, im from australia and just got myself a pair of 20x80 skymasters and im just loving them. down here we've got the crux constellation, the jewel box cluster,also saturn is easy to find at the moment seen as a great golden orb....im finding more things i can name or knew were out there. one good point with the skymasters is the excelent rubber eye caps you can fold down so when they're on a tripod (highly recomended with these binos, i got lucky and had materials to build a wonderfully rigid stand) you can gaze upwards with no part of the body touching the binos thus no tiny jerky movement....also dont forget to sort out some solar filters for your binos and scopes to view the transit of venus early next month, i built some using solar filter sheets i got off ebay for around $10 (6"x6") and sun viewing is totaly amazing on its own....
depotdevoid (author)  zimzum712 years ago
I'd like to get a solar filter for my binoculars, but right now I've been playing with solar projection:
http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-View-an-Eclipse-Sunspots-or-the-Transit-o/
T
hat's my plan for the transit of Venus, I know I won't get another chance in my lifetime!
I already know this stuff because I am 20 and when Im thirty Ill be a astronaut
taking classes
depotdevoid (author)  Atlas Portal 22 years ago
Send us a post card from Vesta!
I'll try my best
nurdee12 years ago
Can you add this?

https://www.zooniverse.org/


It is this great web site where you can help astronomers by classifying galaxies.
depotdevoid (author)  nurdee12 years ago
Thanks for another great site nurdee, I've added it to the list!
techno guy2 years ago
How would you find jupiter or saturn if you were in the middle of the desert with only a planisphere, telescope, and flaslight?
depotdevoid (author)  techno guy2 years ago
Two options:

1. Get one of those smart phone apps that tell you where everything is in the sky

2. Find out before leaving when and where the planets will be rising and setting, then search from there.
techno guy2 years ago
I think I saw the ISS tonight at around 8:30-50ish on august the 16th. Is it supposed to look like a star that is moving slowish? Is it supposed to get dimmer as it gets farther into the horizon?
depotdevoid (author)  techno guy2 years ago
I'm not sure where you're located, but it was up here in Oregon around 9:30 and moving northeastish, are you west of me? That would just about do it. It should look like you say, like a very bright star moving along at a fair clip, but slower than a shooting star. It then slowly fades as it goes into the shadow of the earth.

It's pretty cool, the first time I went out to look for it I was all worried I wouldn't be able to spot it, but when it goes overhead you can't miss the thing!
I live in California, and it was slower than a shooting star, and it was noving northeastish but more east than north.
depotdevoid (author)  techno guy2 years ago
Cool, sounds like that's the beast! It's a fun sighting, and very easy to do when you know where to look.

When I was camping this weekend there was a cloud break, my girlfriend looked up and said, "Hey, what's that?" and there it was, the ISS!  Kids really like that one, you can explain how there are people riding on it.

If you want to plan for it for next time, you can find sighting info here: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/
johnke7cw2 years ago
I am also in to Astronomy, Ham Radio, Computers. I suggest for a new comer get at least a good pair of 7 X 50 Binoculars. I lived in Tucson, AZ for a number of years and did not have an intrest in Astronomy. I went up Las Vegas for ComDex and while driving down to Tuscon thru the Joshaw National Forest there is little light out there. You could see someons street lamp about 5 miles from the road.

The stars were out in force. Surprising what you can see when it is really dark. The Milky way was very very visible. I did not stop as I was very tired and it was 30 degrees out. I still had 5 to 6 hours to drive. I really regret not stopping now. As I now live in Michigan near Detroit. I have since built a 6" Newtonian from Berry book. I have 7 X 50 Binoculars. also a 60 mm Cheapey that I use to look at the sun with a SOLAR shield ( DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN WITH OUT SOMETHING TO PROTECT YOUR EYES) You can't look away fast enough. You could BLIND your self without proper Protection.

I am thinking of making a homemade clock drive to my 6" scope. But that is now on my TO DO list too.

Very nice Scope too. You got my vote.
depotdevoid (author)  johnke7cw2 years ago
Hey, thanks for sharing your story John.  I've been to many dark sites before, but the darkest was at a place called Ice Lake in eastern Oregon.  My friends and I hiked up there with my friends for the weekend, it was about 14 miles away from a tiny town, and way up in the mountains, at least seven thousand feet.  I have never in my life seen a dark sky like that.  I wish I had had some binocs then!

Thanks for the vote, I'm glad you liked my instructable!
JohnJY3 years ago
If I may, let me add in some two cents:

Light Pollution- During one's hunt for the stars one may find them self rather confuzzled on why some constellations are "incomplete" or rather "missing". When I was a small kid I was always taught by...everyone I ever remember...that some stars just don't come out at night, then I grew up and learned the Sun is a star, and it never has not come up. Stars sometimes don't appear because of light pollution. Light pollution is simply the use of lights in cites that creates a haze; fog like. When star wrangling it is recommend that one should be away from light sources, such as going to open fields, and preferably away from cities. To create minimal light, cover flashlights with red plastic, as it dampens the light glare from lens. Do not fret if rural countryside is a long lost dream in the concrete jungles, as star gazing is still completely possible, but a little less effect when looking for stars at a farther distance.
Picture proof: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Light_pollution_It%27s_not_pretty.jpg

I hope that's real nice and helpful! :D
One of the biggest problems I had as a child... xD
depotdevoid (author)  JohnJY3 years ago
Thanks 94, I've added a section on light pollution. I see that while I mentioned it a couple of times, I really never explained it, so a patch is on it's way! Also, if you feel I've earned it, please cast a vote for me in the Space contest!
Absolutely! Thank you, sir!
JohnJY JohnJY3 years ago
Hey, oh! It's easy to forget here in the States, but you forgot to add the Auroras, it's apart of astronomy, and amazing! If an amateur living far north or south starts astronomy using this, it would be nice to remind them of the auroras! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_%28astronomy%29
depotdevoid (author)  JohnJY3 years ago
Oh, that's another good one, and a big oversight. I've always wanted to see an aurora, but on the few occasions when I've heard they could be visible here, it's just clouds as far as the eye can see.

Thanks again, I'll add that in!
Down here in Florida I don't have any hope. Thank you though, I really love astronomy but stopped because I was too young to go to darker areas of town when I was little. (I use to take out the street lights on my street by over loading them with a spot light. xD)
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