Introduction: Ultimate Guide for Sky Watchers
For those of you who are absolutely new to astronomy,let me define the field briefly.
Astronomy is the branch of science that deals with celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole. In short, it is the study of space. I love exploring stars, planets, and the sky. My curiosity to know more about space led me to pursue a degree in physics. However, you do not need a fancy degree to explore the beauty of the universe. A great sky watcher is propelled by his hunger for knowledge and the never-ending spirit to explore the space.
In this instructable, I am going to try helping amateur astronomers. I am going to give some information along with handy tips and triks to make your stargazing experience 'awesome'
Step 1: Naked-eye Observations
Naked-eye or unaided-eye observation is observing astronomical objects without instruments such as telescopes and binoculars. An amateur sky watcher can start with naked-eye observation. All you need to start is a desire to learn about astronomical objects. Some astronomy reference material can come handy in this process. Also, unaided-eye observation will polish your observing skills, which is necessary when you use binoculars and telescope.
There are many astronomy resources that can help you in naked eye observation. Books on astronomical objects, sky chats from local newspaper, and various other resources will give you information on special astronomical events and other related areas.
Most people prefer night time astronomy over day time astronomy because the interference of light during the night time is the least. In the night sky, the stars and planets can be observed better. On the other hand, during the day, we can observe the sun, moon, planets, satellites, events such as solar eclipse, planet transits, and so on.
Night time astronomy should be well planned to get most out of it. Just like our sun rises and sets, planets and stars also have their own rising and setting time. They differ by a few minutes every day. At this time, you will be able to see many stars, constellations, moons, galaxies, meteors, satellites and so on.
Step 2: Plan Your Stargazing Session
Another important thing is you need to choose the correct season and day to enjoy stargazing. Weather also plays an important role. You won’t enjoy stargazing if you are uncomfortable due to temperature and season changes. The climate should be pleasant, around 20-24 degrees, which is quite comfortable for most of people.
You should also plan out the objects you would like to spot that night. The best viewing position is around 70 degrees above the horizon. The ideal position is straight above your head i.e at 90 degrees above the horizon, but this viewing angle is usallu unconfortable and may give you a sprain in the neck. Hence, 70 degrees is more advisable. It is also important to note that not every star will pass through your head.
Step 3: Don’t Get Discouraged
Few will rise and set at quite low angles too. These objects are very difficult to locate and the objects are not even very sharp too. The rising and setting points for a astronomical body is also different on different latitudes too, so don’t be disappointed if you see something on the internet which should been very easy to spot but you can’t. It is probably because you are looking at the place where it could be found in a particular region, but will be at you region and it is even possible it might not be visible from your region. so its important that you don’t get discouraged.
Step 4: The Moonlight
The moon looks specular through binoculars and telescopes. However, if you plan for deep sky observation, try to avoid the days when the moon is up bright in the sky. The reason is that moonlight will cause the background of the vision to illuminate, making it difficult to locate the faint stars and other heavenly bodies. It also reduces the contrast which usually causes a blurry vision. The best day to have a deep sky observation is on the new moon day. Most of the sky-watching sessions take place over weekends, as the people like to enjoy the night sky. If the weekend falls in 2-3 days around the new moon day, then the day can be considered to be good to have an observation session.
Step 5: Star Chart
A star chart is a map of the night sky. They are used to identify and locate astronomical objects such as stars, constellations and galaxies.
A star chart is absolutely necessary to locate stars, constellations, and other deep-sky objects. The unaided eye star charts come in many forms, such as monthly star charts in books and magazines, Android/iOS apps, and planetarium software for computers.
I highly recommend using an Android app with minimum brightness and using a red-light filter, to reduce the brightness further. There are many night sky-observing apps available in the market. You can choose the one that best suits your needs. Mobile observatory is my personal favorite. It has tons of essential features that will make your observation session easy and very interesting.
Alternatively, you can also use old-school methods such as sky charts, Planisphere, or Night sky Atlas
Step 6: Darkness Adaptation
Getting your eyes adapted to low light will help you get the best night-sky observation experience. You should not expose your eyes to light for some time, this results, the pupil of you eye to widen and more light can fall on the retina of your eyes. Adaptation usually takes about 15-20 minutes. If your eyes are well adapted to darkness, you will be able to see even fainter stars. You should avoid exposing your eyes to light once your eyes are adapted to the dark. This is because it takes only a fraction of a second to lose the adaptation and takes considerable time to get adapted
Step 7: Choose a Perfect Place
Even though sky observation can be done at any place, it is highly advisable to be in a place that is free from pollution, especially light pollution. Light pollution causes more difficulty to spot less bright objects such as faint stars and nebula. It will be better if you can move away from your city or town to some country side or village where light pollution is the least. Higher altitude places are even better the distortion due to temperature change is lesser as compared with lower altitude places.
Step 8: Binoculars
One of the best ways to enjoy the night sky is sitting on a lounge and using binoculars to observe a clear night sky. Depending on the type of binoculars and the clarity of the sky, you can see at least 10 to 15 times more stars then your unaided eyes. According to me, the best binoculars are ones that are lightweight and easy to carry. Hence, a 10 X 50 binoculars would be more advisable then other smaller or bigger ones. There are many binoculars available in the market. They vary in quality, price, waterproofing features, and so on.
Step 9: Telescopes
A telescope is a device that is a system of lenses or mirrors or both. A telescope primarily is used to observe stars, planets, and other heavenly objects in the sky. The first simple refractive telescope was made by an Italian physicist and astronomer, Galileo Galilei. Later, many different telescopes with advanced features were made. Today, the telescope is the primary tool for astronomers and physicists all around the globe.
Telescopes are primarily divided into two types: optical telescopes and non-optical telescopes. Optical telescopes include reflectors, refractors, and compound telescopes. Non-optical telescopes include infrared, far infrared, radio, and so on.
Here are a few tips to get the best out of your telescope:
- Buy only good-quality telescopes. Invest in a high-quality eyepiece for better viewing experience.
- Always allow the telescope to cooldown to the surrounding temperature.
- Align the telescope and finder scope. It may sound stupid but is very important.
- Keep the telescope in a cold, dry place. This will prevent damage to the telescope and make it last even longer.
Step 10: Tripod and Mount
It is a good idea to invest in a good-quality tripod and mount. The tripod mount for telescope or binoculars should be sturdy and a bit heavy so that the telescope or the binoculars on the top of it does not vibrate too much. The center of gravity of your scope should be prefect (Low). If it is high, the telescope or the binoculars on the top of it may fall.
Step 11: Other Tips
Another thing to keep in mind is that you will have a lot of free time when stargazing, as the stars and planets have their own rising time. To pass time, you can carry a sleeping bag, some tea or coffee in a thermos, and some snacks. Also, it is important to have a good group of people with you, those who are really interested in studying the pace..
If you are in a group, it is advisable to carry a laser pointer. It makes spotting stars and planets very easy in the night sky. There are many pointers available in the market, with different quality and price. You can choose one that best fits your needs.
Also, do not use any light during your observation session. If it is absolutely necessary to use light, for example, to read a sky chart, you can use a dim red light.
You can join a local astronomy club to gain more knowledge and get in touch with similar minded people before you set out on your stargazing mission.
Step 12: The Sun Danger
Last but not least, safety is very important. Make a mental note to never look directly at the sun, even if you are using binoculars, telescopes, or any optical system. If there are children with you please take special care. Explain them the hazards, there is a good chance they may try to look objects in the sky trough the scope or the lenses and accidently look into the sun. Looking directly into the sun will permanently burn the person’s eyes.