Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

A quick and dirty guide to backyard astronomy

Elizabeth Fish | April 1, 2013
You might be put off by the cost of telescopes, or the amount of research you have to do to navigate the sky. But astronomy for beginners doesn't have to be expensive or difficult. We'll show you how to get started, and share some apps and gadgets that might be useful.

You might be put off by the cost of telescopes, or the amount of research you have to do to navigate the sky. But astronomy for beginners doesn't have to be expensive or difficult. We'll show you how to get started, and share some apps and gadgets that might be useful.

Find the perfect spot

To really enjoy observing, you'll want to find an ideal point. The best spot for observing will not only give you a clear view of the sky, but also contain little light pollution. That condition, though, can be difficult to meet if you live in a city.

If you have a large backyard, standing at the very rear might be enough; you can also try going to a large city park. If you live in an apartment building, try observing from the rooftop, if you have permission to access it.

Of course, you may find that staying in the city just isn't feasible--the sky might not be dark enough, which can make it tough to spot stars, even on a clear night. Hop in the car, get out of the city, and chose a nice spot in the country. Make sure trees do not obscure your view, and don't trespass on private property.

Finding Polaris

Once you're out there, what should you be looking at? First off, look up and give your eyes a few minutes to readjust. Without all the light distractions, your eyes will adapt to the darkness, and you'll start to notice a whole host of stars, not just the brightest few.

Once you've had time to adjust, what you'll spot in the sky will depend on your position on Earth and the time of the year. But if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, finding Polaris, the North Star, is a good place to start. To find Polaris, try locating the Big Dipper. This saucepan-shaped constellation is a bright section of Ursa Major, and is easily recognizable. Two of the Big Dipper's stars line up directly with Polaris, giving you a great reference point all year round.

Observing with the naked eye

Don't rush out to buy a telescope just yet. You can see and enjoy a whole host of things without digging deep into your wallet.

The planets Saturn and Jupiter are relatively easy to spot without needing a telescope; if you're lucky, you might be able to see Mercury with the naked eye, but it's a little tricky to see because of its position in the sky.

You might also able to spot deep-sky objects like the Orion nebula--both the standout constellation and the "local" nebula, which looks like a strange smudge in the sky. If you give your eyes a bit of time to adjust, you might spot the Pleiades, better known as the Seven Sisters, and the Beehive, two interesting star clusters.

 

1  2  3  4  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.