Beginner's Guide to Stargazing

Can you find north just by looking up at the night sky? Have you ever witnessed the birth of a new star?

There's nothing quite as magical or awe-inspiring as looking up on a clear night and spotting your first constellation, planet or distant galaxy among the heavens. What's more, you can make it even more magical by taking novices along – they'll absolutely love making out the sword of the hunter Orion or tracking a satellite across the sky. This time of year is prime stargazing time because the nights are longer, but you'll need to wrap up warm. A thermos of hot chocolate won't go amiss, either.

Binoculars: A 10x50 set is perfect for beginner stargazers because they're cheap, light and do a fine job viewing the moon, planets and some deep sky objects.

Red torch: This will enable you to look at your star chart without polluting night sky vision. Red cellophane wrapped over a normal torch or a rear bicycle light work just as well.

Smartphone: These days you can get amazing stargazing apps for your phone that use your phone's GPS to simulate a real-time map of the stars, planets and satellites on your screen. Try Sky Map for Android or Star Walk for iPhone.

Star chart: We are always moving because Earth rotates on its axis and orbits the sun. As we rotate, we change our angle of vision, so the positions of constellations and celestial bodies change over the seasons, except Polaris (the North Star), which is always positioned above the North Pole. Using a star chart will help you work out the position of constellations in the night sky according to the time of year.

The absence of a full moon: It's best to avoid stargazing when there's a full moon, as the moon's glare will dull the light of the stars. Check new moon dates before you venture out. 

Words: Abigail Whyte


Last date edited: 4 February 2015

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