How can I learn to stargaze and get a better appreciation of observing the sky at night? One way is reading the articles on this website, and similar sites. But to give you a more complete resource, the following lists several ways of how to learn stargazing, with or without spending a dime, to enhance your enjoyment of this backyard hobby.
On this site, you’ll find helpful info on how to choose the best telescope for you, the right accessories and tools, how to get the best out of your gear, as well as a glossary of celestial things in sky at night and terms that you’re not fully clear on.
About Observing the Sky at Night
The best way to learn stargazing is to just do it! Simply start observing the sky at night.
Having said that…you’ll gain a lot more enjoyment and maximize your experience with a little knowledge and the following aims to help with that.
You can maximize your chances of great night sky viewing by timing it just right.
To observe stars and planets, the best time is with a dark sky. This means a phase when the moon is not illuminating the sky, either on or near a new moon or before the moon rises or after it has set.
For viewing the features of the moon, the opposite is true. You’ll see more features of Earth’s natural satellite on a full moon.
To get a better look at planets, such as Saturn and Jupiter, one of the best times is when they are in opposition.
Clear crisp nights, which provide good atmospheric viewing conditions, are also the best times for viewing. You’ll generally find more of these during autumn to spring. So a good time is when there is little or no cloud, fog, smog, or smoke haze cover about.
You’ll find lots more info about timing in our article on the best time to stargaze.
About where to stargaze, the best locations could be near you.
Find a place devoid of light pollution or one where the lighting can be dimmed. So a good place is away from city lights, as in out in nature or at a high enough elevation, or in your backyard if light pollution can be filtered out.
Our article on where best to stargaze covers a number of dark sky locations and includes an online tool to find a dark spot near you.
There are some essential accessories that will help you get more from your experience.
One in particular is a red flashlight. I cover why and how you can adapt a conventional one in my article about using a red light torch in astronomy.
Other important accessories include filters and extra eyepieces. Some might prefer a Barlow lens.
Looking at stars at night
You can stargaze with your naked eye. It’s that simple. However, using a telescope or astronomy binoculars opens up the greater splendor of the night sky.
Give yourself a few minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. This will allow you to see things in the sky with clearer definition.
If you need lighting to read star maps or similar, use a flashlight with a red filter. You can easily make one of these by wrapping red cellophane or another transparent red material over a normal flashlight. Why use red light? “Red light is the lowest energy form of visible light, so using it allows us to keep our night-vision intact so we can see the sky in more detail” – from the Orlando Science Center.
How to use a telescope for stargazing
Using a telescope seems simple enough. You point the telescope at the object and whallah! you see it in greater glory, right? Well, it’s not always that straightforward, as newbies to using a stargazing telescope may tell you.
For starters, not all telescopes for stargazing are designed the same. How they operate varies. Our article about refractors vs reflectors explains the differences between the two common types. Telescope mounts also vary and will affect how you maneuver your scope or not to follow the object in the night sky. We wrote an article detailing the different types of telescope mounts you’re likely to come across, explaining some of this.
Viewing a particular night sky object in the lens of the telescope can be frustrating if you don’t know what you’re looking at nor how to maneuver the telescope or find and focus to get a view of the object through the telescope.
Knowing about the different size eyepieces and which ones are best for moon viewing versus planet details will enhance your viewing experience. And for those people who wear eyeglasses, our article on using a telescope for eyeglass wearers has you covered.
Read also: Beginners Guide to Stargazing
How to use binoculars for stargazing
Binoculars might seem easier than using a telescope. They have a wider field of view, which makes finding a night-sky object easier.
Certainly, they are more portable and don’t take much to set up. One problem with that, however, is the jerking movements that affect your viewing when you’re holding binoculars in your hands. It’s hard to keep them steady when you’re looking upwards. To deal with this, you can mount binoculars on a tripod or try steadying them by resting your elbows on the roof of your vehicle or a fence railing.
Binoculars are a great companion when using a telescope as well, because of their wider field of view among other reasons. We wrote about these in my previous article on ways binoculars are useful in terms of learning the sky at night.
Read also: Using binoculars in astronomy: best options
How can you identify stars in the night sky?
Star maps help you identify stars in the night sky. You can get hard copy star maps, but digital apps on your phone or tablet are a great way of doing this.
Digital apps include Star Walk, Sky Guide, and Google Sky Map. For a non-digital format, which can be more convenient, you can print out some star maps and learn how to navigate manually. Using such will help you familiarize yourself in a fairly short amount of time!
Read also: Tips on using star maps
Online websites that help with learning the sky at night
Globe at Night: globeatnight.org
Star Date: stardate.org
If you prefer videos, Learn the sky is a channel on YouTube that explores the constellations with new videos every Tuesday.
How to learn stargazing: Online Courses
For those wondering “can I learn astronomy online”…
Have are some free courses:
- Astronomy courses at OpenLearn
- Udemy offers free courses including this free course by Professor Chris Impey from the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona.
And paid ones:
- Udemy offers paid courses also, including the backyard astronomy course by Rod Miller, which is a best seller.
Join a local amateur astronomy group
You’ll find the local astronomy groups are a hub of information.
International Dark Skies about light pollution | Orlando Science Center