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Backyard Astronomy

Introduction

Since you are reading this, I will assume you have an interest in astronomy. If you have been active in astronomy for some time, you can skip this introduction and move on to other sections. If you are new to astronomy and want to jump right in anb buy a telescope, read this section carefully before rushing out and doing something foolish.

Getting Started

You already have some excellent equipment for performing some solid astronomy. I'll give you a minute to look around to see if you can figure out what I am talking about. Go ahead, I'll wait... Figured it out? That's right - high resolution 5mm f/5 binoculars mounted directly in your head. Your eyes are all you need to get started.

Tip:

Here is the first piece of advice: if you rush out and buy a telescope without first learning the sky by eye, you will be lost and very disappointed. You need to have some idea of what you are looking for, what you are looking at, and where you want to look before a telescope will do anything for you.

Naked eye astronomy can be very rewarding. The following is just a brief list of some of the things that can be done with no more than your own peepers:

  • finding and identifying constellations
  • auroral displays
  • satellites, ISS flyovers and Iridium flares
  • meteor showers
  • daytime planet sightings

 

The first step in all these is to learn your way around the sky.  I would recommend a book such as Terry Dickenson's Nightwatch, which will give an overview of binocular and telescope astronomy as well. You should be able to find this book, or a similar book, at your local library. Most astronomy periodicals have a section on the night sky as seen in the evening on a given month. Planispheres are inexpensive and can be picked up at bookstores or telescope stores. Also, you can download planetarium freeware for your computer to print up your own sky charts (see the links section)

Tip:

While you are at the library, pick up a few books on amateur astronomy, so you can learn what is out there, and get a feel for what things excite you about astronomy. This way you can get a feel for what kind of equipment you will want when it comes time to buy. Some things you could learn about are:

  • the moon
  • our sun
  • planets
  • double stars
  • open clusters
  • globular clusters
  • nebulae
  • galaxies

Some of these are bound to pique your interest more than others.

Tip:

Find out if there is an astronomy club near you. Most such clubs have public events where you can have an opportunity to look through a variety of telescopes. That way you get to see for yourself what is visible in a "real" telescope. An astronomy club is also a good place to meet like-minded people who are usually more than happy to share their collected wisdom. Some of them might also have telescopes for sale...