7 tips for getting started as a backyard astronomer

every Friday in the morning edition, out / in The team answers a question from a listener about the natural world. This story originally aired March 4, 2022.

This week, Zachary asks on Instagram: How do you get started as an amateur stargazer?

1. You don’t necessarily need a fancy telescope. Binoculars work great!

“There are some really cool things you can see only in the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper curve is actually a double star… Mazar and Alcor,” said Susan Rolick, a physics and chemistry instructor in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. She is also a NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador, It is a study program for teachers.

Mazar and Alkor can be seen with a pair of binoculars,
While there may be more to see with a telescope (eg, there really is six stars within this “single” star in the Big Dipper curve), there are also plenty of benefits for binoculars.

“Binoculars have the advantage of being more portable,” said Jennifer Willis, magazine columnist Sky and telescope.

“Binoculars also generally offer a wider field of view than a larger telescope, so you can see more of the celestial stuff, such as having the entire moon in one view rather than a closer slice of it.”

2. Bring a guidebook or a globe.

The globe is essentially a star chart on a wheel, Jennifer said.

“Just turn it on to match the date and time you want to watch. It was made for different latitudes, so keep that in mind.”

3. Check out a telescope from your local library.

Several public libraries in New Hampshire offer 4.5-inch telescopes for patrons to check out, an example of the “object library” concept in action. “These are very beautiful telescopes,” Susan said.

Learn more about the New Hampshire Astronomical Society Library Telescope Program over here.

4. Find the community. Attend a “star party” with your local astronomy club.

This is also a great way to meet other stargazers and, if you’re interested in investing in some equipment, to test out different telescopes. here a Sky and telescope Tool to search for your local astronomy club.

“For example, if you really have your heart set on Saturn, you can look at Saturn through five different telescopes, maybe, and see which one works best for your purpose,” Jennifer said.

5. Smartphone apps can be great — but be careful not to ruin your night vision.

For apps, Susan recommends Star Walk 2 and Stellarium.

“You can just point them at the sky and it will tell you which constellation to point to,” Susan said. Even when you point the phone at Earth, these apps display the visible constellations on the other side of the planet.

But Susan warned that the screen’s blue light can disturb the stars. It recommends changing your phone to Night Mode, which displays a darker screen and a red light.

6. Explore the many NASA resources available for approaches to the night sky.

“There’s a huge push to start bringing astronomy to the visually impaired and even the blind. NASA has already taken some of their images and they’ve converted them into sound representations, where different wavelengths are different pitches or being played by different instruments,” Susan explained.

“There’s also a 3D printed material that you can get, so you can see — meaning, feel — what the asteroid looks like or what the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant looks like, which is really cool.”

7. Have fun.

Jennifer said, “There is something so reassuring about the perpetual sky… Even if all goes well in my life, even if the world ends, it’s not the end of everything… I find this peace and quiet joy in that.”

If you’d like to submit a question to the Outside/In team, you can record it as a voice memo on your smartphone and send it to outsidein@nhpr.org, or call the hotline, 1-844-GO-OTTER.

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