The universe may be infinite but you can still see a lot of it from your back garden even in light polluted areas and even if you can’t afford expensive equipment.
The only thing that you must have is a clear night but once you’ve got that the night sky offers some superb sights that can leave you wanting to see more.
Here is some advice on how to begin stargazing from your garden and what to look at first.
Warm clothing: Astronomy is a nocturnal hobby. You will need to wrap up. Fingerless gloves are particularly useful when holding instruments.
Download a star chart app to your phone or tablet. A lot of these are free and show you a live view of the night sky. Stellarium is one of them. Alternatively, buy a book with a star chart.
Buy a decent pair of binoculars. You don’t need to spend much more than £50 and it saves the expense of a telescope until you are ready for one.
A headlamp or torch with a red setting enables you to deal with equipment in the dark without ruining your night vision.
Reading the sky.
Use your star chart to find the most obvious constellations.
The stars are always in motion and are seasonal but it’s easy to locate the popular ones like The Plough, Orion and Cassiopeia.
Get familiar with these before you move on to other constellations and use them as ‘signposts’ to find other objects.
Moon: No optical aid required. If you have binoculars or a telescope look at the edges or ‘terminator line’ when the moon isn’t full. This sharpens the details on the surface.
Orion: Very distinctive constellation with its 3 star ‘belt’. It has a cloudy gas nebula which can be seen with binoculars.
Pleiades: Also known as the ‘Seven Sisters’. This is a bright cluster of stars and looks like a jewel hanging in the sky.
Andromeda Galaxy: “I didn’t realise you could see that!” is often the comment when the Andromeda Galaxy is seen for the first time.
A distinct disk-shaped object that is our neighbouring galaxy.
Binoculars will get you there and a telescope will give an even better view.
The planets all appear along the same line in the sky called the ‘ecliptic’. They are seasonal so consult the web to find out what planets are available and when.
Jupiter: Superb to view when it is at its brightest. Binoculars required for best results.
Jupiter can be seen surrounded by pin pricks of light which are actually some of its moons.
A staggering view when seen for the first time.
Venus: Very bright. Venus has phases like the moon which can be seen through a telescope.
Mars: Smaller than Jupiter or Venus and with a red tinge.
Saturn: Incredible with its famous rings. A telescope is required to get the best results.
International Space Station. A must see for everybody. Get a free tracking app to find out when it’s coming over. No binoculars or telescope required. The ISS passes overhead in seconds and looks like a bright star. Be sure to give the crew a wave!
Take your pick, there is a virtually endless supply from star clusters through to meteor showers. Many of these can be seen using basic equipment.
Telescopes and advanced equipment.
If you have got the most out of your binoculars and want to buy a telescope do your research carefully before you buy.
There are different types of telescopes available over a large price range.
Generally, the more you spend, the better the telescope will be.
If you can afford it, a ‘Go to’ telescope will automatically direct you around the sky making navigation a lot easier.
For a beginner, paying out around £200 on a decent reflector or refractor will get you off to a good start.
Buy a refractor if you want to use it for looking at terrestrial objects like aeroplanes and ships.
Reflectors are better for deep space viewing but they invert the image.
If you are bitten by the astronomy bug the sky is literally the limit.
Thousands of pounds can be spent on telescopes, astrophotography and software.
Relocating to a dark sky area opens out the universe a thousandfold.
Finally a warning.
NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN!