Have you ever wondered how to get into astronomy? Where do you even start? I know how you feel, it can be quite overwhelming in the beginning and there’s a lot to learn. But that doesn’t mean it wont be fun! I’ve documented some tips that I learnt during my early days as a beginner to make you understand and enjoy astronomy far more easily and effectively.
How can you get into astronomy? There are many things that you can do, but here are some of the main and recommended ways, starting with the easiest and then progressing in regards to commitment and experience
- Learn the Night Sky with your Naked Eye
- Get a Self Teaching Guide
- Visit Forums/Astronomy Websites
- Purchase a pair of Binoculars
How To Get Into Astronomy
Now, those suggestions listed above are just a small number of things you can do. We’ll now talk about them further and I’ll provide you with some other recommendations. These are what really helped me in the early days get into astronomy.
Learn the Night Sky With Your Naked Naked Eye
When you’re looking to first start and understand the night sky, one of the first things to do and best places to start is by looking at the sky at night with just your own eyes. Besides, Astronomy is an outside nature hobby so its always good to get out there early on.
Although this isn’t going to give you the best views of celestial objects, this is an ideal way to start to find patterns and the relative locations between certain celestial objects. Its best to do this at night and in darker conditions.
Now, you don’t need any specialist equipment for this but if you did want to improve your knowledge and understanding a decent Sky Map will give you the exact locations of the stars. Other books and resources can help you understand the constellations in greater detail, and can even show and explain to you why and how they change depending on the season in which you observe.
Even if this as far as your Astronomy goes, being able to look up and spot, say, Arcturus, will give you some early confidence and is very rewarding. It will give you the enthusiasm to explore further and take your astronomy more seriously.
Get a Self Teaching Guide
Astronomy is a hobby where you constantly learn. That’s one of the best things about it and why it is so interesting. One of the benefits is that you constantly discover new things about the night sky and how it all fits together. However, unless you can sign up to a local astronomy club, you’re going to have to learn and gather information by yourself.
The next recommendation, and it kind of follows on from the first is to get a detailed self-study guide. I personally love and still use the Astronomy Self Teaching Guide by Wiley. You can get it on Amazon for a really good price.
It’s great for beginners who do not have much astronomy knowledge and experience and it also provides exercises throughout the chapter to improve your skill set as you go along. It also gets technical in parts and helps you ask more questions of the night sky than you initially had – which is the key to ongoing learning and fascination.
Beyond this, if you live near or can access a public library then there can be some great astronomy books there. Look specifically at the astronomy section and pickup the beginners books to begin with. When you find something that fascinates you, use that as an opportunity to learn more – and find more books on that topic!
While you may think that signing up to a course or visiting a planetarium is one of the first things you should do, I’d argue otherwise. Sure they can be interesting, but they are unlikely to provide you the answers or knowledge of what you need in the very beginning. You’ll also spend a lot of money and time getting there and gaining access, when you could be otherwise learning outside in the field.
Visit Forums/Astronomy Websites
The next recommendation to learning astronomy at home is to utilize the internet and learn from other astronomers actively publishing content online.
You can gather a lot of information from some of the big astronomy websites and forums, but just bear in mind that you will need to find articles and posts that explain and break things down for you. Otherwise, you could end up looking through some complicated posts and threads which leave you somewhat confused.
Some Google searches will help you to find specific content related to what you need to know, but here is a small collection of my personal favorite websites and forums to learn astronomy online.
Purchase a pair of Binoculars
When you’re ready to start properly observing the sky and the range of celestial objects on offer, then a really good way to start is by buying a pair of binoculars.
Binoculars are very easy to use and they provide you what is known as a wide field of view (seeing more of the night sky at once) over a telescope. This means they are a lot easier to use to navigate the night sky.
A good way to visualize this is imagine a higher-spec telescope. They magnify and focus on a very specific and small element of the sky at any one time.
Plus, binoculars do not provide inverted images (upside down views) like telescopes (that are not using a correction filter). This means that you can more easily point at where you want to look. Plus, you have the benefit of using both of your eyes instead of one so that there is no learning curve like you get with a telescope.
Beyond this, binoculars are a lot cheaper, there are many varieties available, and you can more easily take them with you on the go and store them away.
And if you are worried that they will not provide you with the same level of as a telescope; if you opt for some of the better models then you’ll be surprised. A pair of Celestron Skymasters with 20x Magnification will provide better views than the cheapest amateur telescopes. So you’ll get great views for a really respectable price. Plus, a lot of Astronomers continue to use both Binoculars and Telescopes interchangeably as they get more advanced due to the inherent benefits of using both.
When it comes to astronomy, the bigger the front lenses you can get the better. This is why a pair of 20x80s are going to be better for astronomy than say a 15×70. As long as the optics are of premium quality too. This is why it is always a good idea to invest in a good pair of binoculars designed with astronomy in mind over your standard pair designed for terrestrial viewing.
If you’re interested in reading my in-depth binoculars buying guide read it here-> Best 20×80 Binoculars for Astronomy
Enhance Your Learning With Maps/Guidebooks
If you decide to purchase a pair of astronomy binoculars, then of course the first thing you are going to do is to just point and look into the night sky. But, there will come a point where you are unable to identify what specific objects are and know exactly where to look for more. In this way, you run the risk of missing out on seeing new things. Getting a comprehensive Sky Map and Guidebook is the natural progression here.
These Maps will help you to identify:
- 109 “M objects,”
- Star clusters,
- and more.
Once you have a detailed map and a decent pair of binoculars, you’ll be able start observing finer details on planets, and phenomenon like the movement of Jupiter’s Moons and Satellites.
The moon by itself is great to observe. I personally like seeing the craters and mountain ranges through my own pair of binoculars.
Beyond this you can start to watch double stars and how they brighten and fade over time. This will all be much easier, and you can understand what is actually happen, when you know what, when and how to look (which Maps and Guides will provide).
The thing with the night sky is that there is just so much to look at and so much to get distracted by. Maps and reference books help sharpen your focus and ensure you do no overlook what you previously may have ignored.
Additionally, you’ll develop skills and experience using maps and reference points which will ultimately be very useful if and when you decide to invest in a telescope.
Invest In a Good Telescope
There is nothing stopping you from getting a telescope right away. In fact, if you have the budget it is a good way to fast-track and get into astronomy sooner.
Nonetheless, if you follow the tips and recommendations above you’ll be in good stead to purchase a good telescope. By this point you will have many hours under your belt, you’ll know objects in the sky and you’ll have an understanding of the night sky landscape.
When you choose to purchase a telescope, its important to conduct your research, understand what each telescope can do, how it works and invest in the best telescope spec you can for your budget. In light of these considerations I wrote a comprehensive buyers guide which pulls together all my research. This is what I used to compare and contrast the various models when I was looking for my very own telescope. You can read it here -> Best Telescope for Viewing Planets and Galaxies.
Now some recommendations and things to consider when buying a telescope.
From personal experience and research, you’re going to want to largely avoid the cheap telescopes that are available on the market. Specifically, any telescope under $200 is not likely to provide you with any real long-term useful specification. A lot of sub $200 telescopes are actually semi-toy “kids” telescopes that are rather limited in power and optics quality.
When it comes to investing in a good quality and long term telescope there are three things that you are going to require at minimum and will need to consider:
- Sturdy, Solid Mount.
- Premium Quality Optics
- Largest Aperture you can afford.
The optics and aperture are fundamental components to a telescope; dictating what you can see and in how much detail. The Aperture for example, is the “light-collecting ability” of the scope so the higher this number (usually specific in inches) the more distant and fainter objects you will be able to observe. This is particularly important for distant galaxies and nebula.
Now depending on what you want to observe and your personal preferences, there may even be a couple of extra things to consider
- Easy of Set-up/Use.
While portability and ease of use will not determine how much you will be able to see, they will however largely influence your experience with your telescope. For the most part, you do not want your telescope to be too heavy if you want to regularly take it with you on the go.
You also want it to be easy to set up and take down – or otherwise this will soon become a chore. These are two factors which will largely dictate how much you will likely use your telescope, and the more you use it the better the astronomer you will become.
If you cannot afford a good telescope, then I would thoroughly recommend you save up until you can. If you haven’t already spend around $100-$150 on a good pair of astronomy binoculars and use them for a couple of years to learn the sky and observe celestial objects. Then, once you have saved up a bit of money you can then go back to buying a good quality and premium telescope.
The truth is, you want a telescope built well, is durable and that you will never really need to upgrade. If you spend widely up front, then you’ll never need to buy a more expensive model and you will save money in the long run. One of the worst things you can do is buy a cheap, below-par scope that you don’t get much out of and decide to upgrade later.
If you were looking at how to get into astronomy, by now you should have some actionable steps and ways to do so.
Following the recommendations above, you can start from tonight onward, and you can start to plan your learning around your current lifestyle and commitments.
As an astronomer myself, if I can leave you with one final tip, let this be it.
Astronomy should be fun and you should always be able and willing to learn more. There are a lot of resources and equipment that you can use to enhance your observations but never underestimate the power of your own eyes and the tools that you have freely open and available to you.
I wish you all the best, and if there is anything that I have missed, please drop a comment below!