Tips For Star Gazing For The Amateur Astronomer
When there are billions of stars in the galaxy, there are a billion and one reasons for an amateur astronomer to stay up at night to watch the sky. If you’ve been bit by the stargazing bug, give in. It’s a very enjoyable hobby. To help you get started, here are some things you might want to know:
Get A Sky Chart
A sky chart or a field guide can help you find where the stars are in the heavens. Since their positions change depending on the seasons, you can use the sky chart to help you find a particular star immediately. You can also map out the locations of different constellations and recognize any star in the night sky by simply referring to your sky chart.
What To Look For
The star that shines brightest in the northern hemisphere is Sirius. You might also want to find Polaris, the North Star. If you’re a little lost, you can look to the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) to show you the way. Find the ‘bowl’ or ‘ladle’ of the Dipper. The two stars located away from the handle are the Pointer Stars, called Dubhe and Merak. Follow where they point straight towards the North and you will find Polaris.
Don’t forget to enjoy the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), Cassiopeia, Draco, Cepheus and other constellations – there are 88 of them, some of which are visible at different times of the year.
You can also watch for falling stars or meteor showers. Their appearance is usually announced on TV and newspapers. On special nights, you can enjoy hundreds of the most beautiful sight streaking across the night sky.
Star Bright, Star Light
Stars are categorized by brightness, which is measured by magnitude. The magnitude scale has the brightest stars having 0 or even negative magnitudes. For example, Sirius has a magnitude of -1.46. Vega, a star that shines bright during summer, has a magnitude 0. Polaris has a magnitude 2 and Antares has a magnitude 1. Stars with a magnitude of 29 need the Hubble Space telescope to be seen and get this: they are 250,000,000,000 times less bright than Vega.
As a newbie astronomer, you don’t really need a telescope to enjoy stargazing. It’s best to familiarize yourself first with stars and constellations using just your naked eye at first. You can also use a good pair of binoculars since these will do the job nicely. Buy a telescope only if you’re already familiar with the night sky and enjoy it to the fullest.