I’d like to do a series of posts like this featuring things I enjoy doing which are easy to do/come by and can be very exciting. I hope this will help get people interested in various aspects of science and drive the need to learn more!
One of my favorite sciences is probably the most encompassing and vast there is. Astronomy. Sure, for most people it’s just looking at bright little dots in the sky, but when you probe further into it, space holds the keys to physics, creation and life as we know it. When you start to understand the seemingly impossible things which are happening in the cosmos, staring at the night (or even daytime) sky takes on a whole new wonder. Here are a few tips and tools which can help get you started on your star gazing adventures.
Don’t feel like you need to know everything! There are 88 constellations in the sky. That’s a lot to remember even for someone who loves astronomy. I’m not going to pretend to know every single one, or even always recognize/be able to find the ones I do know. So don’t go outside your first time trying to know what you’re looking at. Just go out and look. There may be some constellations you recognize, but if not, try making your own. It can be fun and a good way to learn reference points later on.
If you’ve been out a couple of times, really enjoyed it and want to start learning more, pick up a constellation book. They’re not hard to find, and many are easy to follow and understand because they’re meant for all ages. If you don’t know the stars, there is nothing wrong with starting out with a kids book, or printing out pictures,cutting them into cards and having a deck of constellations for reference.
So now you’ve been out many times in the past couple months and are really starting to love the night sky. It’s time to put together some tools! Here is a quick list of some things I have in my astronomy kit.
Blanket: If you bring one item with you to look at the stars (apart from maybe a good friend or special person) make it a blanket. Even summer nights can get a little cool when you’re out in a field for such a long time. A blanket can help keep you warm, dry and comfortable.
Binoculars: In my opinion the most underestimated astronomy tool! It may seem like anything short of the super powerful astronomical binoculars won’t make much of a difference for things so far away, but even a small pair of binoculars can reveals stars too faint for the naked eye. They are especially good for a detailed look at the moon. Obviously the bigger the binoculars are, the more you can see. But don’t feel like it’s essential to invest a lot of money if you don’t have it.
Astronomy Book or Cards: Remember that book you picked up a couple weeks back? Keep it with you! The sky is big, and it can be hard to see some stars, especially near the city. It’s always good to have something to help you out. Some books even come with planispheres, which make it easy to know exactly what the sky will look like at any time on any date. A more compact option are star cards. They’re usually glow in the dark and each give detailed information about single constellation.
Red Light: Red light does not affect your “night vision” the same way stronger light does. This means you can read by it and not have to let your eyes readjust after. You can buy red flashlights, download phone apps, or just put some red cellophane over a regular flashlight.
Telescope: If you really enjoy the stars and want to make an investment a telescope (or astronomical binoculars) can open whole new worlds to you! There’s a lot to know about them, which I’m not about to type out here. So before you make such a big purchase, do some research and make sure you know what you want and what you don’t need.
Some other small items which you may want to bring include a green laser (Make sure you know the laws concerning them though), mosquito spray, your camera, a compass and some snacks!
I also highly encourage you if you have kids to bring them out too! The beautiful night sky can capture a child’s imagination and be a great starting point for a life long love of science. As well, there are things to see during the day. It’s also a perfect way for you to actively engage with them. Once you fall in love with astronomy, it’s a small step to start learning about the vast wonders of our universe. What are the stars exactly? Where do they come from? Why are some red? What are those cloudy looking area? Some of the most dazzling views and unbelievable ideas are waiting for you to discover them! Oh, and for the love of god, please know the difference between astronomy and astrology. One is science, the other is not.
“A night under the stars rewards the bug bites, cloudy skies, the next-day fuzzies and the thousands of frustrations with priceless moments of sublime beauty.”