At any age or skill level, astronomy can be a fascinating hobby that gives you a greater understanding of the world and universe in which we live. However, before you can get started as an amateur astronomer, you will need to invest in the right equipment and have an understanding of how to use it. So, before you race out and spend a lot of money on equipment, make sure that you understand what astronomy as a hobby entails.
Getting the proper viewing device is the first piece of astronomy equipment you need to get started. After all, without a device that magnifies the sky, you won’t be able to observe or learn much. Depending on your background and how much you want to delve into astronomy, you can start with either binoculars or a telescope.
Binoculars can generally be purchased for around $100 and are usually the easiest piece of equipment to use as you first get into the hobby of astronomy. Because they’re smaller, lighter and more portable than telescopes, many first-time amateur astronomers can pick them up and start stargazing with minimal, if any, training or astronomical knowledge. Similarly, binoculars don’t require any assembly, unlike most telescopes, making them an easy piece of equipment to use for people of any age or skill level.
The other advantage of binoculars is their wide field of view, which makes it far easier for anyone, especially beginners, to find objects in the vast expanse of sky. If you are considering getting involved in astronomy, investing in a pair of binoculars first can give you a taste of this hobby without forcing you to spend a lot of money.
Telescopes are more complicated and more expensive pieces of equipment used to practice astronomy. However, although it takes more work to assemble, use and properly manipulate a telescope, you can see many more details of the sky with one. If you already have experience using binoculars and/or are looking to enhance your practice of astronomy, consider investing in a telescope.
However, because you will spend anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars on a telescope, be sure that you try out several telescopes before purchasing one. Choose a telescope that you can afford and that you understand how to use. As you get more and more familiar with how to use your telescope, you will be able to observe far more of the sky, significantly enhancing your hobby of astronomy.
Tips for How to Choose Telescopes
If you are ready to get a telescope, you may be overwhelmed as you start to consider the various options on the market. To help narrow down your options, first decide how you want to use the telescope and how much you can afford to spend on it. Some other things to think about as you are shopping for a telescope include:
- Portability: If you want to be able to take your telescope to different locations, rather than just using it at home, choose one that’s smaller and easier to transport. If, alternately, you plan on primarily practicing astronomy out of your home, then you can get a larger model telescope.
- Use: While some telescopes (such as refractors) are great for planetary viewing, others (namely reflectors) are better for observing faint objects in the deep-sky. Similarly, think about where you plan on using the telescope. For example, some telescopes can handle pollution filled urban skies better than others.
- Your skill level: Telescopes with less features and parts are best suited for those who are just getting started as amateur astronomers. Make sure you opt for a telescope that you understand how to manipulate.
As you are evaluating how various telescopes match up to your needs, don’t be afraid to ask salespeople questions and to try out some telescopes in the store. Gently playing around with a telescope in which you are interested can give you an idea of how comfortable you will be using that telescope in your hobby of astronomy.
Other Equipment for Astronomy
Aside from selecting your viewing device (whether it be a pair of binoculars or a telescope), you may also need to get some other astronomy equipment to do any serious stargazing. Some other helpful viewing accessories include:
- eye pieces that allow you to choose the magnification and field of view for any object
- finders that help you find objects to view in your telescope so you don’t have to spend massive amounts of time searching
- mounts that hold up the telescope and free up your hands.
As you enhance your practice of astronomy, you can get even more non-essential, yet helpful, accessories, such as:
- color filters
- light pollution filters
- portable power
- solar filters
While some amateur astronomers simply enjoy gazing at the sky and its celestial beings, others want to take pictures of what they see through their telescopes. Although you may be able to take some astronomy pictures with a traditional or digital camera, for more detailed images, you will likely need a CCD camera.
CCD stands for Charge-Coupled Device, which is a sensitive electronic device. CCD cameras have silicon chips that are particularly sensitive to light, meaning they can detect especially faint objects that regular cameras aren’t able to capture. Keep in mind, however, that you will also need special computer software to view and manipulate these photos.
How to Further Your Astronomy Practice
Although many find it easy to get started as amateur astronomers, furthering your practice may require you to reach out for some more knowledge. Here are some ways to develop your astronomy hobby:
Join an amateur astronomy club: This is a great way to meet other people in the field and learn from them. You can also exchange tips and share resources.
Participate in star parties: These gatherings of astronomers usually include people with a range of astronomy experience, from professionals to amateurs. Joining a star party can help you meet others that share your interests while also helping to expand your knowledge of astronomy.
Read! Books, magazines and the Internet contain a wealth of information for beginning astronomers, both adults and kids. You can find information on the best equipment, star charts and tips on where to star gaze from these sources.
As you start getting into astronomy, remember that patience and practice are key. Try not to get frustrated if you don’t see images like Hubble telescope pictures at first. Astronomy takes patience and skill. However, with a little practice, astronomy as a hobby can be a fun way to increase your knowledge of our universe!