There is a new trend in astronomy. It’s called astrotourism, where eco-minded travellers search out locations, far and wide, to find the clearest skies for gazing at the stars and moon and finding distant galaxies. However, for aspiring astronomers, residential and holiday parks have a built in advantage, often giving clear access to the best night skies without even leaving the park. In association with Bartons Group here are our suggestions on how you can begin your own astronomy adventure without packing a suitcase.
Astronomy for beginners – No need for gadgets!
There are lots of myths about taking up astronomy, that it’s an expensive hobby with the need for big expensive telescopes and the space to keep all the gadgets and gizmos to see across galaxies. But what most people don’t realise, is that we can see the Andromeda Galaxy, which is 2.6 million light-years from Earth, with our naked eye. Mindboggling!
Where to learn the basics
Step one is to simply look up at the night’s sky and wonder what are you looking at. It’s as simple as that. This gazing can lead to never ending cosmic exploration and enjoyment.
There is a lot to be learned when starting out in astronomy, but you don’t need to be a book worm to get to the next level. You can slowly pick up the necessary knowledge and skills to learn your Lyra from your Orion. Start at your local library, there are plenty of books for astronomy for beginners. And more detailed guidebooks showing what is out there in the wider universe. It’s also worth checking out charity shops and second hand book stores for interesting astronomy finds.
Or why not buy the BBC Sky at Night magazine, which features news from space, planets, stars, exploration and astro images. Provides excellent astro tools and how to use them and gives you moon phase calendars. It is also ideal for beginners – from picking your first telescope to important changes in the solar system to look out for throughout the year.
Alternatively, you can search the web, but there’s quite a mixture of helpful and not so helpful information out there. And at the early stages of your hobby, a bit of structure to what you’re learning might stand you in good stead.
You could start with: www.astronomyforbeginners.com and www.skyatnightmagazine.com/astronomy-for-beginners for the basics.
What tools are good to start with?
If you have a telescope lying around your home, then all well and good. But for most of us who don’t, then a good pair of binoculars are a great alternative! Why are binoculars so ideal?
- They show you a wide field of view, making it easier to navigate yourself around the sky. Whereas higher-power telescopes magnify a very small, hard-to-find part of the sky.
- The view through binoculars is right-side up, making it easier to find what you’re looking for. Usually an astronomical telescope’s view, is often upside down and sometimes a mirror-image too, making navigation around the sky much harder.
- The cost of binoculars are much more reasonable compared to telescopes, obviously they take up much less space and are easy to carry around. They can improve on the sight of your naked eye by about the same amount as a good amateur telescope, for much less.
“I’m sure the universe is full of intelligent life. It’s just been too intelligent to come here.”
— Arthur C. Clarke, Science Fiction Writer
Best locations for star gazing
Park home sites represent perfect locations for seeing the very best of outer space. Away from big towns and cities, and with less glow from local light pollution sources, it’s much easier to see different regions of the Milky Way, for example. More urban locations will be able to see few stars compared to dark sites and even using binoculars or a telescope, some of the brightest objects can be seen, but with hardly any detail.
Check out amazing virtual sky maps
There are lots of virtual resources to help you navigate the galaxies. Online there is a fantastic resource called www.sky-map.org which allows you to see the positions and basic characteristics of space objects. And on your phone or tablet you can try an app like SkyView Lite, which helps you find stars and constellations as well as galaxies and even satellites passing overhead at your location – genius! Capture it on your tablet and then see the real thing in the night’s sky. You can even set reminders for special celestial events. The app doesn’t even need WiFi, a data signal or even GPS to function.
Sky maps will reveal star clusters, galaxies and even nebulae. And you can follow the changing positions of Jupiter’s moons and the crescent phases of Venus. Make your plans for your starry night adventure. Make charts and guides and make a bucket list of top space discoveries you’d love to have.
Keep a notebook of space finds
You don’t have to do this, but it might be fun to jot down what you’ve seen and when. It will be great to see in a year’s time how far you’ve come and what you’ve already found. It’s also a great way to share your hobby with others and to show them your experiences or unusual sightings! Also, what a great memento to pass down through your family.
Don’t go it alone
Astronomy is a great hobby to do in the peace and quiet of your own home. But for times if you’d prefer to socialise, there are lots of options out there. There are numerous astronomy clubs worldwide. Search “astronomy clubs near me” and see what pops up. You can email them or visit their website. They might have meetings or perhaps nightime – star gazing sessions, where you can join in together. They would be a great opportunity to have a look at others kit, pick up advice and make friends. There are also a variety of online clubs, if you don’t want to leave the comfort of home and online forums where you can communicate and ask any questions you may have.
“Astronomers, like burglars and jazz musicians, operate best at night.”
— Miles Kington, Journalist
Should you invest in a telescope?
When you’ve spent hours examining the night’s sky and your binoculars aren’t quite cutting it anymore, you’ll know you are ready and deserve an upgrade to a fabulous new telescope.
So what do you look out for when choosing your telescope? Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all in telescopes, it really depends on what your likes are with observing, your lifestyle and of course your budget. They can range anywhere from £200 to £2,000 and much more. There are two key features to look out for – a steady, smooth working mount and high-quality optics. While also bearing in mind portability and convenience.
When you are ready to buy make sure it’s from a well-respected dealer (for example, like those who advertise in the BBC Sky at Night magazine).
Enjoy the starry skies!
Finally, whatever you instrument you decide on, take pleasure in what it allows you to see and share it with others. The more time you spend, the more you will learn and see. And you will have a special gift of knowing the beauty and mystery of our amazing universe.