Top 5 Gotta-Haves for Stargazing

BigDipperTampaFlorida.JPG
The Big Dipper as seen from Tampa, Florida. Wikimedia Commons, under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 license.

First-time stargazers often ask, "What do I need to buy to be a sky observer?" The assumption is that if you want to observe the stars and planets, you need a telescope, fancy star charts, and computers. Sure, it's great to have some equipment, but you have to have the "right stuff".

First, you need a good observing spot (away from bright lights). This can be a nearby park, your backyard, or someplace an hour or two away from the city.

Next, you need to make time to spend exploring the sky.  Expect to spend an hour or so getting yourself situated in your gazing spot AND getting dark adapted. It's really important to get your eyes used to the darkness so you can see the stars and planets more easily.

 If you don't know the stars and constellations too well, don't worry. By the time you've stargazed a few times, you'll start to learn a few of the easier celestial objects. 

Gotta-Haves for Stargazing

Of course, there ARE some other useful things that help make your stargazing easier and more comfortable, which are listed here in a quick "Top 5" checklist for you to use.

  1. Appropriate clothing. Stargazing does put you outside and subject to the whims of the weather. Evening and early morning hours can get chilly, even in warm regions. Make sure you have a jacket, a hat, and some light gloves when you go sky gazing. You can always take them off if it's too warm. 
     
  1. Star charts. There are also many good books, magazines, Web sites, and apps that offer star charts for you to use. Astronomy-focused magazines such as Sky & Telescope (U.S., Australia), Astronomy, SkyNews (in Canada), Astronomy Now (UK), Astronomy and Space (Ireland),  Coelum (Italy), Tenmon Guide (Japan), and others all have monthly star charts in their print and online editions. Skymaps.com has printable charts for download and printing at home. With the advent of planetarium apps for your iPhone, iPad, Android, and other devices, you have plenty of choices for star charts to guide you around the sky.
     
  1. Binoculars. Most people have a pair of binoculars lying around, and they're a perfect way to magnify your view as your stargaze. Imagine that you're looking at the Moon and you want to zoom in on a crater. Or, you spot a fuzzy "something" in the sky. A pair of 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars will help you get a clearer view. 
     
  2. A stargazing buddy or two. Observing the night sky is a great family activity or something to do with like-minded friends. It's fun to explore the planets, stars, and constellations together!
     
  3. A good astronomy book. Finally, books are always helpful when you get clouded out. A good children's book is H.A. Rey's Find the Constellations. Older kids might enjoy his book called, The Stars: A New Way to see Them. If you want to learn more about astronomy as a science, check out my own book (linked at the bottom of my bio), called Astronomy 101. Web-surfing is also a good way to learn more about astronomy, and every space mission, observatory, and space agency has a Web site filled with information about the stars, planets, and galaxies. Another way to learn the stars is to go to your local planetarium and take in a "what's Up Tonight" show.

There are many cool things in the sky to search out.

All you really need to do is get out there and start looking up! Bright planets often show up as brilliant dots of light. As the sky darkens, stars will pop into view. As time goes by, you'll see more and more stars, depending on how much light pollution affects your local skies. The important thing is to make time to stargaze whenever you can.

Check Out the Products Online

For your convenience, here are Amazon links to some of the products mentioned in this article. 

Books and Magazines

Astronomy Magazine

Sky and Telescope Magazine

Find the Constellations, by H.A. Rey

The Stars: A New Way to See Them, by H.A. Rey

Binoculars

Celestron SkyMaster Binoculars

Olympus Binoculars