These are culled from years of astronomy magazines, websites and many nights of observing.
1) Join a Group
Find a group of people (at least 3 or 4) who want to be out under the stars. Join an astronomy group and seek out the people there who actually stargaze.
2) Plan Ahead
Plan your observing session. What do you want to see? As someone said, it is as important to use your brain as your eyes. Find the distances to objects and the sizes of them. What is the orbit of the binary stars? What are the colours?
3) Observe Bright Objects First and Observe Objects at the Zenith
I find it easiest to go for the brightest objects first. The really tough to find and faint objects are good to look for after you get tired of the really bright and easy ones. But I always prefer to start with something really spectacular.
Look high in the sky for the best positioned objects. The higher the object the better you’ll be able to see it away from the light pollution. If you plan to observe an object at it has just risen in the east, wait for it to get higher in the sky as the night goes on.
4) Find A Good Observing Spot
Parking lots at local parks or in out of the way streets can be good. Look for a spot that is free of streetlights and tall trees. Even a small difference can help.
5) Telrad or Rigel Type Finderscope
Unless you have a goto telescope, get a Telrad, Rigel or similar finder. The traditional star-hopping technique with a small finderscope is really difficult and can turn you right off the hobby.
6) Get Astronomy Information
The Internet is a great resource for charts and other information. The best Telrad charts are available from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada website. Public libraries give you the opportunity to try books and DVDs before buying them.
7) Get Comfortable
a) Get an Observing Chair
It is much more comfortable to observe from a chair and the more comfortable you are the better you’ll do under the stars. Some of us have bought drummer’s stools (available from any musical instrument store) for this purpose. They are compact and can be adjusted to any height.
b) Dress warmly
Even in summer, the nights can get surprisingly cold, so take along extra clothes.
c) Bug Spray
Mosquitoes etc. can completely ruin a session. It is important not to get any bug spray on eyepieces or other equipment so it is an idea to wipe your hands after using any spray.
8) Averted vision
This one is useful for observing. Look over to one side instead of straight at an object and a trick of your eyes will bring out more detail in an object.
9) Log Books & Sketching
Use a log book to record what you have seen and your description of the object. Later it can be mined to tell you what you have seen. Keep a sketch book. Use it to count the number of stars and describe the object. It will help you discover details you would not otherwise see.
10) Go Slowly
Try not to race around the sky looking at object after object. Take your time and pick out the small details of what you are seeing.
Below is the url for a FREE software package download which includes a pdf help file. Since it is made for binocs it includes all the brightest objects. Right click on the screen and you can select any constellation. These charts can be printed for use in the field.
Our prime concern is that you are physically comfortable. Stargazing is a sedentary activity and even summer nights can get surprisingly cold. The rule of thumb is to dress for 10 degrees colder than forecast. Hats and gloves are recommended along with layers and layers of clothing. When it is cold or cool, a good set of boots is advisable, along with two layers of socks. If you are too warm, you can always take off a layer.
A Red Light
White light ruins night vision. If you want to use a star chart to start mapping out the constellations a red light is essential. A simple way to make one is to buy a penlight or small flashlight and coat the front lens with red nail polish. If you bring a regular flashlight with you we have red cellophane and an elastic band to turn it into a redlight.
A Star Chart or Planesphere
A planesphere is a circular wheel showing the constellations. You turn it to the correct date and time and it shows you what is visible in the sky. It can be purchased at any astronomy store. A star chart is a map of the night sky. Any astronomy magazine has one in the centrefold and you can tear it out and bring it with you to Saddington.
Any pair of binoculars will do - even small opera glasses. See below.
The general advice is to try out stargazing with a group of experienced stargazers before buying anything. See if you like the hobby and try out our telescopes first. There's nothing wrong with learning your way around the sky first before committing to a p If you are going to buy binoculars or a telescope for stargazing go to an astronomy store or a website that sells real astronomy goods. Most department stores, camera stores and home shopping network telescopes are not worth buying. For the same money you would waste there, you can get a good beginner scope from a reputable dealer. Come out to Saddington and we'll be glad to take you through the various options available.
Binoculars have the great advantage of being inexpensive and extremely easy to use. In combination with a good sky chart they are an excellent way to start in the hobby.
All stargazers, even those with telescopes, also carry a pair of 7 times or 10 times binoculars. They let you see a larger part of the sky to find your way around, and some objects, like large open clusters, are best seen in binoculars.
There are many telescope sizes and features. When you come out to Saddington we will give you an overview, and there are a number of websites that can help you with your decision. Also, many stargazers end up with more than one telescope - one with a larger primary mirror, perhaps computerized, for longer viewing sessions - and a smaller, more portable one for quick set-up.
You may know that light pollution, the useless spilling of extra light into the sky from store fronts, gas stations, street lights and so on, makes it impossible to see some objects from cities. This is especially true for nebulae and galaxies. Fortunately, some objects can be seen quite well from city sites like Saddington.
So, what can we see from Saddington?
The best objects for Saddington are the brightest and closest. After the sun (which requires a special telescope or special filters), here are the favourites.
Finding your way around the sky by identifying the constellations is a great start. The asterism ( a group of stars that is not an official constellation) the Big Dipper is usually the best place to start, then use a star chart like a road map to trace your way to other constellations. In winter Orion the Hunter is a great constellation to find - it can be used to get your bearings for exploring all the winter constellations. In summer Cygnus, Sagittarius and Scorpius are especially rich to see. The centre of our galaxy lies in the western part of Sagittarius.
2) The Moon
No other object yields this kind of detail. Mountains, craters, rays and rilles (valleys).
The best place to look is along the terminator which divides the illuminated and unilluminated part of the moon.
A good time to see the moon is when it is at ¼ full because at that time of the month, the moon rises early.
Using our moon atlases we can help you pinpoint where the six Apollo missions landed when humans walked on the moon.
Next come the planets, at the times of year that they are visible.
3) The planet Saturn.
For many people, Saturn and its moons and rings is the favourite astronomy object to see.
Titan, Saturn’s largest moon can always be seen at Saddington.
Up to 4 other moons may also be visible.
Saturn is only out certain times of the year, currently during winter and spring.
4) The planet Jupiter
Jupiter shows bands of clouds - at least two are always visible.
The great red spot, a giant storm the size of the Earth, may be visible through a good telescope.
The four Galilean moons can be seen in binoculars.
One moon is Europa, an ice-covered moon that has a liquid ocean and possibly life.
5) The other three naked-eye visible planets.
Venus is a bright white planet that shows phases like the moon.
Mars can show white polar caps through a telescope.
Mercury is usually close to the horizon and needs to be searched for at exactly the right spot and time.
Double and Multiple Stars
These are too numerous to list.
They are often quite attractive – with contrasting colours and sizes.
Some are binary stars where one orbits the other (or a common center).
Two of the best double stars are Mizar and Alberio.
6) Mizar and Alcor, seen as the middle star of the handle of the big dipper.
These are a brilliant blue and orange pair of stars.
They have one of the best colour contrasts in the sky.
Can be seen in spring, summer and autumn.
Next are clusters of stars.
Open Clusters - An open or galactic cluster is a group of stars formed from one gas cloud. Many open clusters are excellent targets for binoculars. They are among the easiest objects to see from city skies. Look for the different colours and brightnesses of the stars.
8) Best Open Clusters - In summer: M6, M7, M11, and col 399 (the Coathanger). In winter look for M45 (the Pleiades), M35, the Hyades, and the double cluster below Casseopeia. All of these can be seen in binoculars and the larger ones are best in binoculars or with very low power in telescopes.
Globular Clusters - Not as easy to see as open clusters, they require a telescope for any really good view. Many are spectacular objects containing hundreds of thousands and even millions of stars. The view from the centre of a globular would yield a spectacular sky packed full of stars as bright as our brightest stars.
9) Best Globulars - Almost all can be seen best in the summer and autumn. Some of the best M5, M13, M3, M22, M15 and M92.
Nebulae - These are where light pollution has the greatest effect.
10) Best Nebulae - the best nebula to see from northern skies is the Orion nebula, (M42). M8, the lagoon, is another nebula glimpsed in binoculars. Some others like the dumbell and the ring nebulae are visible in a telescope from Saddington.
Galaxies - Because of light pollution most galaxies are difficult to see from Saddington.
11) Best Galaxies - M31, the Andromeda galaxy, is best seen in the autumn and is by far the best galaxy. M81 and M82 near the Big Dipper are next. After that, most galaxies are difficult to spot. Even so, glimpsing a galaxies can be cool when you realize that the photons hitting your eyes have been travelling for millions of years. M31 is approximately 2.5 million light years away.
Most of the best objects to look at are in one of two main catalogues - The Messier or New General Catalog (NGC). Below is an excellent website link with detailed information about the best astronomical objects.