There are few pursuits as amazing as astronomy and it is something that is often overlooked in the modern world we live in. Who can find the time to stay up late at night to do some casual stargazing? What with all the commitments of the modern world it can be a challenge to really slow down and do something like stargazing.
But you really don't need to stay up late at night and sacrifice a whole lot of sleep to get a real enjoyment out of the wonders of the night sky. You just need to know a few things and you will be ready to get maximum enjoyment out of this amazing pastime.
The Darkness of the sky and light pollution - Your first consideration
If you live in a big city, or in the middle of a smaller city light pollution from street lights, homes, and other things is a serious consideration. You need to have a really dark sky in order to really get a good look at anything in the sky. If your observing spot is your backyard you have to go back there and take a look at the sky. Is it really black and are there thousands of stars that just jump out at you? can you see the Milky Way, which is a band of white that crosses the sky? It kind of looks like cotton candy or cotton balls. If you can't see a really dark sky and thousands of bright stars you really need to find another observation spot away from the city. This means taking a trek out of town but it is worth it.
The Moon is your second consideration
The moon itself while a fascinating thing to look at and can be the subject of your evening of observation it can have a significant effect on the rest of your viewing. If the moon is full much of the night sky will be washed out to you. This is lunar light pollution. And, a full moon is not a really great thing to view with a telescope or binoculars. The sun is shining directly at it so there are no shadows to emphasize the craters, mountains and other things on its surface. Take a look at a lunar chart to see what phase the moon is in when you want to observe. Try to plan your stargazing around a crescent moon or no moon at all. Here is the state of the moon today for northern hemisphere.
The Smaller the percentage of full the better your tour of the night sky will be. And the better your actual viewing of the moon will be too.
Equipment and Accessories
Maybe you already have a telescope and maybe you don't This section of the tour through the universe will assume you don't have one as a base for beginning your pursuit of astronomy.
So, if you don't have a telescope what other things should you have?
Binoculars - You can do some wonderful stargazing with just your eyes and a few other things but if you have a pair of binoculars you should bring them along. They will make a wonderful addition to your stargazing. Binoculars are a low cost and effective first choice to dabbling in astronomy because they are very useful in other circumstances. They won't just collect dust if you don't do much stargazing. The binoculars shown here are made by the Meade Corporation and can be purchased from Amazon.com Meade 8x42 Full Size Porro Prism Binoculars I have a telescope and binocular store right here on the site with binoculars I have hand picked from the amazon.com selection. Just click on the binoculars tab on the left Telescopes and Binoculars
A Star Map or a Star Chart
If you are an absolute beginner to star gazing you might not know it but the stars in the night sky change from hour to hour and from season to season. This is because the earth is rotating and revolving around the sun. So if you go out and find something one night on the next night or later that same night its not in the same spot! You need to have some kind of a chart to help you find things. Here is a nice (and free) sky map that you can download and print out in pdf format Skymaps This is a good place to start. Here is a nice online tool where you enter your zip code and you get a star map generated automatically Weather Wonderland Starmap. I recommend you start with something like these free things but there are literally thousands of things you can see in the night sky and to really get an appreciation of these things you need a book that will guide you to them.
Here is a great book for beginning your hobby of stargazing. It is cleanly written, easy to understand, and has lots and lots of stuff in it. I also have a section of lots of other great amazon.com astronomy books if you want to browse through them. Just click on the left hand link for books and charts.
A flashlight is an important addition to your stargazing so you can read your star charts or books. But a regular flashlight is not good. When you do stargazing you have to take some time in the darkness to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. This way you can see the most in the sky. But the bright beam from a flashlight could ruin this quickly and it will take another half hour for your eyes to adjust. So you need to cover the beam end of your flashlight with some type of red translucent material so it will give off a dull red light. Red light will not affect your night vision. Many flashlights come with a red lens as an accessory like the maglite below.
Maglite makes a whole series of high quality flashlights.
They also make accessory packs that give you red and blue lenses which will change your flashlight into the perfect astronomy accessory.
A Telescope and its accessories
Of course, if you have a telescope bring it out for your stargazing adventures!