Astronomy for Beginners: How to Get Started in Stargazing
An Eternal Fascination
The night sky has captivated mankind since the first time one of our ancestors looked up.
Since that time, the stars and other celestial phenomena have been a source of fascination and challenge. The constellations guided sailors and other travelers to their destinations. Ancient civilizations created whole mythologies surrounding the movement of the planets and stars. And for generations, our best scientists have dedicated their lives to plumbing the mysteries of things seen and unseen in the cosmos that lies beyond our terrestrial home.
It's only natural that we human beings would want to spend time staring at the stars. Modern technology and the accumulated knowledge of mankind has given us unprecedented tools that allow us to appreciate the beauty of what we see, and to see more than ever.
For many people, the sheer size of the field of astronomy can be overwhelming, leading many people to ask the question, "How do I get started in astronomy?"
But don't despair. We've got you covered.
This guide to astronomy for beginners is intended to give new astronomers the foundational base of knowledge needed to get started. We'll tell you what you need to do when you want to start spending some time really getting to know the night sky.
Not so fast!
Of course, the first thing you're going to want to do is to run out and buy a telescope. Far be it from me to try to stop you: if that's what you have your heart set on, you can check out our full telescope buying guide here. But before you make such a big commitment, there are a few things to think about.
Read a Book and Find Some Basic Star Charts
As we mentioned above, we humans have spent the last several thousand years advancing our understanding of the stars and the observable phenomena in the heavens. One of the first things you should do to dive into astronomy is to take advantage of that knowledge.
Reading about the stars and the night sky can give you hours of enjoyment, even when it's not possible to see them. If you need a recommendation, check out our list of books on astronomy and astrophysics here.
But this step isn't just for pleasure. It will also end up saving you a great deal of time. If you've never heard before, space is immense. If you have some knowledge you can use to find your way around, you can save hours of time.
It's also during this step that you can start to get some idea for what interests you. By knowing what it is you want to look at when you do decide to get a telescope, you'll have a better idea of which one is best for you.
Look Up and Get Familiar
If you haven't already, it's time to check out the real thing.
Reading about astronomy and astrophysics is a source of endless fun. Poring over star charts to familiarize yourself with the layout of the constellations is instructive. But there's nothing like actually getting to a place without a lot of light pollution and really taking in the stars.
While light pollution can be an inconvenience, there is still so much to see when you're standing right in the middle of the city. Several of the planets are visible regardless of how much ambient light you encounter.
Even with the unaided eye, it's breathtaking. Spend some time enjoying the whole thing before you zoom in. Get a feel for the movements of the sky over the course of the night and in the course of the seasons. There is a whole universe to explore.
See Further with Something You May Already Have Around the House
At this point you might want to get a close-up view of one thing or another. Again, if you have your heart set on buying a telescope at this point, check out some of our resources for choosing based on your budget.
You don't need a telescope to see a dazzling array of things in the heavens. With a simple pair of binoculars, you can begin to deepen your study of the cosmos.
In truth, binoculars are nothing more than paired telescopes. The lack of mounting can make observation of smaller, more distant objects difficult. But if you're observing larger items, or if you're looking closer in, you can see so much with a simple pair of binoculars. Our own Moon, on most nights merely a mottled disc of light, offers up a varied landscape you can study for months. You can even take your first spectacular photos with a decent camera.
Even if you don't already have a pair of binoculars lying around the house, it's not cost prohibitive to get a pair. Check out or guide to some great binoculars for stargazing here. The benefit of binoculars, as compared to a telescope, is that you can buy a pair of binoculars much more cheaply than a quality telescope. Quality lenses and image stabilization can be a boon for these purposes.
Log and Track Your Finds and Achievements
Even at this early stage, you can start keeping a journal of the things you observe in the sky.
Given the vastness of the universe, you have much to see in just one short lifetime. Journaling your finds allows you to avoid repetition. It can also be a lot of fun to relive those memories of the more interesting things you've seen.
Finally, a log of the things you've seen can help you to know which things you want to see again.
Don't sweat the small stuff, though. Journaling your finds doesn't have to be a slog. If you want, just jot down a note or two in a spare notebook. If you're an aspiring writer, your log is an opportunity to write about something that amazed you.
Have fun with it!
Start Learning the Lay of the Land --er--Sky
The views are endless. The fodder for your nights is inexhaustible. But at some point you'll start to get a feel for where things are. You'll know where the major constellations are, as well as many of the phenomena in their celestial neighborhoods.
This understanding will be a powerful aid to you in the future when you decide where to go into greater depth. Magnifying will only open up greater opportunities, so get a feel now for where you'll want to look.
But you won't want to stop there. A great way to augment your knowledge about astronomy and what you're looking at in the sky is to crack a great book. Whether it's a book that helps you find the things you're looking for or a book on astrophysics that helps you get further into to science of what you're seeing, there's a book for everybody. Check out some of our suggestions here.
Join a Community (or Create One Yourself)
Even if you've spent a significant amount of time enjoying the views by yourself, at some point you might want to share astronomy with somebody else. Maybe even with a group of people.
Join a community of amateur astronomers to expand your stargazing enjoyment beyond viewing hours. You can view together. You can talk in person. You can even connect with backyard astronomers around the world through the Internet. It's all right there for you. Here's a list of star parties held throughout the country; could be a great way to begin!
Communities also allow you to expand your knowledge base. Beyond the fun of interacting with a community of similarly interested people, you can learn so much from others. Even if they're at the same general level of experience as your own. It's likely you'll have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your knowledge. This will allow you to supplement and enjoy a broadened base of information, which will make astronomy even more fun.
Include Your Kids
At Super Power Optics, we know the power of including your family in your hobbies. Backyard astronomy with your kids and other family members is a fantastic way of strengthening family bonds.
Here's where that breadth and depth of knowledge you've already acquired really comes in handy. Take this opportunity to teach your kids about what they're seeing. Be their guide.
The great thing about teaching somebody else about astronomy is that you'll learn even more yourself. It's said that teaching is one of the best ways to learn something. Astronomy is no exception. Just by teaching your kids about astronomy, you'll learn an incredible amount.
Get a Telescope
By this point, you're on your way to being an expert backyard astronomer. You've seen things with your naked eye and a simple pair of binoculars that the average person has never even heard of. You've had hours of enjoyment at very little expense.
You've developed a preference and a body of knowledge that will allow you to have greater insight into where to look. You know what you like, and you have a pretty good idea of where to find it.
Now it's time to get a telescope. Super Power Optics has a whole series of resources you can use to find the right telescope for you, no matter your budget. Start here, with our full telescope guide. If you have a budget in mind, you can check out our articles on the best telescopes under $200, under $500, and even under $1000.
That's just the beginning. Buying a telescope is merely one step in a hobby that will last you a lifetime and bring you hours of joy. With time, study, and practice, you'll be a successful backyard astronomer who can share you gift with a whole host of people. Keep at it!