The good news is that you can do a lot of observing without any fancy gadgets, so if you don’t already own a telescope, don’t go buy one just yet. Learning the constellations and some major stars will give you a strong foundation for future night sky viewing.
A handy tool is a planisphere, which is available at many bookstores. Get one that is a good size, at least about 10 inches in diameter. It also helps to have someone who knows the constellations and can help you get started. There is also some great free astronomy software available to download such as Stellarium. This can help you see what’s up on the night you plan to go out.
A good place to start is the Big Dipper. Find it, then hold the planisphere up over your head so you’re looking up at it. Turn the planisphere to the orientation of the Big Dipper matches what you see in the sky. Now start to go out from there, follow the arc of the handle, where does it take you? Extend the line from the two front stars of the cup, where do they point?
The key is to get out and look up! See how many constellations you can identify. Before long you’ll be pointing out Orion, with it’s bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigal, or watching for the summer triangle with Vega, Deneb and Altair. The more you look the more you’ll find and the more you’ll want to look!
By doing this you’ll be honing your observing skills; training your eye to recognize the night sky. You’ll soon be moving on to star charts, star hopping and looking for star clusters, distant galaxies and those elusive faint fuzzy messier objects!
Don’t worry – we’ll be here to help you!!