Do you often look to the sky in wonder and wish you knew a little more about the vast expanse surrounding us? How could you not, when it offers such beauty and mystery?
Though so much about the universe still confounds us, scientists have discovered and documented many lifetimes worth of knowledge. An astronomy degree takes between 5 and 7 years to complete, but you can learn astronomy basics in a matter of minutes!
Astronomy Basics for the Star Struck
Astronomy alleviates us from our inward focus and helps us see the big picture a little more clearly. Keep reading to learn how to explore and satisfy your curiosity about the cosmos!
Telescope for Beginners
Telescopes can cost a pretty penny, but you don’t actually need a telescope to stargaze.
Of course, some people enjoy a closer view. So let’s go over some telescope basics.
Look for a telescope with an aperture of at least 70mm. A longer converging lens allows you to see further into the night.
Though one eyepiece will suffice, two provides a better look. With this part, the smaller the number, the higher the magnification.
Higher power gives you details, but not steadiness. Low power keeps the view stable and allows you to see in the dark, but you lose detail. You want at least one eyepiece to measure 25mm.
A mount will help you balance images better. For your first telescope, you really do not need to go crazy on the rest of the details.
Where to Look
You can see some stars from almost anywhere. But, some locations give you a better view than others.
The lights of a city will drown out many of the far-away constellations. Dark, secluded areas will give you the best view.
If you can travel close to the poles, you will see the spectacular Aurora Borealis (North) or the Aurora Australis (South). This spectacular light show can be seen with the naked eye. It occurs when a solar flare infiltrates our atmosphere, causing a particle collision, otherwise known as the solar wind.
Note, you will see different stars from the same position throughout the year. And, if you look at the sky, and then travel a significant distance, you will see a different sky.
Star Search 101
Start by learning how to find the easiest stars, asterisms, and constellations to spot. While you are at it, name a binary star after someone special! Here are some to get you started with stargazing.
The only star in our solar system, our sun, burns at 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. We live a perfect distance away, over 91 million miles, to sustain life on the planet.
This brightest star in the sky never changes location, because it is located at the celestial North pole. This makes it an excellent point to find your bearings at any time of the year.
The Big Dipper
In the Northern sky, you will find this 7-star asterism. 3 stars create the handle and 4 stars form the bowl of this dipper. The star at the tip of the bowl points North to Polaris. Finding this star cluster means that you actually located a prominent part of Ursa Major, The Great Bear, made up of at least 10 stars.
You can easily see this constellation, named after the Greek goddess whose vanity led her to get cast into the heavens for all to gawk at as punishment, in the November sky. It 5 stars form a wide W in the Northern sky.
From November to February, you can see this more prominent part of the Orion constellation in the Southwestern sky from the Northern hemisphere or vice versa.
The three sisters, Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka create this starlit belt. In ancient times, these sisters helped sailors find their way at sea and told farmers when to reap their harvest. Today, finding them will help you locate the Orion constellation.
Now that you know how to find Orion, you may want to keep your eye on this red supergiant buried within his constellation. This incredibly bright star started to dim significantly over the past several years, leading some scientists to believe it may go supernova in our lifetime.
Or, maybe it already did and we are waiting to see it. Remember, looking at stars shows you a faraway past.
They live lightyears away. That means that it took the light x amount of lightyears to reach your pupil.
The light you see now from Betelguese originated ~642 years ago, as Betelgeuse is ~642 lightyears away. If and when we do see the star go supernova, it will appear so bright in our sky that the star will shine during the day for a long time.
We live in a solar system containing 8 planets including, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. We can see 5 of them with the naked eye during specific dates throughout the year.
When this smallest and closest planet to the sun shows up in Earth’s sky, try to view it about an hour before the sun rises in the Eastern sky. It almost looks like a yellow star, but notice that stars twinkle and planets do not.
When this planet becomes visible, look to the Western sky at dusk. You will see a dazzling steady silver light, as it is the second brightest natural object in our sky.
See this red planet shine brilliantly throughout 2020. You do not even need to know where to look, as nothing else shines so distinctly red in our night skies. It gets its color from the significant amount of iron oxide on the planet’s surface.
You will see this gas giant as a silvery-white light in our sky when it makes its appearance. This massive planet could fit 1,300 Earths inside of it, giving it an incredible gravitational pull that would crush you into its core if you attempted to stand on the gaseous surface.
Saturn looks like a still, yellowish star. Though it may not look spectacular to the naked eye, scientists sometimes call it the jewel of the planet for the bright rings made of mostly water and ice particles, surrounding the gas body.
Set Your Vision High
Looking to the stars offers a world of information, speculation, and dreams. We hope that learning some astronomy basics only increased your thirst for knowledge.
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