Well hello there!
This is the first post on AstroNewbie.com, so I’ll start off by explaining what this blog is. I love to read and study about celestial objects and I am considering buying my first telescope soon. This blog exists to document the experience of learning about astronomy from the beginner’s (my) perspective. I hope to post articles that will help beginners like myself understand what to expect as an amateur observer, and perhaps save them from some pitfalls I run into. Hopefully I can also help others learn some basics about observing objects in the sky.
Are you really a beginner?
I call myself a beginner, but you might wonder what do I already know about the night sky. In other words, what’s my starting level knowledge? In terms of looking at the sky and stars, I know how to locate and recognize around four constellations (Big Dipper, Orion, Cassiopeia, Taurus). I don’t actually know the entire constellation for these, but rather the major portions that show in my Southern California city lights on a rare clear evening. I can find the North star reliably, and The Pleiades. If there are planets in view I can often find them, and I understand the ecliptic. With binoculars I can spot Andromeda relatively easily.
In terms of concepts, I think I have a good grasp of the earth-moon-sun system because I surf. Tides are important to surfing and the earth-sun-moon system dictates the tides completely. So I usually know what phase the moon is in. Reading about new discoveries in astronomy is one of my favorite hobbies, so I think I have a decent understanding of current thinking. I’ve watched the entire series of Bad Astronomy videos. I have pretty much memorized the Galaxy Song from Monty Python, which is both hilarious and still surprisingly accurate.
What equipment do I already have?
Good question! I’m not starting from zero. Right now I have three tools I use for observing celestial objects. First, I have a Star Chart. These show you what the stars should look like for a given latitude range at a time and date. They show stars, but not planets. Second, I have some binoculars. Since I surf, these come in handy for scouting during the day. Nonetheless, I bought them for sky viewing, and they’ve been great! If you get a good look you can see some of Jupiter’s moons with them. Finally, I have a red light. It allows me to look at my star chart in the dark without ruining my night vision.
Oh, one other thing, not so much something that I have, but a free service. I love watching the International Space Station pass overhead. It is very bright, and NASA will send you a text message about it if you go to their website and input a phone number. I did, so I get a text message whenever the ISS will pass overhead.
What are your goals?
Pretty modest right now. I want to find a local astronomy club or group where I can meet people with different levels of expertise and experience. As previously mentioned, I’m thinking of buying a telescope, so I figure a group or club will offer a chance to see what other people are using and perhaps give me a hands on experience with different telescopes. I am hoping to become familiar enough with the night sky to star hop to a variety of objects with the telescope. If all goes well, I’d like to get a nice primitive picture of Jupiter and the Galilean moons eventually.