Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.

Observational Astronomy

How to get started with star gazing, from navigating the sky to buying your first telescope.

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Observational Astronomy

778 words, estimated reading time 4 minutes.

Like most hobbies, getting started in astronomy can be quite challenging. From learning your way around the sky to the first telescope purchase, there are lots to learn. Discover everything you need to know to get started in astronomy and a little bit more.
Observational Astronomy Series
  1. Observational Astronomy
  2. Getting used to the Dark Eye Adaption
  3. Binocular Astronomy
  4. Light Pollution
  5. Why do Stars Twinkle?
  6. How do I take Long Exposures with my Canon DSLR?
  7. How to Photograph the Moon with a DSLR
  8. Buying Your First Telescope
  9. Your First Night With Your First Telescope
  10. Sky Orientation through a Telescope
  11. Polar Alignment of an Equatorial Telescope Mount
  12. Astronomy Filters

There is so much out there in the night sky, so much to see. And you don't need expensive equipment to see these things. Astronomy is an endlessly fascinating field, the oldest of the natural sciences, and one of the few areas of science that amateurs can assist the professionals and contribute to science.

This observational astronomy series shows you what you need to know to navigate around the night's sky, planets, and other celestial objects that populate the sky. This guide will show you what you can see with amateur equipment and give tips and pointers on buying equipment and progressing to further your knowledge.

It should be noted that what you will see is not going to look like what you see on TV or media. The typical images we see are constructed from large numbers of photographic exposures using some very expensive equipment. Please try not to be disappointed when you look through a telescope at a galaxy and only see a faint blob instead of the rich, full-colour images that NASA produce.

It should also be noted that what you will be able to see in the sky will be limited by the quality of the atmosphere in your observation area. How much light pollution is there? What are the seeing and transparency like? But fear not, even if you live in a big city with terrible light pollution, it should be possible for you to pick out the more obvious objects, like Venus, the moon, Jupiter, Orion, the Big Dipper, the Pleiades, and the North Star. Not all of these things will be visible all the time, but if you start spotting for them you will begin to notice how their positions change over the course of the year.


Constellations are patterns in the sky which have been to invented and have deep mythology behind them. The sky is divided up into 88 official constellations, each of which represents an area in the sky. These areas are used to help navigate the celestial sphere. Constellations cover massive areas in the sky and as such are very easy to find.

Constellations are best views with the naked eye, anything else and you won't be able to fit them all in.

The Great Square of Pegasus


There is nothing quite like the sight of a waxing crescent Moon hanging in the evening twilight sky - the classic Moon shape beloved of movie makers and artists alike. Luckily the moon is one of the easiest objects in the night sky to observe and is great to view with the naked eye but really comes alive using binoculars and small telescopes.

The Moon through Sigma 500mm Lens


The planets, although distant can also be seen with the naked eye. In late autumn early winter Venus is clearly visible in the early morning sky. It is the brightest object in the sky, save the Moon.

Although Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are visible to the naked eye, you should observe these with binoculars. Even using small power binoculars, you can make out the red of Mars, the green of Venus, the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter.

Using a telescope, you can see even more of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter and make out some surface details on Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

Venus and the Moon
Venus and the Moon

Star Clusters

Star clusters are groups of stars, consisting of anywhere between a few hundred and thousands of stars. These are visible as a faint fuzzy blob under dark skies but can be seen easily with binoculars. Star clusters range in size and brightness and there are hundreds to see. M45 in Taurus is probably one of the best known and easiest to find. It is one of the few that is visible even in light polluted skies.

M45 - The Pleiades Star Cluster


Galaxies are one of the largest objects visible. Despite being quite faint, they are visible in large telescopes quite easily. Andromeda is the largest and brightest and can be seen in larger binoculars and small telescopes as a fuzzy patch. To see any real details you would ideally need to use a camera and use long exposures.

M31 - The Andromeda Galaxy


Nebulae are a mixture of interstellar dust, hydrogen gas, helium gas and plasma. They are the remnants of supernova and are some of the most beautiful objects to see in the night sky. They are fairly easy to locate in the sky, however, they are generally faint. Some of the larger ones are visible in binoculars and small telescopes with the fainter ones require larger telescopes.

M1 Crab Nebula

Last updated on: Saturday 22nd July 2017

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