Calgary astronomer Alan Dyer describes backyard astronomy as “a hobby that provides endless enjoyment as you learn to appreciate the beauty of the sky above you every night.” With the coming of the season of long, dark skies over James River now is the ideal time to indulge in such a hobby and getting started is as easy as stepping outside after supper and looking up. The overhead views are spectacular!
Those interested in learning a little more about that view do not need to spend money on fancy equipment to get started. According to Dyer, a good book and a pair of binoculars can, in fact, be better tools for the beginner than a telescope. He suggests that a pair of 7X50 or 10X50 binoculars is ideal for observing the surface of the moon, star clusters, nebulas and even galaxies. He recommends making it a goal to find the Double Cluster, Pleiades, the Orion Nebula and the Andromeda Galaxy – objects that I have managed to find with even lower power binoculars than he suggests. Books such as Nightwatch by Terence Dickinson, The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide by Dickinson and Alan Dyer or Gary Seronik’s Binocular Highlights: 99 Celestial Sights for Binocular Users can then help you to identify what you are seeing through your binoculars and understand “how it all fits into the big picture of the universe”.
For further information see 10 Steps to Successful Stargazing by Alan Dyer or visit the SkyNews website for more astronomy tips and a weekly viewing guide to the night sky.