Beginners Guide to Astronomy

Beginners Guide to Astronomy

Beginners Guide to Astronomy

Packed with practical advice on how to begin exploring and enjoying the wonders of the night sky, the Beginners’ Guide to Astronomy from Sky at Night Magazine is a must-read for all new and curious stargazers. With expert guidance on binoculars and telescopes, star charts and diagrams to help readers navigate their way around the constellations and tips on how best to observe planets, stars and deep-sky objects, the Beginners’ Guide to Astronomy is an inspiring springboard into the hobby of astronomy and all that the Universe above us has to offer.

United Kingdom
Immediate Media Company London Limited
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1 Min.
welcome to the night sky

Since 2006, I have written a monthly guide for Sky at Night Magazine to help beginners get to grips with many aspects of the night sky. The idea is to make stargazing as accessible as possible, from helping you to learn the constellations to the practicalities of how to use a telescope. In providing this knowledge of the night sky, the intention has always been to keep jargon down to a minimum so the basics can be understood with ease. Now, for the first time, we’re bringing these guides together into one ‘manual’. If you’re curious about astronomy, this guide has everything you need to know to get off to the best possible start. The contents have naturally fallen into three areas: in ‘Need to know’ we’ll help you understand the…

6 Min.
the first night

IN THIS MAGAZINE NEED TO KNOW • Get started with naked-eye observing • Astronomy terms explained JARGON BUSTER CONSTELLATION An area of the night sky, the brightest stars of which sometimes form recognisable patterns. NORTHERN HEMISPHERE The half of the Earth from around the equator ‘up’ to the North Pole. STAR A glowing ball of gas that makes its light and heat by nuclear reactions. Stars can be of different sizes depending on how much gas they are made of. UNIVERSE Everything we know is the Universe: this includes all the stars, galaxies, dust, gas, planets, comets – the whole lot – plus energy, space itself, and what we know as time. When you start thinking about astronomy, your mind can end up anywhere – you could speculate about life in the Universe, future human missions to Mars, or…

1 Min.
need to know

The sky at night is one of the most alluring sights, inviting observers to imagine what is happening out there far away around a distant star, or to ponder the chances of life existing elsewhere in the cosmos. Thanks to centuries of scientific study we now know the answers to many – though most certainly not all – of the questions the cosmos poses. However, when it comes to how we see the vastness of space from our own planet, we’re on a pretty sure footing, and it’s this we’ll be looking at here. We begin with the stars and how these points of light are described by fellow astronomers, why they sometimes shimmer and how to use the constellations they’re organised into as signposts to find your way around. We also introduce…

8 Min.
observing stars

WHERE STARS ARE BORN The Orion Nebula is a fine example of a stellar nursery, for here it is estimated that around 1,000 stars are being made at this moment. Different parts of the cloud, which is made up mainly of dust and hydrogen gas, are beginning to pull themselves together under gravity. As more gas piles in, the temperature in the centre of a clump rises. If there’s enough gas and a temperature of 10 million ºC is reached, then nuclear reactions will start and a star will be born. Occasionally the night sky just sparkles, and it’s a terrific sight. When there’s been a rain shower or something has cleared the air of all the dust, the stars look really amazing Nights like these can be truly memorable, and reveal the…

8 Min.
signposts in the stars

JARGON BUSTER • ASTERISM A pattern of bright stars that can be easily found again and again. Famous asterisms include the Plough, the Summer Triangle and Orion’s Belt. • DOUBLE STAR Two stars that appear very close together. They may actually be orbiting each other, in which case they are known as a binary double, or they can simply appear to be close because of our viewpoint in space, in which case they are known as an optical double. • STAR COLOURS Stars can be different colours depending on the amount of gas they are made of and how far through their lives they are. FINDING YOUR WAY FROM THE PLOUGH The Plough doesn’t just help you to find Polaris. Here are four more stars, and their constellations, that the Plough will point you towards CASSIOPEIA You’ve…

4 Min.
star co-ordinates

USING CHARTS If you’re looking for the star Deneb on a chart, you can find it with the following coordinates: Right ascension (RA) 20h 41m 25.9s Declination (Dec.) +45° 16’ 49” Clearly, this is not all just nice simple degrees. In declination the ‘ symbol represents angular (or arc) minutes and the “ represents angular (or arc) seconds. A degree is a pretty large unit on the sky – two widths of the full Moon, in fact! So, 1° is divided into 60 arcminutes and each arcminute has 60 arcseconds – used for super accuracy or very small things. The + or – at the start shows whether it is in the northern (+) or southern hemisphere (–). Right ascension is written as hours, minutes and seconds – as in regular time, not the arcseconds…