Basics of Astronomy
There are a few basic items anyone who wishes to get involved in astronomy needs to have prior to their first outing.
1) A Star Map – If you Google for them there will be plenty you can download for free
2) A torch, with a red filter fitted. Or just some red cellophane covering the lens area, normal light from a torch can affect your night vision, but the red spectrum does less damage.
3) Binoculars – Before you buy a telescope start with binoculars, they show plenty of objects and are great to help you learn and navigate your way around the night sky.
That’s it, nice and simple start up kit, of course if you can forgo the binoculars if you cannot afford purchase them, but they will be of great help from the early stages and onward.
Now depending on the time of year and where you are based will depend on the easiest of constellations to locate first. My first, other than the plough, was Orion. It is prominent during the winter months and a great target to begin with. This is where having binoculars will aid you; by sweeping the constellation it is possible to locate the famous Orion Nebula!
From Orion you can navigate your way across the sky and find an array of other constellations, using Orion as a base (UK based) I was able to find;
1) From Orion’s belt move right and you will see a chevron of stars; this is the constellation of Taurus.
2) Continue following the line from the belt and moving upward you can see a fuzzy patch of stars, this is an open cluster called the Pleiades; use your binoculars here for s great sight.
3) By following the belt in the opposite direction you can easily find Sirius, this will be the bright star in the night sky.
By using your star chart you can bounce from one constellation to another and begin to create a visual map of the sky which you will forever be able to see. If you live in a built up area which suffers a high level of light pollution then it would be best to take a drive and escape the sodium glare so you can see the star more clearly.
Another night sky event that is without a doubt worth staying up or getting up for is meteor showers. There are numerous showers throughout the year, some will yield a higher rate than other and again it is best to be away from the bright lights to truly appreciate the display.