Ten Starter Items for the Astronomy Beginner
*updated September 2017*
I often get asked about ways you can start out in astronomy. What bits of kit to buy. Perhaps it is a hobby you want to take up, or you’re looking for a gift for a space mad boyfriend/wife/nephew/daughter.
So here I’ve put together a top ten list of “must haves” for those starting to venture into the world of astronomy and getting to know the night sky.
1: A good pair of binoculars – Opticron Adventurer 10×50 Green Binoculars – £57.99
When many people think about looking at the night sky, their minds immediately jump to telescopes. But binoculars are also an indispensable part of an astronomer’s kit. Your eyes are good enough to make out around 3,000 stars in a light-pollution-free sky. However, a pair of 10 x 50 binoculars can treble this number.
They will also allow you to see some double stars, star clusters and even the four largest moons of Jupiter. Great for beginners.
2: Children’s Telescope – Skywatcher Infinity-76P – £41.89
I normally say to avoid “toy” telescopes & spend at least £100 on a good starter telescope – normally you’ll get a lot more out of it & the flimsy instruments you can pick up for £25 are rubbish. But there is an exception: this little blue telescope. It’s particularly good for kids wanting to get their first look at the Moon up close.
3: Starter Telescope – SkyWatcher 6 inch Dobsonian Reflector – around £200
Over the years so many people have told me how they bought a telescope as a Christmas gift but couldn’t get it working & it was lost to the loft. The same thing happened when my parents gave me my first ‘scope. I only saw Saturn with it when I returned from university one Christmas knowing more about telescopes! Simplicity is what makes this telescope a winner. No fancy bells and whistles, just great optics. “Point and shoot” at its best.
4: A guide to the night sky – 2018 Guide to the Night Sky: A month by month guide – £5.24
A pair of binoculars or a telescope is no good unless you know what you are looking at. So having a practical guide to observing the night sky is really useful. The Royal Observatory Greenwich publish just such a guide every year, taking readers on monthly journeys through what’s in heavens. Clearly and simply laid out, this little book makes the perfect stocking filler for a space enthusiast.
5: A beginner’s guide to astronomy – Stargazing – £6.99
If you want a more in depth guide to the sky’s sights and spectacles then this is a great introduction to what’s on offer. Written by two of my colleagues at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, they know how to explain complicated topics in an easy to understand way.
6: A planisphere – Planisphere: Latitude 50°N – £9.99
A handy alternative to books is a planisphere – a card wheel with a window that you turn to the appropriate time of year. The stars & constellations for that night will then appear in the window. Be careful to get a planisphere designed for your latitude. This one is good for the UK, Ireland, Northern Europe and Canada.
7: Smartphone telescope adaptor – Carson HookUpz 2.0 Universal Smartphone Optics Digiscoping Adapter – £58.00
You’ve seen Saturn’s rings for the first time & you want to capture the image. In the past you’d need specialist equipment, but not in the age of smartphones. However, just holding your phone to the eyepiece is tricky. Use this adaptor instead & you’ll get crystal clear images of what you see through your binoculars or telescope.
8: Astrophotography guide – Philip’s Astrophotography With Mark Thompson: The Essential Guide to Photographing the Night Sky – around £5
If you want to get more serious about astrophotography then you’ll need to learn the basics surrounding the techniques and equipment involved. The best results tend not to come from smartphones but DSLR cameras or CCDs. This guide will introduce you to essentials and provide handy hints, including image processing and use of colour filters.
9: An observer’s notebook – £13.99
Once you start looking at the night sky you’ll lose track of all the things you’ve seen. This gorgeous observer’s notebook is a great way to keep a diary of your astronomical adventures.
Last year I was asked to delve into the archives of the Royal Institution and write a book about 13 of their famous Christmas Lectures dedicated to space and time. With a foreword by astronaut Tim Peake, the book charts our changing understanding of the cosmos from 1881 right through to 2015 with lecturers including Sir Bernard Lovell, Carl Sagan and Monica Grady.