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Hobbies & interests

By Mohan Babu

ngc 1300 barred spiral galaxy eridanus constellation

Many of us may be fascinated by merely looking at the night sky and wondering about the distant stars that shine like jewels. An amateur astronomer is anyone who enjoys watching the moon or the stars. No matter what we know about astronomy now, there would always be an ocean of knowledge left to be learnt. This is a never ending field of knowledge. An amateur astronomer need not have tall objectives like discovering a new comet or taking part in a space journey. It is enough if we have a love for skies and would happily spend hours looking at the night sky for the sheer joy of the wonders that lie above.

messier 74 ngc 628 galaxy

We actually do not need a great deal of equipment to start with. Even under light polluted skies, one can still be able to find most of the popular constellations and visible planets. Constellations are group of stars classified by early astronomers purely for ease of navigation of the night sky. They saw shapes like a hunter or a scorpion in those patterns and named the constellations accordingly.

Orion is one of the most famous constellations to start with. Then we have big dipper, pegasus and andromeda constellations that are fairly easy for beginners to catch. One can do a net search to know the shape of these constellations and then take tips on how to identify them.

One should also understand star maps for which an understanding of equilateral coordinates system is important. This system is fairly simple conceptually. There is plenty of information available on the net and one should take the effort to understand the system. If you do not have the patience to understand this, you can still still enjoy watching the night sky your own way. But it could be a bit difficult to understand the position of stars and constellations without this knowledge.

Planets are easy targets as the visible planets are brighter than most other stars. Planets do not twinkle as much as the stars do and they are an ideal starting point to expand our knowledge of night sky. Then, who can forget our special Moon that goes through various phases?

To start with, one can start enjoying the night sky wonders with just the pair of eyes that we have. We can spot the planets like Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn fairly easily with just our eyes, if you know where to look. Mercury is a bit tricky as it always stay closer to Sun but we can spot it too with luck.

Binoculars and telescopes could make our night sky watching experience richer. Do you want to know which one is better? Actually, telescopes are better for looking at our Moon and planets. Telescopes have larger magnifications and we can spot the moon's craters or Jupiter's moons through the telescopes. Binoculars have smaller magnifications but they gather a large amount of light. What does this mean? Binoculars can help us spot very dim objects not visible to naked eye. So binoculars are ideal for spotting deep sky objects like comets, nebula and galaxies.

So if you love to watch moon, planets etc., you should go for a telescope. If you love to watch diffuse objects like a comet, galaxy or a nebula, you should go for a binocular. If you need to view both, you need both telescope and binocular.

Who is an Amateur astronomer?

A beginner's guide to astronomy