Started in Stargazing!
It is a very exciting thing - you have made the decision
to learn more about night sky! Perhaps you are looking to buy your first
telescope, or you have just received one during the holidays. Or maybe
you are simply interested in finding out what all the excitement is about!
More and more people of all ages are becoming amateur
astronomers, and with the equipment now made available to consumers, many
are making cosmic discoveries right alongside the professionals. Canada
has a reputation of engaging in first-class astronomy research, from our
collaborations with the Gemini, James Clark Maxwell and Canada-France-Hawaii
telescopes, to MOST and SPIRE - two of the the latest space telescopes
to be launched. Are you ready learn more about this exciting field hands-on?
On this page, you will find all sorts of information,
from what to look for in the sky, what to look with, and even with whom
you can share this new hobby. Astronomy week in the spring leads up to
International Astronomy Day - look in your area for
Astronomy Day activities, when there
will be plenty of opportunity to find out even more about amateur astronomy.
Where can I observe?
| What do I need? | With whom can I
What can I observe? | When can I observe?
| Anything else I need to know?
Where can I observe?
The best places to observe are the darkest ones. The
less ambient light around you, the better your eyes will adapt to the
dark, and the more you will be able to see in the sky. Because of this,
and because of the general light pollution caused by many buildings, streetlights,
etc., large cities are often poor choices for observing!
If you do live in the city, all is not lost. Even
finding a corner in your backyard where streetlights and porch lights
do not reach, you will find an improvement in what you can see. Binoculars
will improve seeing somewhat, but it is still better to get away.
The best alternative is to take a small trip away
from the city's lights. A park outside city limits, or a friend's or relative's
property. Be sure you know the area before venturing out, and do not observe
alone if the area is at all unfamiliar. The first link in the list below
will take you to the clear-sky chart site (more on this below). Locate
the nearest clear-sky chart to you, and then click on "light pollution"
to see how far you have to travel to get dark skies.
What do I need?
First and foremost, you need something to help you
see where you are going, or to help you read star charts and maps that
WON'T blind you and make you lose your night vision (mentioned above)!
A flashlight with a red filter on it will do the trick. You can also make
one by covering the lit end of a regular flashlight with several layers
of brown paper bags.
If you have never observed the sky before, it is strongly
recommended that you familiarize yourself with the basics of the night
sky. Get to know the constellations, and how to use "pointer stars"
to locate objects. The best way to do this is to use a star chart either
from one of the sites listed below, or from a book or magazine. You could
also practice indoors, using a planetarium software program, such as Starry
In order to keep track of your accomplishments, you may wish to start
an observing log. Not only will you be able to remember what you have
seen (and can show others!), but this will also help you set and accomplish
What about equipment...binoculars or telescope? Refractor or reflector?
Newtonian or Schmidt-Cassegrain? The following links will point you to
some good resources on what to buy to take your hobby to the next level.
With whom can I observe?
Of course, you can always observe on your own. Many
prefer the solitude and the peacefulness of the night. But most prefer
sharing their discoveries with other enthusiasts, together braving the
night chill to see a distant galaxy or nebula. For this reason, there
are many amateur astronomy clubs across Canada which you can join.
Royal Astronomical Society
of Canada - The largest amateur astronomical society in Canada,
there are 29 RASC centres across the country. Most centres host monthly
meetings, public star parties, private observing sessions (most often
at club observatories), guest speakers, allow access to libraries of
astronomy books, offer observing certificates, and more.
- There are other, independent amateur astronomy clubs, many of which
are listed on the
What can I observe?
Now that you know where to look and how to get around
the local sky, give yourself some observing goals. Do you want to take
pictures? Observe planets or Messier objects? Obtain an observing certificate?
Become a Canadian Junior Astronomer? You might find the links below help
you in deciding just what to observe.
Many amateur astronomers continue to make contributions to the field
of astronomy through their observations. Below is a link to a page which
summarizes some of these contributions and includes information on how
amateur astronomers can continue to make important discoveries.
When can I observe?
You can observe whenever you can find the time...provided
it is dark and clear. There are several sites which astronomers use to
forecast the weather in their area, and decide whether or not to go observing.
Here are a few of them:
Is there anything else
- You may be interested in a subscription to an astronomy magazine,
or Sky & Telescope.
- The University of Manitoba makes
suggestions as to what to wear while observing in the winter. Even
though it may not seem all that cold outside, remember that you will
be standing (or sitting) still throughout most of your observing session!
created by the
CASCA education Webteam, (2009)