Star Gazers Guide to Amateur Astronomy

Astronomy is truly a fascinating science. I got started in amateur astronomy about one year ago, and I find it very enjoyable. I feel that the best way to start is with the naked eye and a good pair of binoculars. I have two very nice telescopes, with another one on the way. However most nights I hardly use my telescopes. I am finding that it is essential to learn the sky, and Begin to recognize the planets and constellations with the naked eye.This is how I received my first real view of Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion!

Betelgeuse is about 420 light years away, meaning that we are seeing the light that left that star during the early 1600’s. It is a red supergiant star, much larger than our sun. I discovered that I could see this amazing star, with my naked eye and could even see the red color. Finding Orion and Betelgeuse helped me to locate the constellation Taurus, which is near Orion, and also has a large red super-giant called Aldebaran. Finding two, helped me to locate my third, “Gemini” which is also near Orion.

There are excellent websites such as You can use these sites to access sky charts which will allow you to locate planets, constellations and stars visible in your area on a specific night. You can print these sky charts, and use them during star gazing with surprising results.

This is exactly how I learned to look for the constellation Scorpio. During July and August This constellation is visible in the southern sky in New Jersey, and on a clear night you do not even need binoculars to see it. Scorpio has a star called “Leseath” which I have located. Leseath is over 1600 light years away from earth,which would be six trillion times 1600 miles. However a good amateur astronomer could easily locate it on a clear night.

Once you learn the night sky and constellations a good telescope is great. I have been able to get some good views of the moon, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus with a good, but inexpensive telescope. My goal this year is to use my telescope to locate the Andromeda galaxy. This galaxy is 2.5 million light years away and locating it is one of my short-term goals.

I have found my local library to be perhaps the third most important factor in learning astronomy! There are many excellent books for beginning astronomers.

It is essential to learn the basics, and these books are an invaluable tool for understanding our solar system and the Universe.

I would also encourage all who are new to astronomy to view the Science channel and station PBS. Both of these stations have excellent astronomy programs, featuring some of the worlds top astronomy and physics experts. I have learned a great deal from these very informative programs.