What Do I Need To Do Astronomy? - Part 1

I'm asked a lot of questions along the theme of how to get into astronomy and what equipment to get hold of, so I thought I'd do a series of posts working from the ground up (no pun intended). As it happens, the most essential bits of kit are the cheapest and the easiest to obtain, with the price and required expertise increasing as you delve deeper into the world, no, universe, of astronomical observation.

In this first instalment I'll discuss the two most important items you need to stash in your astro-bag. The best thing about them is that they're absolutely free, and the chances are that if you're reading this you have them both already:
  • Eyes
  • A sense of wonder
No, this isn't a flippant post. I so often see people reaching for their wallet and riffling through telescope magazines without actually having set these two things in place first, so bear with me.

You need eyes. Specifically, you need to use them. Look up. To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, don't just see the sky; observe it. See those twinkly points up there? Look at them individually. Compare them. Realise that some are brighter than others; some are redder; some twinkle more than others do. Some of them stay in much the same place night after night; others move around a bit more. Notice that if you stay outside for a while there are more of them. Notice things.

And this is where the second thing comes in: When you've noticed something, ask yourself why? Why is that one redder than this one? Why is that one still making a cross shape with those other ones, while that one has moved a bit? Without a sense of wonder, without at least a passing interest in the answers to questions that include words like how and why then astronomy is a non-starter.

And there are so many of these questions that everyone's experience with astronomy can be completely different, depending on their own individual interests and experiences. That's why I started this blog up in the first place: there are so many questions out there from so many people that I don't even think to ask myself, and sharing those questions can spread the sense of wonder like an infection.

Most of the astronomical observation that I do, that I have ever done, is done without a telescope. It's done without binoculars. It's done by simply going outside and looking up and thinking about what it is that I'm looking at. If you don't do this as a matter of habit already then however much you spend on a telescope it'll  end up as just another dust-gatherer taking up room in your shed.

Next time I'll write about the next most important thing you need if you're going to get something out of observational astronomy, and the good news is that one's (mostly) free too! In the meantime go outside, look up until you give yourself a sore neck, and don't come back in until you've asked yourself a question you don't know the answer to.



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