Astronomy for Beginners | The Planetary Society

Other Helpful Hints

Observing the Moon is one of the easiest ways to get started with astronomy. You can track the lunar cycle, and use binoculars or a telescope to see how your view of it changes. When the Moon is full, for example, it tends to be dazzlingly bright and one-dimensional. In contrast, when the Moon is a crescent shape (around first or last quarter phase) you’ll get a more dramatic view of its craters since they’ll be well-defined by shadows.

If you aren’t planning to observe the Moon itself, it’s best to do your observing during a time of the month when the Moon isn’t very full. The best time is during a new or crescent Moon. This way, the Moon’s bright light won’t blind your view of fainter objects like planets.

Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and Venus are all fairly easy to spot in the night sky when they are up. If you see something that looks brighter than all the other stars, it’s quite likely a planet. With even a small telescope you can also see Jupiter’s four large moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Their positions change from night to night, which makes them all the more exciting to observe.

If you’re hunting for particular night sky objects, it’s helpful to look up what those objects look like through your method of observation (eyes, binoculars, or telescope) so you know what to expect when you find them. Most of the popular space photos we see are processed to bring out colors and texture, so it’s a good idea to know what they look like raw and unprocessed.

Natural objects aren’t the only things to look for. You’ll often see satellites passing overhead, and can even see the International Space Station as it passes above you. There are several apps and web sites to pick from that will give you exact times for your location, and you can sign up for email alerts directly from NASA.

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