Whether your stargazing journey involves a trip down to a dark-sky site or just to your home’s backyard, success will largely depend on how well you prepare beforehand. You’ll need to gear up properly and ensure your tools include everything necessary for an out of this world experience. Certainly, you don’t want to keep running back and forth because you forgot one item or the other!
There is a ritual that goes with setting up the needed equipment from assembling the scope to some basic items you’ll need for body comfort, and it’s easy to forget something. But no worries. Below, we’ve compiled an astronomy tools list guaranteed to make your next stargazing expedition an enjoyable one.
Telescopes for Astronomy
Though it’s fun to watch the sky with your naked eyes, at some point you want to get a better view and go for a telescope and its accompanying accessories. For those just starting out, there are four types of telescopes to choose from. They are reflectors, refractors, hybrid, and Dobsonian. You’ll also need to decide how powerful a telescope you need; do you want something portable that can be easily moved around or a heavy one that seems to propel you into distant galaxies?
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Good stargazing binoculars work just fine if you would rather start with a small and portable device. They are relatively affordable and lightweight binoculars, yet they are powerful enough to reveal much more night-sky wonders than the naked human eye. As a bonus, you can use the same binoculars in daytime for activities like sports, animals, and bird-watching, etc.
When selecting binoculars for astronomy, look for one with “porro prisms” instead of the “roof prisms” that are common with smaller sports binoculars. Interestingly, large, powerful binoculars can do just as well as telescopes. All you need to do is set it on a tripod, and attach a counter-weighted arm for your comfort.
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Specialized software is not a must for amateur stargazing but using it will enhance your viewing experience and save time as they help to map out the night sky. Use them to navigate to prime targets in the sky based on your location and the time of year.
Some digital planetarium software to check out include:
Stellarium – Among the numerous planetarium software available, Stellarium is the only free software that is so reliable it’s also used in commercial planetaria worldwide to date. It runs on all major computer OS and offers rendered views similar to what can be seen through a telescope or binoculars. Stellarium comes with a default catalog of more than 600,000 stars and additional catalogs with over 210 million stars.
AstroGrav – This solar system simulator is unique because the movements of the solar bodies it displays are based on their gravitational interactions with other celestial bodies. As a result, the viewer gets accurate motions of asteroids, the planets, and comets. AstroGrav comes with over 100 000 stars, plus all the constellations, and it allows planetarium-style viewing points from any location in the world.
Where Is M13? – Unlike the flat and one-dimensional view of a telescope, this software allows an almost 3D view of the relationship between a solar system body and the galaxy. It also provides information such as galactic coordinates, luminosity, distance, true size, and angular diameter of these bodies.
Peranso – This app allows you to observe variable stars and other objects with varying brightness. Users can enjoy the in-depth analysis of light curves and luminosity periods.
Skywatching Phone Apps
There are several Android and iOS skywatching apps available, but it’s important to pick an app equipped with a red-screen mode to preserve your eye’s dark adaptation. Choices include:
SkyView (iOS/Android) – SkyView is simple to use. Just point your phone at the sky, and this app will identify galaxies, stars, constellations, planets, and satellites. It also comes with interesting facts about the objects you’ll see.
Star Walk 2 (iOS/Android) – In addition to identifying celestial bodies, Star Walk 2 will turn a constellation into a fascinating-looking arrangement to form its shape. You can also view and study meteor showers, planetary nebulae, clusters of stars, etc.
Stellarium Mobile Sky Map (iOS/Android) – This app is big on realism and calls itself a planetarium in your pocket. It offers a clear view of the night sky and is very detailed and informative.
An observing chair will make your time looking up at the sky easier on your back, neck, and arms. Especially if you intend using binoculars. A sturdy but lightweight reclining lawn chair will usually do but if you want to be completely comfortable enough to concentrate on stargazing, get a purpose-built astronomy chair with a padded backrest.
It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to almost an hour for your eyes to become dark-adapted and that can be a pain when you want to observe at night. You don’t want to waste too much time because you’ll also need to read star charts and find objects around you. There are many brands of red-light flashlights that are solid and affordable.
They keep your eyes adjusted to the dark even if there is a brief interruption from white light (cellphone, car headlights, etc.). Check out Wayllshine Astronomy Light or the Celestron Astro Night Vision Flashlight.
Take a big battery along as you don’t want your phone or tablet running out of power before the night’s activity is done. Look for one that is large enough to carry basics like laptop, tablet, telescope, phone and so on.
Depending on how long you intend staying outdoors, the arrival of dew may significantly cut short your viewing time if you don’t prepare for it. Dew will cause your viewing lenses to become foggy and basically make it impossible to see anything clearly. You can get electric warming strips like the Orion Dew Zapper Pro-4 Channel Prevention to wrap around parts of your telescope like the primary mirror, front objective, and the finder scope.
It’s vital your cellphone is within reach at all times and charged especially if the viewing site is far from your home or in a remote and lonely spot. Keeping it handy could help in the unlikely event of an emergency.
This astronomy tools list would not be complete without a number of items stargazers often overlook – basic comfort items. Remember that watching the night sky doesn’t involve much physical activity so you’re likely to lose body heat quickly out in the cold. Stay warm and comfy with the following:
Warm clothing – cover up with layers of clothing and personal recommendation would be thermal items
Thick socks – preferably thermal
Belt Pack – very handy for keeping little items like keys nearby.
Drink and light food – warm tea, water, very light snacks (eat too much, and you may fall asleep).
Beach towel – spread a brightly colored beach towel under your tripod legs so if something falls it lands on a soft surface and is easier to find.
Like we mentioned before, your star watching venture would go off much better if you are prepared and not running around finding one item or the other. Hopefully, the above astronomy tools list will put you in a better position to prepare, set up your gear, and enjoy an experience way beyond our world.