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4 Things You Need For Your Outdoor Astronomy Hobby: A Beginner’s Guide

Basic Gear Recommendations For the Amateur Astronomer

The most vertical Joshua Tree ever stands proudly upright against a backdrop of swirling clouds and glimmering stars in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California

Stars over Joshua Tree National Park, CA - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan


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Among the outdoor pursuits that more people have started to take up since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, astronomy has seen one of the largest surges. According to recent reports, retailers within the astronomy industry across North America have seen increases in sales between 60% to 400%. On top of this, many local astronomy clubs have seen an uptick in interest and serious inquiries. Considering that for the better part of two years most people have been cooped up inside, this makes a lot of sense. Astronomy, as a hobby, is deeply rooted in the outdoors and beyond. By connecting to the world and the celestial bodies we exist with, many find this activity both therapeutic and invigorating. That said, in order to really make the most of the stargazing experience, there are some items that you ought to have.

Stars twinkling between the massive trees looming over Sequoia National Forest in California

Sequoia National Forest, CA - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan

The Right Telescope

While casual stargazers can make do with the naked eye or perhaps binoculars, you need a telescope to truly unlock the beauty of deep space. For beginners, experienced astronomers recommend first learning about manual astronomy telescopes, as this will teach you the essential tech foundations. Thankfully, many beginner-friendly models now compromise by offering manual models with smartphone support. Case in point, the StarSense Explorer requires the user to guide the telescope itself—but this is made much easier through their companion app that shows celestial objects currently visible, and charts a path for whichever specific one the user chooses to view. Plus, since it’s relatively lightweight at around 18 pounds, this telescope is very portable for astronomy hobbyists who want to venture to more remote locations. That said, before making any telescope purchase, it’s also best to try it out in-person. This way, you can gauge if it works well for your own individual preferences and needs.

The constellation Orion shines brightly thanks to zero light pollution deep in the Chihuahuan Desert in West Texas, hundreds of miles from civilization

Stars over the Chihuahuan Desert: Lobo, TX - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

Stargazing Guides

Although you can easily stargaze from the comfort of your own backyard, there are certain times and places that can seriously enhance the experience. To pinpoint these, you need resources specially created to determine dates, times, and coordinates where the skies are darkest, where there is ideal visibility, and exactly when certain events are bound to occur. Fortunately, many of these resources are freely available today. For instance, on Pathloom we recently shared 2022 guides to upcoming meteor showers and planetary conjunctions. These include the active dates, optimal viewing times, and best viewing areas for certain astronomical events. In addition to resources available on our site, there are also quite a few mobile apps that you can utilize. For example, Google Sky shows users the exact placement of planets at any given time. Meanwhile, apps like SkEye can help you identify stars, planets, constellations, and more. Some apps (like the ones that accompany the aforementioned StarSense telescope) can even be used as guides for telescopes. Through such resources, you can educate yourself about astronomy, and ensure that each stargazing trip will reveal something new and exciting.

Stars litter the night sky over Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Moraine Campground: Rocky Mountain National Park, CO - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan

Astronomy Log Book

An astronomy logbook is one of the key items you’ll need to hone your hobby. More than just a notebook of ramblings, a logbook represents a systematic way of recording observations. This will allow you to note interesting patterns and phenomena that may otherwise go unnoticed - which can help make stargazing far more exciting and rewarding in the long run. As a rule of thumb, astronomy logbooks are typically notebooks with good quality paper and a hardback. This will help ensure your ink won’t smudge, and it will be less likely to rip or stain after repeated use. Since logging your observations can be fairly intimidating at first, you can also use free downloadable observation forms. Using these will make it easy to learn what to take note of, and what to start jotting down later once you start your own logbook. Over time, you may even find you have a personal approach that can help you find the planets or galaxies of your choosing.

An illuminated orange tent sits along the shores of Loon Lake in the Sierra Nevadas of California - a perfect place for night time stargazing

Stargazing at Night over Loon Lake, CA - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

A Comfortable Tent

Stargazing can often feel like a waiting game, and the best views often require quite a bit of travel. Light pollution from nearby cities or towns can make it harder to see the night sky properly, which is why experienced astronomers recommend visiting optimal stargazing spots that are far from civilization. As such, these places will likely be in undeveloped areas that may not be the most accommodating for the long stretches of time you’ll want to allocate for the task. Therefore, in order to increase the range of how far you can go and how comfortable you’ll be in these remote locations, consider bringing a tent to protect yourself and your equipment. Though camping tents are fairly straightforward, some things to keep in mind include the size and the weight. If you’re a solo hobbyist, then a single or two-person tent will be more than enough and easy to lug around. Just keep in mind that while it’s useful to bring a solid rainfly for protection should it suddenly rain or snow, it’s better to remove this so you can view stars through the mesh top. Even if your mesh top is thicker and obstructive to your view, though, a tent is still handy to have as a home base where you can take breaks through the night. Stargazing is undoubtedly a great hobby for those who want to connect with the vast and mysterious universe. It's an activity that is both scientific and creative, and that you can enjoy whether you’re out solo or with your friends or loved ones. And who knows? As you start setting up those telescopes, you may even find yourself discovering more things about yourself - or the universe as a whole - under the great starry sky above.


Guest Blogger Abigail Caster is a freelance writer who has been published in numerous local and international publications. A passionate writer, Abigail is currently working on her personal blog while caring for her three rescue dogs.


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