Stargazing Basics for Camping and RVing

For millennia, humanity has gazed upon the heavens, searching for the answer to the universe. Although the constant movement of stars was, by far, the easiest to record, other events like the movements of neighboring planets and eclipses were also predicted and charted. Astronomy has always focused on the observations of its heavenly bodies.

Astronomy is the study of the planets, moon, stars, sun, galaxies, gas, dust, comets and any other non-Earthly phenomena and bodies. NASA defines it simply as “the study of the planets, stars and space.” Astrology and astronomy were associated with each other historically, but astrology isn’t considered as a science. In modern science, it is no longer recognized as a field of study within the astronomy community; however cosmology, the science behind the origin of the universe, is accepted within the community. Modern astronomy is built behind the theory that the universe was created by something known as the Big Bang theory.

Getting Started

Merely looking up at the stars will not get you very far when you first begin learning about astronomy. Start out by checking out some beginner’s astronomy books at your local library. You can also visit trustworthy educational websites like NASA to view up to date information. The next step involves you taking a trip to an observatory or planetarium. This will be an exciting star-gazing opportunity for people of any age. Some centers will have nighttime star-gazing escapades, so call your local science museum for more information.

Purchasing a star map can be extremely helpful; you see what exactly it is you are looking at in the sky. Try to watch the stars in a place that is dark � meaning away from the city’s glare. Many state and national parks will allow you to camp overnight. Buying a telescope would be your next step, though for beginners many reliable sources recommend starting with something as simple as binoculars. They are ideal as a first “telescope” and show you a wide view, one that a higher powered telescope won’t provide.

Using Star Charts and Wheels

Star wheels, also called planispheres, are circular maps of the stars designed to show what stars are viewable in the sky on any date and time. Ideal for people who are just starting out, planispheres use a star chart in the shape of a circle to provide a clear and easily maneuvered view of the brightest constellations, stars, and deep sky objects visible from a specific latitude.

Understanding Celestial Coordinates

Celestial coordinates are specific positions of celestial objects: planets, stars, satellites, galaxies, etc. A celestial coordinate system can target a certain place in space even if the distance isn’t known. These systems (Horizontal, Equatorial, Ecliptic, Galactic and Super-galactic) are implemented in rectangular or spherical coordinates.

Constellations

Recognizable patterns of stars are known as “asterisms.” These asterisms may be part of a constellation. In ancient times, people would tell stories about mythological characters and creatures which they would associate with the constellations. It can at times be difficult to view the creatures and shapes the constellations are named after; however, viewing a chart with the lines connecting the stars to make the shapes makes it easier to spot and identify the constellations in the sky.

Deep Sky Observing

Generally speaking, deep sky observation involves looking into space for stars or other items that are not in our solar system. Most of the deep sky objects are diffused, faint and require the use of a telescope. They make for spectacular photos but will often appear as a faint smudge of light, even through a large telescope. There are several types of deep sky objects including: Globular Star Clusters, Diffuse Nebulae, Dark Nebulae, Open Star Clusters, Supernova Remnants, Planetary Nebulae, Galaxies, Galaxy Groups, Gravitational Lenses and Quasars.

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