Your Home Observatory Help

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 19, 2011

Your Home Observatory

Now that you have some knowledge of what goes on beyond the reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, you can more fully appreciate what you see when you look up after the Sun goes down. You don’t have to spend your life’s savings on hardware, but a few instruments can help you see a lot of interesting celestial objects.

Location, Location, Location!

As our cities swell, good places for astronomical viewing are becoming hard to find. We light up the darkness so that our streets are safe for driving powered vehicles, even as the exhaust from those machines thickens the veil between us and the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, nebulae, and galaxies. Tall buildings turn fields into canyons. Some children grow up without learning to recognize any celestial objects other than the Sun and Moon. It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you happen to live in a rural area, especially in one of the less populated parts of the country, consider yourself blessed.

Before You Venture Out

Read this chapter before you start to shop for astronomical viewing aids. Then check out several stores; hobby shops are excellent. If there is a local astronomy club in your area, find out where and when it meets, and get some input from experienced amateur astronomers before spending any money. Your needs will depend on what you want to see “up there” and how important amateur astronomy really is to you.

Sky and Telescope magazine online has information about astronomy clubs all over the world. Go to the following Web site:


Click on “Site Map,” and then click on “Astronomical Directory.” As you know if you have used a computer online lately, the Web is always changing, and by the time you read this, the links may be different. In that case, go to this site:


Click on “Advanced Search,” and input the words astronomy clubs in the “exact phrase” box. Then take it from there!


Wherever you live, you need not travel far to get to a place where latter-day contrivances don’t interfere with your view of the nighttime sky. There are plenty of places, even near Boston, London, or Sydney, where the stars twinkle and the planets stand out like beacons. In this respect, ironically, some of the world’s poorest people are well-to-do. Have you ever wondered what folks in remote Afghanistan or Tibet see when they look at the sky on a clear and moonless night?

The next time the weather is favorable for sky watching, get out in a rural area, out on a big country lake, or offshore in the ocean in a small boat. Find a quiet place, a safe place, where human and animal pests will not disturb you. Bring along some insect repellent unless it’s winter. If it is winter, wear plenty of warm clothing! You’re not going to be jogging around or doing aerobics. Don’t trespass or put yourself in danger. Put at least 75 miles between yourself and the nearest big town.

Don’t expect to find a spot entirely without any human-made lights in view, but if they’re few in number and more than a city block away, it should be good enough. Give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Then gaze upward. Better yet, lie flat on your back with an unobstructed half-sphere of sky above you.

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