You don’t need special equipment, nor do you need to have special degrees from universities. Passion for the sky and astronomy comes from experience, and these are the things to do that can help supplement that passion. You can do all of them, or just a few, but as long as you keep on it, you won’t lose it!
Become Acquainted With Your Night Sky
Most importantly, you need to know what is above you! People remark how often I look up at night, almost every night that it’s clear! It’s because I’m noticing what stars, planets, and constellations are present in the sky. It definitely helps to know where your cardinal points are, where the north star is located, and to know which stars are up depending on the season.
Get a Star app
There are many apps on phones and tablets that give you real time views of what is in the sky, and if you don’t know what that bright star is, it’ll tell you. Some of them offer basic views that are easy to read, while others are so detailed that they are fun to play around with. Eventually it will get to the point where your head becomes the app!
Just Visit a Dark Sky
You need to know what a true dark sky looks and feels like – the kind that was visible to your ancestors before light pollution over cities took over. A sky filled with faint stars offers you a better perspective, and always renews your passion for astronomy. The more you visit a dark sky, the more experience you gain for your knowledge of constellations and deep sky.
Learn from Books, Websites, and TV Shows
While yes, I did take some classes in college, I learned a lot of information from reading stargazing books, surfing the internet, and TV shows! TV shows that air on National Geographic and Discovery are informative and entertaining, and offer excellent simulations of things past, present, and future. Currently, I love watching Star Talk, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson – it’s like a late night talk show, but astronomy themed!
Visit a Planetarium
The two most famous planetariums in the U.S.A. are the Samuel Oschin Planetarium (part of Griffith Observatory) in Los Angeles and Hayden Planetarium in New York City. Besides their flagship space shows, they offer museums full of exhibits to explore for the purpose of learning and getting inspired. Other major cities in the U.S.A. offer their own versions that you can search for, and there really is no wrong way to attend one! These are places that can take an entire day to enjoy!
Visit an Observatory
Some planetarium locations have public observatories that offer public viewing and stargazing opportunities – Griffith Observatory offers free public viewing every night that it’s clear (except Mondays when it’s closed). Depending on the location and if the observatory is an active research facility or not, many observatories offer public tours and give you opportunities to see what professional grade telescopes look like. Some even let you look through them, but before you visit, make sure they do, and see how much it would cost.
Attend a Star Party or Viewing Event
Star parties can be organized by anyone. Individuals can plan them and invite people to join, or organizations can organize them too. Whether they are centered around a celestial event or just an excuse to look at the sky, their sole purpose is outreach, especially if they are located in crowded public places. Astronomy clubs will put together events where you can see dozens of personal telescopes on display, and anyone is welcome to come view through them and gain insight from passionate individuals. Trust me when I say this – WE WANT to share the information!
Orion Bear Astronomy does organize events in Southern California, whether in cities or out in the countryside, and has them listed in the Events page. You can also schedule one too!
Join an Astronomical Society or Club
Astronomical societies or astronomy clubs will organize meetings and events, making it easier for you to be around people with the same passions that you have. Some are free to join, others require membership fees. Some clubs have a regular dark sky spot, where you can join or participate in their events as well! A lot of people in these clubs will coordinate and get trips put together for major celestial events that require travel, such as the next Solar Eclipse in 2024. Being a member of a nearby astronomical society can actually get you “in the know” and offer opportunities to look through telescopes that the general public can’t.
Start With Binoculars
Many think that you immediately need to get a telescope as soon as you get intrigued about the sky. But what often happens is that telescopes that get bought in haste usually end up collecting dust. There is so much to see and do without a telescope that you shouldn’t rush to buy one.
A good pair of binoculars is all you need for starts. There are enough deep sky objects that are easily spotted with binoculars, and it is often fun to just scan the sky and find things you normally don’t see with the naked eye. If you visit a dark sky, take the binoculars and just scan it through the Milky Way, you will be amazed by what you can see!
When it’s Time For a Telescope, Do it Right!
This website has a separate guide for you to review, that’s how much I emphasize “do it right!” People often ask me, “what can I get for xxx dollars?” and I am happy to help, but the main thing I ask in return is “what do you want to be able to do?” People see the pictures and videos on this site that were recorded straight from my telescope, and of course want their telescope to be able to do the same, but they need to understand that there’s accessories and motor drives being used that add up the costs.
The main thing is, don’t go for the flashy looking department store telescopes – their optics are poor, their mounts are flimsy, and their views are no better than binoculars – usually worse! What you need is a telescope with a strong steady mount, and one with decent aperture that resolves finer details. Even a small amateur telescope has these features, and their costs aren’t as bad as you may think!