Online Resources for Beginning Observers

The Constellations

Amateur astronomers use the constellations at tools: they are stepping stones to finding where to point their telescopes. Constellations have a long history, however, and many of them have become associated with stories and myths in various cultures–not just ancient Greece and Mesopotamia.


The Moon

The moon’s phase is important for observers. It tells you when the moon will appear in the sky and how bright it will be. If you want to look at faint galaxies or nebulae with a telescope, it is best to observe when the moon is not in the sky, so a Moon Phase Calendar is useful for planning observing trips.


The Planets

The planets in our solar system cannot be included on printed star maps because they move fairly rapidly relative or our observing platform, the Earth.  The planets are, however, interesting subjects to observe.


Comets

Comets are chunks of ice and dust floating through space.  They can become spectacular when they pass near the sun and their outer layers evaporate (technically “sublime”), forming a temporary atmosphere (the coma) which can blow away as a tail driven outward from the sun by solar radiation and the solar wind.


 

Meteor Showers

Meteors are bits of rocky and metallic debris floating through space that hit the earth’s atmosphere (typically at about 90,000 miles per hour!) and burn brightly as they dissipate their energy in a brief flash. A 1-gram meteor 100 miles high, at the top of the atmosphere, can glow with about a million watts of light, making it bright enough to be seen from earth!


 Eclipses

A total eclipse of the sun is a wonderful, beautiful, exciting event.  Other eclipses are merely interesting, by comparison, but they can be quite interesting if you know how to observe them and what to look for.


Deep Sky Observing

Deep sky observing (observing objects beyond our solar system) is generally the domain of larger telescopes, but an amazing amount can be seen with the unaided eye and/or a simple pair of binoculars under dark sky conditions.


Dark Sky Awareness

When it comes to seeing “faint fuzzies”, or even appreciating the beauty of the universe, darkness is the key! That means no moon, but also no street lights, no nearby city lights. The sky would be MUCH darker if we had the same amount of outdoor lighting as today but it was all shielded with the light directed downward.


Satellites

You can see satellites any night you look for them. To see them you must be in twilight or dark and the satellite must be in direct sunlight. That means they are best seen shortly after sunset or before sunrise.


Breaking News

“Astronomy Picture of the Day” sounds like a trivial site, but it is far from it! The site is one of the best astronomical educational resources on the Internet.