Essential amateur astronomy equipment

Planisphere and a torch with red filter.

I thought I would share with you some of the basic equipment that I consider to be essential when starting amateur astronomy.

In reality you need no more than your eyes, but you will soon want to be more methodical than just looking up at night.

My bare minimum equipment is as follows:

  1. Planisphere: an instrument that can be adjusted to display the stars at a given date and time. This is very useful for planning your sessions as well as navigating your way around the night sky.
  2. Torch: fit the torch with a red filter. I use a mini Maglite that can be fitted with a purpose build plastic filter. Other methods include painting the bulb red or attaching a red plastic sweet wrapper over the end of the torch fastening it with elastic bands. Red light effects your night-vision the least. You need a torch for checking star charts and making your observation notes.
  3. Cartes du Ciel: this is a free planetarium programme for your computer. There are versions for Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. Cartes du Ciel allows you to make star charts that can help you plan your sessions. It is quite easy to use and quite accurate.

    If you have a laptop you can take Cartes du Ciel outside with you, it has a night vision mode.

    The power of planetarium programmes is that they allow you to track the planets and the Moon. The planisphere cannot do that.

  4. A sky atlas: charts of the constellations, locations of deep sky objects etc. I use Philip’s Atlas of the Universe by Patrick Moore. This book has nice charts of the constellations. There are plenty of other good books that have very usable charts.
  5. A compass : You will soon learn which way is North by the position of the stars. Until then a compass will help orientate yourself. I always have a compass to hand while observing, just in case.

Other things to be aware of is the weather and the temperature drop at night. Dress appropriately, take a woolly hat and gloves.

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