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How to Begin Stargazing: Books and Other Resources to Get You Started
If the idea of a night spent out under the stars watching a meteor shower streak by interests you, or you have a telescope gathering dust in you closet and still don't know how to identify a thing in the night sky, there are a few simple resources to help.
If the idea of a night spent out under the stars watching a meteor shower streak by interests you, or you have a telescope gathering dust in you closet and still don't know how to identify a thing in the night sky, there are a few simple resources to help. None of the following resources are complicated to use and all show you that there is more to stargazing than just locating stars, such as physics, mathematics, years of history and a whole lot of storytelling material.
One of the best books I have come across for teaching youngsters all the basics about what there is to see in the night sky is a book titled, Three Hundred and Sixty Five Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year, by Raymo. Stars, constellations, the Milky Way, meteor showers, and other things of celestial interest are described in light but thorough detail. Whatever time of the year you go out to stargaze, there is an entry that you should turn your attention to in the sky. The illustrations in the book are not the run of the mill astronomy pictures, instead they are hand drawn illustrations of the constellations that you will be looking for. I like that this book is easy enough for children to use and understand, but also great for adults, it really is the perfect resource for a family heading out for a night under the stars together.
Different than an astronomy book full of charts and physics jargon is The Box of Stars: A Practical Guide to the Mythology of the Night Sky, by Tennant. This box full of little treasure actually makes a really nice gift, but is also a useful and fun resource for the casual or serious astronomer. Included in the book are a duplicated set of all 32 plates of the constellations that were published in Urania's Mirror. The beautifully illustrated cards are pricked with pinholes so that you can recreate each constellation on the ceiling of a room with the aid of a flashlight. A small book gives you the mythology behind each of the constellations in the card set, several star charts covering each hemisphere place them in the sky.
Every good astronomer keeps a journal of their observations, so it is good to get in the habit from the very beginning. My personal favorite is the Stargazing Journal from Potter Style Publishers, which has a glow in the dark cover and an awesome layout, but a plain spiral will do nicely too. Make sure to keep track of the date, location, what you are able to see, not see, viewing conditions, phase of the moon and any other illustrations.
A star wheel is another great tool to have with you when you are out stargazing. By choosing the month and day you will be able to get an idea of what is in the sky using the wheel as an indicator. As long as you can distinguish the north and south or east and west horizons you can figure out the general location of a constellation. I recommend choosing a wheel that is both glow in the dark and plastic.
Lastly, The Beginners Guide to Stargazing will give you some pointers on identifying night signposts in the sky and tips for using your hand as a scale. Now all you need to do is get outside.