Pssst...come here...make sure no one sees you.
Take a look at this...hey! Don't worry! It's not what you think. Most people think amateur astronomy is expensive, or that the cosmic carnival is limited to those that pay the hefty admission price. A decent telescope costs north of $125, and some of us don't have access to these astronomical optical devices.
What shall we do when there's nothin' but air inside of our wallet? Or if we're luggin' around a monetary hollow purse? Does that mean the cosmic carnival is off limits?
No Money Astronomy: Cheapskate Edition will provide you with FREE knowledge coupons! And they never expire. Each article was originally published separately, however, this bundle package contains TWO starter guides, which will boost you over the fence, and into the cosmic carnival—for FREE.
Remember: You don't have to pay the admission price to visit the cosmic carnival above your head.
There’s no denying it—backyard astronomy is expensive. Very expensive. Telescopes, mounts, eyepieces, books, filters, none of these things are cheap, and, instead, will bankrupt mere mortals. Apochromatic refractors…large aperture reflectors…astrographs…catadioptrics…binoculars…CCD cameras…eyepieces…star diagonals…filters…dynamos…mounts…Barlow lenses…the list goes on.
You need none of it!
That’s right! Throw away the catalogs! If you’re able to read this sentence, then you have all that is needed to look up the night sky dress and enjoy celestial wonders.
I’m going to break this topic into a handful of enlightening posts. Let’s explore the first astronomical object, which requires absolutely no gear.
This should go without saying, but it’s true: the night sky is filled with stars, and to prove this fact, you don’t need any special gear! Go outside, and, well, take a look—you’ll see a nightly canvas filled with illuminating points of light. We call these shiny lights, “stars”.
How many visible stars are in the night sky? Your guess is as good as mine! The human eye is able to see down to the 6th magnitude, and guess what? There are thousands of stars, which are 6th magnitude, or brighter.
I see your face cringing. I can hear your thoughts: “But, but, stars are boring! I been looking at stars my whole life and they’re boring!”
Does that sound like you? Don’t lie.
If it does, hey, don’t worry! You’re just a little jaded, possibly an asshole, but, hey! Don’t worry! We all been there. I ask you to keep an open mind. Crack open a few books. Prowl the interweb. You know what you will discover? The night sky is filled with very interesting stellar objects—all of them demand your attention.
Don’t believe me?
All right, all right, let’s take a gander at the cosmic freak-show.
Let’s see…where shall I begin? Oh! I know…ha…I know. Prepare to have your mind explode straight out of the top of your cranium.
Have you ever read about The Demon Star? No? Sit back and prepare to be cosmically obliterated—this Winking Demon is known to blink at observers, periodically dimming, then brightening, at predictable intervals. Why? How can a star possibly do such a thing? Welcome to the world of variable stars.
Not interested in cosmic demons?
What about big stars? Fat stars? HUMONGOUS stars? Aha! I finally have your attention. Stars come in a wide variety of sizes: puny, small, medium, big, very big, large, huge, fat, fat bastard, ridiculously fat, and horrifically plump.
Betelgeuse—a glowing orange tangerine—lounges upon Orion’s left shoulder. Speaking of fat bastards, Betelgeuse is quite large: this particular supergiant is estimated to have a radius of around 1000x the sun, which equals…850 million miles (1.4 billion km)!!!
I could sit here all day and blabber on, and on, and on, and on about notable stars:
See what I mean? (pardon my northern bias)
Algol will probably be the most difficult, but once you know where to look, the Demon Star will shine down upon your pathetic mortal soul! Muhahahahahaha.
No cash? No Problem! The night sky has a free admission—it’s only a matter of knowing where to look. By the time we’re finished, you will be the most frugal observer in the entire Milky Way!
So…what did you buy with all the money you saved?
During our previous observing session together—we learned that the night sky doesn’t charge an admission—as long as you know where to look. There are bizarre stars just waiting to be seen and many of them don’t require fancy glass! Just those squishy optics inside of your face.
When you look up into the night sky, what do you see? No, no, I’m not talking aboutstars…well…kind of…sort of.
What I mean to say is: I’m not talking about specific stars. There. That’s better.
Humanity has been seeing grand stellar patterns in the night sky since…forever. Cultures alllllll over the world gave their two cents and forged mighty mythologies, which we still read about, until this very day. The night sky is filled with stories, myths, and legends—detailing the origins of hypnotic stellar patterns, commonly known as—constellations.
What’s the first constellation you learned? Wait!…don’t tell me…if I think real hard…I…can…was it…The Big Dipper?
The Big Dipper is a very popular constellation! There’s just one itsy-bitsy problem: The Big Dipper is not a legit constellation! I know, I know, calm down. We go our whole damn lives thinking one thing, then we learn how stupid we truly are. Welcome to life, kiddo.
The Big Dipper is really an asterism—a bright pattern of stars, which is smaller than an actual constellation. Feel free to impress your friends during your next cocktail party (Why didn’t you invite me?) by saying something like this: “…Don’t be silly! The Big Dipper is not a constellation! It’s an asterism within Ursa Major.”
Everyone will stand slack jawed because of your sheer brilliance.
Learning the constellations comes with many benefits. Everyone smarter than me says so and guess what? It’s true! And guess what? Learning the constellations is absolutely free!
Helps Promote Night Sky Familiarity
Helps Locate Specific Objects
Makes Night Sky Less Intimidating
Telescopes / Binoculars Will Become More Useful
Here’s the secret to learning the constellations: time.
Oh! And patience.
Oh! And consistency.
That’s it! That’s all it takes.
Oh! And dedication. Can’t forget that.
Let’s be realistic: you won’t learn it all in one night, so don’t even try! Learn a little at a time. Start with what you know and branch off into new sections of the night sky, when you’re ready. The stellar patterns will eventually burn into your brain. Trust me. You’ll be able to close your eyes and see the constellations glowing behind your eyelids.
Once you start becoming familiar with the night sky, you’ll start to notice stellar alignments, which point the way toward other sections of the night sky. The last two stars in the Big Dipper’s handle points the way to Polaris (North Star), which resides in the Little Dipper (another asterisk). Very convenient.
Excuse me, but can you help locate Mizar and Alcor? They are a popular double-star system. The ancients used this system as a primitive eye test—those that could ‘split the double’—were deemed to have excellent vision.
You know exactly where to find this double-star system, right?
That’s what I’m talking about! Yes! That’s it! Hell yeah! Let’s take a closer look:
Wow! There it is! There’s Mizar and Alcor! Right smack in the middle of the frame. Gorgeous. I knew you could do it!
Wait…hold on…do you know what just happened?
You used a constellation (sort of) to locate specific stars! See what I mean? We have come full circle: not only can you locate lonesome bright stars, but you can now locate constellations, which helps locate…more stars. Congratulations! Pat yourself on the back! Kiss your reflection! You deserve it.
Let’s tighten up this circle, shall we? Remember Betelgeuse? Great, because you’re going to use that star and locate the constellation Orion.
Wow! You’re a fast learner! Betelgeuse marks Orion’s left shoulder. See? You used a star and located a whole damn constellation. Simple. Easy. You can do this blindfolded.
Oh, I’m sorry, are trees blocking your way? No problem! The tangerine glow of Betelgeuse burns through the branches and signals where to look. There’s no stopping you. Nothing can get in your way. The stellar lighthouses are a beacon for night sky adventurers. You are now one of those adventurers.
**Remember** Constellations are seasonal and don’t worry about learning it all at once. The celestial characters of ancient lore are going nowhere…for now.
Your piggy bank must be about to bust apart! We learned how to locate specific stars and constellations and didn’t need to spend a single dollar, peso, euro, rupee, yen, shekel, won, denar, or kina! That’s what I like to call—savings.