Stargazing is something you can do even in the middle of the city. If you don't know the constellations, the sky can look like a random collection of stars. But once you get to know the stars and their positions relative to each other, instead of a random distribution you will be able to read the stars like a road map. Once you learn the constellations, you can use them as markers to find other objects in the sky. Keep reading to learn how to observe constellations, planets, asteroids, comets and meteors.
The sky is organized into constellations, which are groups of stars that people in ancient times thought looked like animals, people, or other mythological forms. The signs of the zodiac are constellations, but there are many more. In total there are 88 constellations, as defined by the International Astronomical Union.
To learn the constellations, you can buy a star chart, or a planisphere, which is a disk with a rotating window. You just rotate the wheel until it lines up with the date and time, and the night sky at that hour is shown in the window!
Begin with easy constellations like Ursa Major, Ursa Minor and Cassiopeia, all in the northern sky. In the northern hemisphere in the winter, you can add Orion, Taurus and Canis Major to your list. As long as you stay in the northern hemisphere, you can add Leo, Virgo, Gemini and Bootes during the spring. Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila are found during the summer and Pegasus, Andromeda and Perseus are found in the fall in the northern hemisphere. Once you learn these fairly simple constellations, you will be ready to continue with the smaller constellations and other more challenging objects.
Start with Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, because they are easy and fun to find. Once you have found them, continue hunting for Mercury, Uranus, Neptune, and asteroids. This is very exciting. Venus, known as the morning and evening star, is very bright and visible for up to 3 hours after sunset and before dawn. It shows phases like the Moon when it's observed with a telescope.
Jupiter and Mars are also very bright and you can't miss them if they are visible. Jupiter is a white-yellowish color and the Mars looks reddish.
In the best conditions, you can observe the outer planets that orbit around the Sun beyond the Earth. Even though Mercury is visible with the naked eye, it is challenging to observe because it is so close to the sun. It is only visible up to an hour before sunrise or after sunset during a clear sky.
The strongest meteor showers are the Quadrantids in January, the Eta-Aquarids in May, the Perseids in August and the Geminids in December. Such events make it easy to spot meteors. So lie back, relax, and enjoy one of the most spectacular shows in the sky!