Over the last few weeks, I have written two articles explaining how to buy a telescope or binoculars. What if you are not ready for a telescope or binoculars? Or maybe you have a child showing an interest in astronomy? You want to encourage them but maybe not commit to a telescope yet. It is often a good idea to start by learning the stars and constellations with just your eyes. There are several pieces of kit that can help with this and they can be purchased fairly cheaply.
Before you invest in a telescope it can be a good idea to learn the stars and constellations. One of the first pieces of kit I would recommend for this is a planisphere. This is a device with two plastic wheels joined in the center. The bottom has the stars printed on it and the top has a hole shaped like an oval that represents the sky. You rotate the wheel at the top to line up at the right date and time and you can see a view of what the sky will look like above you. They can be purchased in any good book shop and are usually around €10-15. You can also print and make your own from templates available on google.
There are lots of great books you can use to help find your way in astronomy as a beginner. One great book is the Guide to the Night Sky by Collins. They publish a new one every year and it contains general stargazing advice, star maps, locations of the planets and moon for the year and also a month by month breakdown of what will be visible in the sky. This usually costs around €10 and is also available from any good bookshop.
Sometimes you can get a very sore neck looking up at the sky. A really good solution to this is an outdoor beanbag or sun lounger. These are particularly useful for watching meteor showers as you can lie back and look up. A great way to keep warm when doing this is to use a sleeping bag. An outdoor beanbag is usually between €50 and €100, while a sun lounger should be a bit cheaper.
Another accessory that every budding astronomer needs is a red light torch. These can be purchased for around €10-15. They are essential for being able to see in the dark without damaging your dark adaption. If you have a star-chart, magazine or a planisphere and use a white light to view it your eyes will be blinded by the bright light and it will be another 5 to 10 mins before you can see the sky properly again.
While you can spend tens of thousands on astronomy gear, you don’t need to when getting started. A few basic accessories to help you enjoy the sky a little more is the best way to start and then if you find that you enjoy it, move onto a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.