Robin Wilkey
Starting with Stargazing
Practical Stargazing









































Part one: Introduction

Robin Wilkey is Communications Officer and Website Designer for Swindon Stargazers and frequently organises stargazing for the club on an Ad Hoc basis.

My first rule as a beginner is to always go for the easiest things to view, like the Moon or the planets to start with and then move on to the stars and galaxies around the night sky.

My second rule is always do some research before you go out and decide what you want to look for before you go, say a particular crater on the Moon, or a particular planet and its moons.

There is usually plenty visible but you need to know what you are looking for to start with!

My third recommendation is to keep a diary of what you have seen and to do drawings where necessary so that you check what you have seen later.

The fourth recommendation, of course, is to wrap up warm and take some hot drinks or soup with you, as the best stargazing is done in the winter months and it can be pretty cold.

THe fifth and final recommendation is to not to go alone, for your own personal security, and besides, it's not so much fun!


  • Choose something that is easy to view
  • Do some research before you go
  • Keep a diary and also make some drawings of what you see
  • Wrap up warm
  • Do not go alone

Part two: start with the Moon or the planets

By far the easiest things to look at in the night sky is our own Moon or a planet. One of the most fascinating planets to look at is Jupiter and its four Galilean moons, in a low power eyepiece Jupiter looks like a bright small disc and its moons small pinpricks of bright light, relative sizes to Jupiter and its moons illustrated as follows (Courtesy of Wikipedia):

The moons from top to bottom are Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto. when stargazing you will not see Jupiter and its moons as clear as the above illustration, but its good to know what you are looking at (research, research before you go out!)

Other planets have moons and following is a list of some of these, probably the next best ones to look out for are Saturn's moons, when you have overcome the 'Wow' factor of seeing its rings for the first time through a telescope, Titan is easy to spot on a good clear night:

Illustration Courtesy of Wikipedia

Our own Moon is a great object to look at through a telescope or binoculars, for more information about the moon, go HERE

Also download the Virtual Moon Atlas HERE

Again with the Moon, decide what you want to look out for before you go. you might want to look at the seas (the 'Mares') or perhaps a particular crater like Tyco or Copernicus. THe best time to look at the Moon is when the 'Terminator' is present, that is the line between the light side of the moon and the side that is in shadow. So a half Moon night is always a good bet as is a quarter Moon.

So with this you are now doing practical stargazing. Always try and go out with someone more experienced than you, we all started somewhere, and we all have a lot to learn!

Hot Tip: If you are using a telescope, always use a low power eyepiece to find your object first, say a 25mm or a 32mm is even better, once you have found the object you can always go to higher power, but remember the object is always duller when you increase the magnifiction, unless you are looking at the Moon!

Part three: start looking for some of the more difficult objects

Start by identifying Orion and it's brightest star Betelgeuse in the top left hand corner. Then identify The Plough and then Casseopeia, the 'W' shape high in the night sky.

Perhaps the next easiest object to look for (in winter) is the Orion Nebula which is situated in the sword part below Orion's belt, a bright luminous cloud which looks amazing through a telescope or binoculars, this is also known as M42 (in the Messier catalogue of 110 objects), check this out HERE

Other common objects include the Pleiades (M45) or Seven Sisters found in Taurus, the cluster contains over 1,000 statistically confirmed members, although this figure excludes unresolved binary stars. It is dominated by young, hot blue stars, up to 14 of which can be seen with the naked eye this is an open star cluster that looks like an upside down hedgehog in the region of Taurus, easy to spot near Taurus' brightest star Aldebaran. The Pleiades looks amazing through binoculars or telescope:

The Pleiades


Here is a map of the Pleiades star cluster courtesy of Wikipedia:

So, go out and see how many of the above you can see and name. That's what practical stargazing is all about!

The Hyades were sisters of the Pleiades, and these can be seen near the bright star Aldebaran, just to the right, so don't confuse them.

Part four: Galaxies are harder to find

The one object that many people want to see is the Andromeda Galaxy, part of what is known as our local group, also known as M31, it is quite difficult to find if you are not used to looking for galaxies, but bare in mind that when you find it, it will look like a feint smudge in the night sky, here is guide to finding it. Always best to lead off from Pegasus. M33 (the Triangulam Galaxy) is a smaller galaxy to the south and very difficult to spot:

The best way to see the stars and planets is to join a local astronomy group and learn from other people if you can.

Study the Moon and learn the seas (Mare) first

Why not use the annotated image of the full Moon to learn the locations of the Moon's Mare. You can see some of them with your unaided eye and binoculars will enable you to spot them all.


  • Don't be too ambitious to start with
  • Look at the earth's Moon and then look for a planet
  • pick out the easiest and most common constellations in the night sky
  • look at the two easiest Messier objects to start with
  • Then look for galaxies and star clusters
  • Take your time, do your research before and after you go out
  • The club often arranges stargazing evenings, join one of these to get started

Please note that the best time to observe is during the winter months and consequently the above notes reflect the objects found in the night sky during the autumn and winter months.