Many people think that the only way to enjoy astronomy is by spending hundreds, even thousands of dollars on big telescopes. Not true! A good pair of binoculars will show you plenty to keep you busy when you first get started. There's even lots to see with the naked eye! Below are some suggestions for what to bring with you when you go stargazing.
Dress Warmly: This seems like a no-brainer, but it's a common mistake of beginners. Even in the summer, the temperature can get quite cool at night compared to what you're used to in the day or evening. Also, bear in mind that looking at the stars is a very still activity - you won't be generating much body heat as you sit at the eyepiece trying to move as little as possible. Dress in layers (having a fleece vest as one of them is a good idea). If you're observing somewhere at higher elevation (like Lac le Jeune) then this is even more important. It gets cold up there at night!
Star Charts: These are very important if you want to be able to actually find what you're looking for, and to name something you find that you weren't looking for. Good ones are available as pull-outs in astronomy magazines (Sky News and Sky & Telescope are 2 examples) or you can use one of a number of online programs to print one for free (see link in main menu above). If you would like a more permanent book of star charts to take with you on your stargazing adventures, I would recommend something like The National Audobon society's pocket-sized Field Guide to the Night Sky (click link to see description courtesy of chapters.ca).
Binoculars: Any pair are better than nothing, but if you're shopping for binoculars specifically for astronomy there are several factors to bear in mind. The larger the aperature the better (the more light they let in, the more you'll see!) and coated optics always give better performance. Big and clunky are a good thing when describing astronomical binoculars - the bigger the better, remembering that anything over about 8 power magnification will require a tripod to hold steady enough to be useful. Good ones even come with the option of a tripod mount. Do some research and find a pair that is suitable for astronomy and is within your budget (see the Links page for some useful online resources for equipment shopping). Terrence Dickinson, editor of the Canadian magazine SkyNews, says his favourite all-around binoculars for stargazing are the Celestron SkyMaster 8x56 binoculars. I love Celestron binocs too, and these are available for mail-order from within Canada. But you may want to check a local dealer like London Drugs (who carry Celestron) or even the Vancouver Telescope Centre and see if their prices are better (plus you wouldn't have to pay shipping!).
Telescopes: This is where the quick advice of this webpage ends and some serious research begins. As stated above for binoculars, do yourself a favour and learn a LOT about astronomy before buying your first telescope. Borrow binoculars until then and make the right choice. There are many different styles and prices of telescopes and each has its advantage. Generally speaking, buy the biggest aperature telescope, of the style you want, that fits your budget.
Chair: The type of chair you bring will depend on the kind of stargazing you are planning on doing. If sitting at a telescope eyepiece, probably a lawn-type chair is a good idea that sits you upright. With binoculars, however, you may want a recliner if your binoculars are going to be hand-held, or again an upright chair if they will be mounted on a tripod. But bring something to sit on! :)
Mug: If you are joining Mr. Hembling for an observing session either as part of the Astronomy Club or his Astronomy 11 class, don't forget to bring your mug, as he will often have Astronomically Hot Chocolate available! But being the environmentalist that he tries to be, he doesn't believe in using styrofoam cups so please bring your own reusable mug if you'd like some! It really takes the chill off of a cold evening at the eyepiece!
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