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Budget Astronomy - Sean Murcott
Astronomy is a rewarding hobby at any level, whether you just want to look up at the night sky with your eyes or use a variety of optics to get really nice views of Deep Space Objects (DSOs) and planets. However there is a saying that if anything has an Astronomy label, expect it to cost about four times what it should be! This is why I am writing this guide to budget astronomy.
First up, you can enjoy the night sky with very little money if you download a suitable app on a mobile device. (Nearly everyone nowadays has a smart phone.) Looking up at the night sky can be a confusing mess of stars and quite daunting for those who are wanting to get into astronomy. But with an app you can learn the constellations along with the names of the brightest stars in those constellations. So I would recommend downloading a planetarium app which will show you a map of what is in the sky where you are. For this purpose I heavily recommend Stellarium (https://stellarium.org/ ) which has a free version as well as one for less than £10. But there are also planetarium apps in the Google Play store and Apple app store. .
Another couple of apps I would recommend are Clear Outside and BBC Weather so I can plan for clear nights - both of these are free. There are other weather apps but these two are the ones I most use. Then all there is left to do is wait for a clear night and learn the night sky.
Congratulations! You have now made the first step in being an amateur astronomer! Cost price: free to around£10.
But I see these spectacular images on the internet or in astronomy magazines! How can I see these myself?
First up images on the internet and magazines are produced using thousands of pounds worth of equipment which includes cameras, telescopes, mounts, computers and software along with a lot of time and patience in image processing and so forth and I will get into the whole astrophotography later. At the moment you have your naked eye and a couple of free apps, but if you want closer views of the night sky the next on the list is to look at optics.
Binoculars are a good way to go, especially if you don’t have room to store a telescope. Just looking on Amazon you can get second hand 12x50 binoculars with tripod for £35. Binoculars are described using two numbers – in this case 12x50 means 12 times magnification with 50mm lenses. Binoculars with 40 to 50 mm lenses are good for moon viewing and also looking at the brighter DSOs for example the Andromeda Galaxy. Cost Price: around £35