Fun Backyard Stargazing

Rob Morris, from the Clark Planetarium, shares some ideas on backyard stargazing.

If you have been interested in amateur astronomy but need some help getting started, there are a variety of resources ranging from the internet to Salt Lake area astronomy clubs that will soon have you on your way to starting a great new hobby.

While a telescope is optimal for observing, there is a large amount of deep sky gazing that can be done with a good pair of binoculars. For example, the Andromeda Galaxy (which is easily seen in August) is so large and bright that it is visible to the naked eye from a dark sky location. Add a pair of binoculars and this distant galaxy becomes quite impressive with little investment and set up time.

Planispheres, commonly known as “star wheels,” are star charts that can be set to show the location of objects in the sky for any given date and time. They are also convenient because they are portable and easy to use. By rotating the dials within the planisphere you will be guided through different objects visible in the night sky. You can download a template with instructions on how to build your own planisphere at Uncle Al’s Star Wheels.

A good accompaniment to a star wheel is a book about constellations. That way, as you identify nighttime objects, you can learn a bit about the history associated with constellations. The National Audubon Society has produced a compact pocket guide book that helps you find your way around the constellations and can be purchased at Planet Fun Clark Planetarium Store for just $9.95. Sky and Telescope online also features a “This Week’s Sky at a Glance” webpage that highlights various nighttime of interest.

If you decide you are ready to take the plunge and purchase a telescope for observing, there are a wide variety of telescopes on the market ranging from the trusty “Dobsonian” style telescope, which features a large barrel and mirror, to hi-tech “GO TO” telescopes that feature a computer device that automatically locates objects in the night sky.

To help show people the wonders of the Universe, Clark Planetarium and the Salt Lake Astronomical Society (SLAS)are partnering to host the “Cool Summer Nights” lecture series on Saturday and Sunday, August 8 – 9 at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m., each day. The series is designed to teach the basics of amateur observing techniques and what to expect to see in the late summer night sky.

After participating in the lecture series, audience members are invited to take advantage of special discounts on telescopes and accessories at Planet Fun and meet with members of SLAS to learn about the regularly scheduled public star parties hosted by the club. These star parties allow the public to look through a wide variety of telescopes, and even get assistance on setting up and using telescopes for the first time by experienced astronomers.

A complete schedule for the “Cool Summer Nights” lecture series is available at You can also follow planetarium updates on facebook and Twitter.

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