LOOKING UP: Family night at Kingaroy Observatory.
LOOKING UP: Family night at Kingaroy Observatory. Contributed

DARK SKIES: How to take up stargazing as a hobby

ASTRONOMY is a physical science. It was the very first science on this planet and will be the very last to leave when all of humankind has outlived itself. Astronomy does not recognise age, creed or colour so no matter how old you are, your religion or the colour of your skin. Astronomy, also known as 'stargazing', is for those who are curious enough to look up into a star-studded night sky and ask themselves: "How many stars are there? Where do they all come from? How big is our Milky Way galaxy? Why are some stars coloured?

All this and more makes astronomy a fascinating and exciting hobby and profession. Stargazing can also be a very relaxing hobby. I found after a hard day at work relaxing out under the stars with my telescope helped me to unwind. Before the digital age, we had star maps and charts which was the norm for amateur astronomers. Now we have astro apps for our smartphones that will help you to identify constellations and stars, which you need to know anyway, before buying a telescope later down the track. We'll talk about telescopes next week.

Another way to start is visit an observatory. There you can speak to the astronomer as to what is the best way to go about getting into astronomy. Looking at the Moon or a planet with their large powerful telescopes is one thing, but to think you, too, could have your telescope and peer into the cosmos any night of your choosing makes it even more enticing. But before you take that big step, learn to ID various bright stars and constellations. Doing this will set you on a path of excitement and enjoyment.

There are 88 constellations over this planet, half in each hemisphere. Each have their own set of stars and deep sky wonders like galaxies, star clusters and nebulas, all of which need a small to large telescope to see any detail, which binoculars cannot.

My astronomical history spans over 65 years, long before telescopes became commercially available. In those days you either had to go without, make your own (which I did), join an astro club (if there was any) or just use binoculars. After grinding and polishing a 15cm F8 reflecting telescope, I looked at the Moon and saw deep, sprawling craters, craggy mountains, ridges and shadows. I looked at Saturn and its many rings and moons, the four moons of Jupiter, coloured star clusters, nebulas and galaxies. I was hooked.

If you have a Space question or to book a stargazing night at the observatory, email mao123@bigpond.com or phone James on 0427 961 391. www. kingaroyobservatory .com. Next week: Telescopes.