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Astronomy at a distance: what you need to start stargazing from home

Telescope and stars
Social distancing may be keeping you at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be exploring the universe at the same time. Did you know that you can enter a whole world of stargazing using objects you might have around the home? There is plenty that you can discover using only the naked eye. Scientists from the University of Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group will be showing us what you can discover in our skies over the coming weeks, with advice on how you can get involved in Astronomy without ever leaving your garden.

Now that we’re moving towards spring and summer, Astronomy is a rewarding hobby to take up. You can learn a lot about Astronomy from the internet, but it’s also a really good activity to do yourself. Wrap up warm and go outside. It’s good fun to learn the constellations, and they’ll become like old friends as you get older.

In this series we’ll introduce you to some simple, fun Astronomy you can do in your garden or from your balcony after the sun goes down.

The first thing to remember is that you need to use some common sense. It’s dark at night and you can easily trip over or bump into things and hurt yourself. When you first go outside you usually can’t see much as it takes a few minutes for your eyes to get used to the darkness so you can see - we call this dark adaption.

However, you still need some lighting to help you move around, read star charts, check what you’re looking for, etc. So the first thing to organise is a torch – but we need to change it a little. Torches are usually made to make as much light as possible, but at night too much light will ruin your dark adaption. So get an ordinary torch and tape some thin paper (any paper, even newspaper will work) over the front of it. Try putting different layers on and seeing how much light still comes through.

A red bicycle torch can also be used but will still produce too much light and need to be covered. When you get it right there will just enough light to help you to see at night without ruining your dark adaption. But be careful - even with your new astronomical torch, you still need to take care when moving around at night.

Now that we’ve got lighting sorted out, what equipment do you need to see the stars? Well, there is Astronomy that can be done with any kind of equipment, or even none at all! That’s what we’re going to focus on.

  • With just your eyes you can do things such as learn the constellations, observe shooting stars and meteor showers, and see the space station and other man-made satellites.
  • With a cardboard tube (like the centre of a toilet roll) you can see that some stars have colours.
  • Binoculars are many amateur astronomers’ favourite piece of observing equipment because you can see so much with them. They’re excellent for seeing the Milky Way (our Galaxy), star clusters, the moons of Jupiter and nebulae (clouds of gas)
  • With a small telescope you’ll be able to see things like the rings of Saturn, craters on the Moon, and many star clusters and galaxies.


3 April 2020

Updated: 5 October 2021


The Astronomy and Astrophysics group at Warwick is interested in a huge range of scales across the Universe: planetary systems, how they form, live and die; stars, stellar binaries and and the exotic physical processes that they allow us to explore; as well as the transient events which mark the end of stellar lifetimes and the galaxies stars inhabit across the Universe. The group started in September 2003 and is both an observational and theoretical group. The group makes use of a wide range of ground-based telescopes, such as ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes (ING) in the Canary Islands, or the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), as well as space telescopes such as NASA's Chandra and ESA's XMM-Newton X-ray observatories and the Hubble Space Telescope. The Warwick astro group partners in the four large spectroscopic surveys (DESI, SDSS-V, WEAVE, and 4MOST) that will start operations throughout 2020-2021.

Image: Pexels

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