Practical Astronomy

Whereas the Society’s monthly Monday meetings at the Southwick Community Centre are primarily for lectures and talks regarding Astronomy, the Practical Astronomy meetings are just that: the opportunity to do some hands-on astronomy. These activities are designed to include anyone interested in studying, or just enjoying, the day or night-time sky. Whether you are a seasoned observer or a complete beginner you will find something to engage you in one of the best hobbies around. Our meetings are located at the Hall, Clayton Recreation Ground, Underhill Lane, Hassocks, BN6 9PJ, see the map below.

We cater for all levels of experience and anyone is welcome to attend for a taster session. There is a charge of £5 to help cover the cost of renting the facilities. Parking is good and there is a large open area to use for astronomy. When the weather is fine, members bring along telescopes, astro (or DSLR) cameras for night-time photography (what we call Imaging), binoculars and anything else astronomically interesting. The Hall provides us with options in the case of poor weather and is warm and has refreshments and toilet available.

Depending on the time of year and what is on view in the sky at the time you will find people doing:

Location map for Clayton Recreation Ground

Binocular Astronomy – a great way to find your way around the skies and see things the naked eye can’t see!
Telescopic Astronomy – using a wide variety of telescopes, i.e. refractors, reflectors and catadioptric scopes – to view (or photograph) the sky including planets, the moon, galaxies, star clusters, nebulae.
Imaging – using  DSLR cameras to photograph the night sky – for example, cameras are often mounted on portable tracking mounts that allow long exposures to be taken of the fainter things in the sky (Milky Way, Galaxies, nebulae, meteors etc). You can see some of the images we have taken on our Gallery page.

If the weather is not favourable we have demonstrations held in the Hall on how to process any images you may have captured, using freely available software. We will sometimes have other talks on matters that affect practical astronomy such as : camera settings ; mounts for telescopes/cameras ; polar alignment ; collimation (aligning the optics) of telescopes ; showing images you have taken and much more besides. Do check our Calendar for dates, and the map below, and come along to one of our Practical Astronomy evenings. If you like what we do we will be happy to welcome you into the Society – see our Contacts page.

What do I need to start in Astronomy?

Initially, nothing but your eyes and a simple sky chart or a planisphere, or some sky map software for a tablet computer or a smart phone – see our links page. Most beginners will probably also use binoculars to see more detail and fainter objects. Binoculars should be 7 x 50 (magnifies 7 times, and has main lenses of 50mm diameter) or 10 x 50, but other sizes can also be employed. Below you can see the sort of thing you need in order to get started, including a torch that gives out red light; red, because white light will spoil your night vision (some red nail varnish, or red cellophane over the lens of an ordinary white light torch will do).

Find a dark location and get started!

Next steps?

Sooner or later most beginners will want to move up to a telescope in order to see more things, but beware of jumping in too soon. The best advice would be to visit a local Astronomy Club or Society and speak to people who own their own equipment. Alternatively, get in touch with a reputable astronomy equipment supplier – we have a very good one in Brighton.

More advanced?

It usually takes some time to learn your way around the night skies and become proficient using astronomical equipment. In the process of doing so you will probably start to get an idea of what your main interests are – perhaps visual astronomy or imaging. Maybe you will be interested in the planets, solar, deep sky, or the moon. Once again, the best advice is speak to people who already have experience – your local club is best for this.  Many amateurs move on to taking pictures of the night sky, using more complicated equipment – as below. This part of the hobby is a challenge and presents a steep learning curve.

Above: an advanced set up, using a DSLR, apochromatic telescope, autoguiding system – all on an equatorial mount and controlled by a tablet or computer, often via wifi. In order to capture images of very faint objects exposures can last for hours.