Astronomy…enjoying the sky when it’s too cold to fly.

The days are short and getting colder. Working from dark to dark means less opportunity for air time, and below 40 degrees it’s hard to enjoy being up very long anyway. But this time of year does offer it’s own advantages.

Astronomy is a great way for every person at every income level to enjoy the sky. Winter offers some of the best, clearest views and best chances to observe interesting things.

You don’t need an expensive telescope to get in this game. You can start learning the sky for free. Apps like SKYVIEW are free and make it easy to start identify objects in the sky. Just download to a phone or tablet and use your camera to travel the night sky.

Speaking of learning the night sky, the book “Nightwatch” by Terence Dickinson is an excellent resource for the budding astronomer. It discusses telescopes, history, star charts and astrophotography in a way that’s easy and fun to grasp.

As for star charts, Skymaps makes an excellent monthly chart. Printer friendly, it comes with easy instructions and notes of all the events to look for each month. And the price of free means it’s there for everyone.

In the realm of free, Stellarium might be the most valuable open source software in astronomy to date. This is a free to download planetarium. The quality is so high it’s used by real planetariums all over the world. It allows you to plug in any location and time on earth and see exactly where everything in the sky is, including satellites. You can watch it move in real time or as fast as you like.

To start seeing the universe up close doesn’t take a lot of expense either. My favorite two tools for this has become a set of binoculars and a spotting scope my friend Joshua at Secondhand Prepper found for me at a flea market for about $10. A decent set of binoculars will show you craters on the moon and star formations you can’t see with the naked eye. The trick is to find somewhere totally stable to observe. A layout lawn chair or on your back on a blanket in the grass make perfect observatories for this game.

Having a printed Map of the moon handy can make it even more fun for kids as they try to identify surface features.

I recommend learning these things before you pull the trigger on more expensive gear such as a proper telescope. Orion Telescopes make excellent equipment. I’ve been using a 90mm refractor on an equitorial mount for a few years (thank you Bitcoin) and I’m very pleased with it. It lets me see cloud bands and the red spot on Jupiter along with it’s moons. The rings of Saturn will take your breath away the first time you find it, and this is enough telescope to spot the Cassini division in the rings when conditions are right. On one occasion in perfect conditions I was able to make out light areas that are the polar ice caps on Mars, it was a perfect night though I haven’t been able to get that again.

Later you might be interested in astrophotography, astronomy podcast, or finding a local “Star party” to talk to more experienced observers.

Just because it’s colder and the days are shorter doesn’t mean you have to miss out on enjoying the sky. It just means you need to change your method of touching it.

NASA Live Feed from the International Space Station.

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