365daysDate: August 22, 2009

Title: Astronomy for Beginners


Podcaster: Assi Süer

Organization: Observatory in Gothenburg, Sweden

Description: There are many people who have never used a telescope, or who have had a telescope recently but do not know how to use it. I will tell you a little about telescopes, what you can see with your naked eye and other things that you need to know to learn more about the night sky. So, this is for you who need a push to the right direction.

Bio: My name is Assiye Süer, but everybody calls me Assi, and I graduated from high school last year (2008). Now, I’m working at the observatory in Gothenburg, Sweden. And I will probably study astrophysics this year.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by National Radio Astronomy Observatories, NRAO.


My name is Assi Süer, 20 years old, and I’m an amateur astronomer and I’ve been one in 7 years now. I also work at an observatory in Sweden as a guide.

Today I’m going to talk about basic astronomy, and this podcast is especially for those of you who haven’t been observing the night sky before and need some help.

I’m going to take everything step by step, first starting with things you can see with the naked eye. After that, a little about telescopes and things you need to think about when you’re outside a dark night.

Everybody should start observing the night sky with the naked eye, which means with our eyes only. That’s my best advice for you.

And we can se many things just with our eyes. In a dark night, we can see thousands of stars. When you look carefully, you can see that some some of them are red or orange, and some of them white. That’s because of the temperature. Orange color indicates that the stars are cold, a blue or white colored one is a hot star. You may see that some are brighter than others.

Sometimes you can se a bright star, and when you look back at the sky again another day you see that the star has moved against the background of fainter stars. Well, that wasn’t a star, that was a planet you saw!

We see bright evening stars just after a sunset. These are our nearest neighbors among the planets, named Mercury and Venus.

If you’re outside a dark night, you will probably see streaks made by falling stars. It’s actually particles that burns in our atmosphere.

We can also see satellites, if we look carefully. If you’re lucky, you will see the International Space Station travel over the night sky. Don’t forget that there are 6 astronauts inside ISS maybe looking at you. ISS is, by the way, very bright.

So, the conclusion is that there are many things you can see with your naked eye. So, before buying any equipment, make sure that you know the night sky. That is really important. You need to know what you’re looking at. Try to learn the constellations as well, and where to find them and when.

It’s important, because when you buy a telescope you often need to find a constellation first before you search for what you want to look at.

When you’re ready, it’s time for you to buy equipment that makes it easier for you to observe the night sky.

To help you find your way around the sky, you will need a planisphere and a set of maps. The planisphere will help you a lot. The star maps provide more details about what you can see around a specific constellation or a star. Star maps can often be downloaded from internet.

One software that I want to recommend is the one called Stellarium. If you plan to go out and stargaze next week, Stellarium will show you what you can see at a certain time. I strongly recommend this and it can be downloaded at And it’s free too!

A flashlight can also be necessary, but only a flashlight with red light. The red light doesn’t affect our night vision. You can just take a red felt-tip pen and just paint over the glass.

Before you buy a telescope, try to find things with a pair of binoculars.It’s a great way to learn to find objects in the night sky. All serious amateur astronomers own a good pair of binoculars. Don’t rush to buy a telescope — learn your way around the sky first. For astronomy, the binoculars should be about 10×50.

After you think that binoculars isn’t anything for you anymore, you should upgrade with a telescope. There are two types of telescopes. One called refractor. Another name for refractors are lens telescope. Galileo Galilei used a refractor, by the way.

And there is also another type of telescope called a reflector, or a mirror telescope. The light from the object you’re looking at reflects and gathers in a mirror called the primary, which is a concave shaped mirror. The light then reflects onto another mirror, the secondary, which in turn reflects the light into an eyepiece. This kind of instrument is called a Newtonian telescope. Isaac Newton was the first one to build a reflector.

A reflector with a primary mirror of about 8 inches, which is 20 cm, is a useful size for amateurs. So, your first telescope shouldn’t be that big and you shouldn’t spend so much money on it. My first telescope cost about 70 dollars.

Now a few things you can see with a telescope, which is a lot of things of course.

You can see planets, sometimes even their moons. Jupiter has 63 moons, and it’s easy to see the four biggest ones. Ganymedes, Io, Callisto and Europa, which is the ones Galileo saw 400 years ago. They are also called the Galilean moons.

You can see star clusters. A star cluster is a group of stars. The Pleiades are beautiful to watch with a telescope, and it’s called an open star cluster.

You can see the craters of the moon, which is an incredible thing to see. Especially for the first time.

Nebulas are also things you can see with your telescope. Nebulas are interstellar clouds of gas, where stars are born. The Orion nebula is a well know celestial object. But don’t get disappointed if you don’t see any colors. The things you see in a telescope are often gray and dim, that’s because they’re so far away. And our atmosphere affects the seeing too.

If you can find these objects, a galaxy shouldn’t be hard to find. The Andromeda Galaxy is one of the most seen galaxies. And it’s located about 2,5 million light years away!

The main problem for us amateur astronomers, besides the weather, is the seeing. We see stars because of the light they give out. But most of the light is absorbed as they pass through our Earth’s atmosphere. The big cities have too much city light. This makes it harder to find stars. There are people who have lived in a city their whole life and haven’t seen the Milky Way. So, you need to be in a dark place when you observe. A dark place makes a big difference, it’s easier to find the celestial objects and you see them better.

This was all I had to say about amateur astronomy. I hope that my podcast helped you a little. And I wish you good luck with observing the night sky! Thanks for listening.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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