Over the moon

Moongazing. Supplied by D. Reneke.
Moongazing. Supplied by D. Reneke.

If you’re new to astronomy, perhaps the most daunting part about beginning is learning all those stars.

Relax! It’s a lot easier than you think.

Just like moving to a new city, everything will seem unfamiliar at first, but with a little help from some maps, you’ll soon be finding your way around like a pro.

Once you become familiar with the constellations and how they appear to move across the night sky, the rest is easy.

You can download a monthly star map from Sydney Observatory at www.sydneyobservatory.com.au.

These show night sky objects in detail with instructions on how to read them.

Before your head starts to swim, remember it’s impossible to know everything all at once.

What might seem confusing at the start will become so routine as time passes that you won’t even think of it.

Sometimes I think astronomy should be renamed patience, Australasian Science magazine’s David Reneke said.

“I’m continually being asked if we’ll ever visit other stars. I think so but stars are so incredibly far away. Our nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is almost 40 trillion kilometres from earth.

“At the fastest speed our spacecraft currently travel, around 160,000 kilometres an hour, it would take almost 28,000 years to get there! A time machine would be handy.”

Still, we just might have a time machine of sorts and its right in the closet. Yep, the humble telescope. When you look at the stars at night you’re looking backwards in time. When you use a telescope you’re using a time machine.

The light from the stars has taken thousands, even millions of years to get here.

“Hey, grab your scope this weekend and duck outside. An almost full Moon is waiting for you after dark and it’s an excellent time to view the craters.

“Watch for shadows falling in the valleys and craters along the line that separates the light side from the dark side. See if you can spot the striking ‘bright rays’ coming out of the large 75 kilometre wide crater top left.”

One of the favourite smart phone apps for the Moon is called MoonPhase.

It has everything you need to plot the rising and setting times for your area plus tell you what phases come up each month.

Visit Dave’s website www.davidreneke.com for his free astronomy newsletter.