If you are just starting in the world of astronomy, then if you were like me, you may be a little overwhelmed with all the equipment on offer.
There are so many different items you can buy, and you could end up spending hundreds if not thousands on the extras. However, unless you know what you are doing with all this equipment, it could well be a waste of money.
In this guide, I aim to show you the essential astronomy equipment that you are going to need to have a great night under the stars. I will also add in some optional equipment that can enhance your night but not essential.
It goes without saying that the first item on the list is going to be a telescope; you will want it to have a mount, finder scope, and an eyepiece. Ideally, you will have a few eyepieces for different levels of magnification.
If you don’t yet own a telescope and are looking for help picking the best beginner’s telescope, we have put together a full guide to help you chose your first scope.
If you don’t want to spend out on a new telescope, there are a couple of different options open to you.
First, visit a local astronomy club, and in most cases, they will have a spare telescope so you can try it out.
Second would be to use a pair of binoculars we have put a complete guide on the best astronomy binoculars to help you pick out a great first pair, and you will be pleasantly surprised just how you will see with a pair of binoculars.
A lot of new people into the world of astronomy (I was the same) get overwhelmed with eyepieces, magnification, and a Barlow lens.
However, my best advice is just to make sure your telescope has what we mentioned at the start mount, finder scope, and an eyepiece and learn about these other items a little later on.
Planning Your Way around the Night Sky
When starting, if you known knowledge of picking out objects in the sky is the sun and the moon, then it can be a little overwhelming trying to find new objects.
Learning to read a star map, star chart, or planisphere can be enough to put anyone in astronomy. It may be something you want to learn later in your journey, and despite not being too hard, it does take some time to learn, I believe this time is best served under the stars when first starting.
So, what do you have open to help you find objects in the night sky and plan your night under the stars?
Luckily most people now have a PC that you can download software to some paid, and some free we have put a complete guide on the best astronomy software. I like Celestron Starry Night that comes free with a Celestron telescope.
No Celestron telescope? No problem, you can get a free software Stellarium. It’s a really neat piece of software.
Are you looking for something for your smartphone? Then we have put you together with the best astronomy apps to help you.
I like to have both one on the PC and one on my smartphone to plan my night under the stars. If you are beginning, then the apps and software will enhance your learning in a fun and easy way.
When I first started, I would use a bright white flashlight and struggled to see much in the sky. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t see anything, and I was getting very disappointed.
I stumbled upon an article about red flashlights, and why you need them for astronomy, I was lucky I found this article as I may have given up on stargazing.
To get the best view from your telescope, your eyes are going have to be dark adjusted. What I discovered was your eyes take up to thirty minutes before they become as sensitive as they can.
Just one second of bright white light will reset your eyes, and you will have to wait another thirty minutes to get them back to their most sensitive state.
How do you read your app or see outside then? Well, this is where the red flashlight comes into play.
How our eyes biology is set up red light will not impact on their night vision capabilities. So to see when we are out, we need a red flashlight to safely move about and not to undo our dark adjusted eyes.
If you are using our recommended software or apps, then they all have a setting to turn the screen red.
Finding this out was a real turning point in my astronomy journey, and I was amazed at just how much more I was able to see after thirty minutes.
See our guide on the best red flashlights for astronomy
Is there Other Equipment?
I would say the above three items will be more than enough for all beginners and will give you many happy nights under the stars. However, you may consider some extra pieces of equipment to enhance your experience a little more. But they are in no way necessary when you are just starting.
Optional Astronomy Equipment List
There are ten items that you may well consider adding to your astronomy essential equipment kit.
Once you start to discover new stars and planets, different eyepieces will become a must to view them in their best light. We have put two guides together Best Telescope Zoom Eyepieces and Best Telescope Eyepiece Set to help you find eyepieces.
Very similar to extra eyepieces, a Barlow lens will effectively double the number of eyepieces you own, to find out more about Barlow lens see our guide what a Barlow Lens is?
Do you have a reflecting telescope like a Newtonian or Dobsonian? Then you may want to buy a laser collimator in case your mirrors go out of line. Again we have done a guide to help you understand How to Collimate a Telescope. It’s worth mentioning if you have a refractor telescope, a laser collimator will not be needed.
There are lots of different filters but they have three main jobs.
- Reduce the effect of light pollution
- Increase the contrast of objects
- Reduce the brightness of the moon
The moon is breath tacking thought a telescope but can be really bright and very uncomfortable on the eye. I would suggest getting a lunar filter we have a guide helping you find Best Moon Filter for Your Telescope that will make viewing much more comfortable.
If you suffer from light pollution, I will get a filter to reduce light pollution over any other filter, as light pollution is the number one thing that will dampen your experience.
A very cheap extra accessory that will help you discover more subjects in the night sky, but you must use them safely. Find out more about Laser Pointers for Astronomy that will give you safety tips and what they are suitable for.
Now, this maybe should have been on the essential list; spending a few hours in the cold and dark is not always easy. A warm drink can help get you thought; taking a flask of warm coffee or tea is the perfect tonic.
If you don’t often spend your time sitting in the dark at night like most people, it can come as quite a shock how cold it can get after a warm day.
On clear nights this is even more apparent, and as we want clear nights to see the stars, the temperature is likely going to drop significantly.
It’s wise to bring along an extra jumper, coat, hat, and gloves even if you leave them in the car they are so worth having to hand.
It would be such the same to end a stargazing session because of the cold and with a little preparation, there is no need to.
Like the warm drink, they could well have been on the essential list. If you are planning on a long stargazing session that will take you long into the night, then I recommend a chair.
Lots of people use a chair if you are attending a local astronomy club, and I am no different the grass will get a dew so you won’t be able to sit on that to rest your legs a chair can be a real godsend.
As we found out above, the cold can ruin a stargazing session. So can a swarm of mosquitoes and there is nothing so annoying when you dip into your bag, and you forgot the insect repellent.
There are many different brands and types on the market, but I have found trial and error as there is no one size fits all.
Some parts of the country are plagued more than others as soon as the sun sets don’t let mosquitoes end a stargazing session take your Insect repellent you will thank me for this tip.
If you are using a telescope with an electric mount like the Celestron NexStar 5SE, then you are going to want batteries.
There is nothing worse than your mount dying in the middle of an excellent night of observing the heavens and find you have no replacement batteries.
You will also want them for your red flashlight and any other equipment you may have that need them.
That brings us to the end of the Astronomy Essential Equipment Beginner’s Guide, and I hope I have shown that you don’t actually need lots of equipment to get into astronomy.
However, adding some of the extra equipment over your journey into astronomy, you will get great benefits from some of the equipment on the Optional Astronomy Equipment List.
I wish you the best of luck on your stargazing adventures with lots of clear nights and many pleasant views of our night sky.