Need a new hobby? Expert tips on how to start stargazing

Sep 29, 2020
Western Australia is known for its clear skies. Source: Getty.

Greg Quicke, 59, knows a thing or two about astronomy. Well, he’s spent most of his life sleeping in a swag under the stars, runs astronomy tours from Broome, Western Australia, and goes by the nickname ‘Space Gandalf’. That’s why we spoke to Greg, whose new book The Moon Upside Down hit shelves this week, to find out how to get into astronomy, and what must-see space events to look out for while you’re at it.

Before you get into the nitty-gritty, Greg says it’s as simple as lying on your back outside. “My top tip is to go outside and lie on your back under [the] sky,” he advises. “And it will capture you — it’s as simple as that.”

If you’re thinking about purchasing a telescope, Greg recommends investing in a good pair of binoculars first, saying they’re fantastic for stargazing. He says the next step is getting yourself a star chart or planisphere, a simple hand-held device that shows a map of which stars are visible in the night sky at a particular time.

“You can get more serious about it, and [buy] yourself a star chart and get to learn some of the names of those stars,” Greg explains. “After a while, you’ll figure out that not all of them are stars, some of them are planets and then you can figure out how to find [those] planets.”

As a general rule of thumb, Greg says if you ever notice a super bright light next to the moon, it’s most likely a planet. He says there’s also a number of apps and astronomy books out there that can tell you all about the big space events that have happened or are going to happen — and, according to Greg, we’re in the middle of one right now, as planets Jupiter and Saturn are both very visible at present.

“You can tell anyone at the moment to go out in the evening and look high in the sky, and look for the two brightest things and that will be them,” he says, adding over the next few months they’re going to get closer and closer together.

“This is an event called a great conjunction,” he explains. “From December 21, they’re going to be at their closest, and pass each other in the sky, and that’s an event that happens once every 20 years.”

But you don’t have to wait 20 years for the next must-see space event, Greg reckons there’s always something incredible to see, adding that, “People sometimes ask me… ‘when’s the best night to come?’ and I’ll go ‘tonight’ because every single night there [are] amazing things going on that will just blow your mind.”

And you don’t have to drive all the way to the outback to get a good look either! While a long stretch of dark road is ideal, he says all you need is a darkened corner in your backyard that’s free of any outdoor lighting. “Give your eyes 10 minutes to [adjust] to the dark and you’re likely to see at least a few stars, even in the middle of our cities,” Greg advises.

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