Astronomy Essentials

Our top 10 stargazing tips for beginners

Stargazing tips: A person holding their arms up so it looks like they're holding the full moon in their hands.
Supermoon and friend – November 13, 2016 – via Roxana Soetebeer in Woodstock, New Brunswick, Canada. Anyone at any age can enjoy the night sky. Read our top 10 stargazing tips for beginners here.

Our top 10 stargazing tips for beginners

Stargazing is for everybody. It’s for people who like seeing themselves as part of a bigger picture … people with a sense of wonder … and people who just like being outside at night. Maybe that’s you. If so – and if you’re a beginner – here are some tips to help you get started.

Tip 1: Watch the moon

Earth’s companion moon is visible from city streets, suburban decks and wide-open rural pastures. The moon connects you to everybody on the planet, because, generally speaking, we all see the moon at the same phase (although, because we live on a round Earth with 24 time zones, not exactly at the same time). When you first begin looking at the moon, be sure to watch it at the same time each night. What do you notice? Is it getting fatter or thinner in phase? Does it move from night to night with respect to nearby bright stars or planets?

The moon’s orbit around Earth is regular and predictable. So the moon waxes and wanes in our sky in a way that’s about as satisfyingly regular and predictable as anything on Earth can be. To learn more, check out our article on 4 keys to understanding moon phases.

A crescent moon in a darkened sky, hovering over a silhouette of trees.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Bob Kelly in Ardsley, New York, took this image of the crescent moon on August 29, 2022. Thank you, Bob!

Tip 2: Watch the sun

Don’t look directly at it, of course. But do notice the point on the horizon where the sun rises or sets as seen from your kitchen window, balcony or yard. Does that rising or setting point change as the seasons pass? Does the path of the sun from east to west during the day change?

The sun rises due east and sets due west at every equinox. If you identify east and west, you’ll have a jump on our next activity. By the way, try this great custom calendar at Sunrise Sunset Calendars. Don’t forget to check the moon phase box, too!

A line of about ten people standing in snow, waving and posing, silhouetted against the sun setting behind them.
May 3, 2020, sunset – the last sunset for several months – at Concordia Research Station in Antarctica. Well, sure, your sun-watching won’t be this dramatic. But, over several months, try noticing the sun’s rising and setting points on the horizon. You’ll enjoy it. Image via ESA.

Tip 3: Use a chart

The Internet is great, but a computer is an unwieldy companion on stargazing adventures. What you want is a printed chart. Start with the easy-to-use charts at EarthSky Tonight. These daily charts are geared toward beginners, and each one presents something interesting to spot in that night’s sky. Then take the plunge and purchase a printed chart, maybe one of the planispheres in our store.

In just a few weeks of using our daily EarthSky Tonight area – plus a planisphere – you will quickly raise your stargazing IQ. Still want an online chart? Try Stellarium.

Blue and white disk with stars and constellations printed on it.
A planisphere will teach you what stars and constellations are overhead for any night of the year. Image via EarthSky.

Tip 4: Don’t buy a telescope yet

Remember that pair of binoculars you stuck way at the top of your closet? Point them at the moon and bright objects in the night sky. Do you see anything you hadn’t noticed before? Point them at noticeable star patterns; for example, the second star from the end of the Big Dipper’s handle is really two stars.

If you’re in a dark location, use your binoculars to sweep along the Milky Way and to check out any hazy patches in the night sky. These patches may be actual named star clusters, or they may be clouds of gas and dust where new stars are forming. You don’t need to know what you’re seeing to enjoy the beauty of it all.

Chart of Big Dipper with stars labeled, including Mizar in handle.
This chart of the Big Dipper includes a label for Mizar, while its companion star, Alcor, appears next to it without a label. Can you see both stars with or without binoculars?

Tip 5: Notice patterns among the stars

Here’s how most stargazers learn constellations. They find a noticeable pattern, and then they notice another pattern nearby. They build outward, going from stars and patterns they know to new ones. Notice triangles, curves and straight lines of stars. Some of these patterns are the same ones our ancestors noticed while sitting around a campfire telling stories. Some of their stories ended up being passed down to us. Make up your own stories!

Moon and planets are labeled; constellation patterns are drawn.
Matthew Chin of Hong Kong – a friend at EarthSky Facebook – caught the moon, Venus and Jupiter with multiple constellations on January 30, 2019. Thank you, Matthew!

Tip 6: Find a dark-sky site

Try a state park or a national park. You won’t be sorry. Visit EarthSky’s Best Places to Stargaze page for dark locations around the world. Check also for an astronomy club in your area. Experienced members are good sources of advice, and some groups loan out telescopes. Many societies also have libraries stocked with specialized books and atlases often not found in public libraries. Astronomy is also a good hobby to enjoy with a friend or family member. The delight of discovery is infectious.

Kid sitting on a rail fence and looking at the Milky Way.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Thomas Frazier in Virginia took this wonderful image of his daughter on June 30, 2022, while contemplating the amazing Milky Way. He wrote: “My daughter and I went to Sky Meadows State Park. After viewing various galaxies, nebulae and globular clusters on my telescope, we tried this shot. Sky Meadows was recently named an International Dark Skies site. The glow on the horizon is the Washington, D.C., metro area.” Thank you, Thomas!

Tip 7: Link up with astro-friends

If you live in a college town, keep an eye out for astronomy community enrichment courses. Local schools, museums and planetariums might also host public programs.

Red brick building next to domed building and people on the lawn.
Universities often hold public observing nights at their observatories. Pictured here, Washburn Observatory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Tip 8: Take the telescope plunge carefully

Have you been watching the night sky for half a year at least? Can you recognize some major constellations? Have you identified a planet or two? The time to buy a telescope is when you’ve given yourself time to acclimate to the sky around you and all its nuances. Before that, if you want more optical power, buy binoculars. Once you’re ready to take the plunge, check these guidelines from

Telescopes on a deck and inset of a cluster of stars.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Dr Ski at Valencia Observatory, Central Philippines, took this image on June 22, 2020, and wrote: “The Omega Centauri globular cluster is the only deep sky object I can capture at high magnification with a pocket camera and no tracking mount! It’s that spectacular. Unlike many astrophotographs, this image is exactly what you can expect to see thru a small telescope at 40x. No embellishments here.” Thank you, Dr Ski!

Tip 9: Just look up

Most of us go through life looking straight ahead. But you’ve got to look up to see stars. Standing outside at a bus stop? Look at the sky. In your car? Look out the window, carefully. Going outside before sunup to grab the paper? Gaze toward the sunrise horizon. Notice bright objects in the sky. Notice patterns among the stars. Just start looking up and noticing.

Man on rooftop of city looking at outlines of several labeled constellations drawn onto night sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Prateek Pandey in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, captured this photo of Boötes, Virgo and Corona Borealis on March 5, 2021. He wrote: “Spring constellations twinkling in the eastern horizon.” Thank you, Prateek!

Tip 10: Be faithful to the sky

One of the great things about becoming a stargazer is that you make a lifelong friend: the sky itself. It’s a friend that lives right next door. And like any friend, the sky changes in subtle ways from day to day and year to year. So, once you start watching it, be patient. You can’t learn everything about your friend at once. Be persistent. Watch the sky a lot and watch regularly. You’ll learn by looking! And you’ll make a connection with nature that’ll last your whole life long.

Man with headlamp illuminating rock cliff, Milky Way in background.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Steve Price in the Last Chance Desert, Utah, took this image on July 10, 2021. Steve wrote: “New moon phase during July 2021 … Approximately 15 miles into The Last Chance Desert near Solomon’s Temple sandstone monolith … a great night to be alone in the desert with the stars and a few mammals scurrying around.” Thank you, Steve!

Bottom line: If you’re new to observing the night sky, check out our top 10 stargazing tips for beginners. We’ll help you explore your love for astronomy.

September 6, 2022
Astronomy Essentials

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