MAS Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions about astronomy (see also MAS Beginners page)
This page answers many commonly asked questions about astronomy. If you have a question on a subject any not covered here, please help support this page by using our on-line enquiry form (requires Java Script to be enabled).
Much of the material here has been taken from topics presented at out monthly meetings. If any member has subject they would like to present for 15-20 miniutes as a 'second half' topic, please contact the Meetings Secretary (to contribute directly to this page, please contact the Webmaster
(+) 0001 How do I find a local Astronomical Society ?
(+) 0002 How is Star brightness measured ?
(+) 0003 What are the Constellations ?
(+) 0004 What is the shape of the Earth ?
(-) 0005 What equipment do I need to start astronomy ?
Optics: You don't need a telescope to start astronomy - a pair of binoculars will do just fine (8x40, 7x50 or 10x50 are typical) - but most people buy one to look at detail on the Moon, cloud belts and moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn or the phases of Venus.
Finding aids: A planisphere is highly recommended. You can find 'templates' on the Internet (or here part 1 (bottom) and part 2 (top, for UK) allowing you to make your own, or purchase the Philip's Planisphere and Guides (also available at Amazon and in any good high street book shop).
Camera: If you have a camera which will expose for 10 seconds or more on a tripod, you can photograph the Moon, the stars, aurora and even the 'light track' the International Space Station causes as it crosses the sky ! You can also photograph the planets, out to Saturn, although it may be hard to distinguish them from the brighter stars. Creating a nice panorama of the stars with foreground objects is relatively easy.
The Moon is bright enough to be photographed using a zoom lens or a small telescope on a tripod. However planetary details and 'deep sky objects' (Galaxies etc) are much fainter and require much longer exposure times. For this reason, a motor driven 'equatorial' mount is really needed. The techniques and equipment needed to image the planets and deep sky objects differ quite a lot, so don't be shy about asking members who have posted photo's to the MAS Photo gallery for help - they will be eager to explain 'how they did it' !
Your computer: There are some excellent Open Source planetarium programs that will show you many astronomical objects and the positions of the Moon and Planets. Stellarium is a good one to start with (avoid the commercial high cost 'Planetarium Show' add-on intended for public display use). There are many others available.
Your smart phone / tablet: These make excellent aids in learning the night sky as they are fitted with GPS and 'orientation sensors' that allow clever star mapping software ('apps') to 'paint' the sky in the direction you are pointing and 'add in' the constellations and planet/star names etc.
You do need to be a bit careful with 'apps' as some of the 'free' ones will 'pop up' advertisements and ruin your night vision - however the 'paid for' ones (including a Stellarium development) are only a few $
This note last modified: 5th Feb 2015 22:05.
(+) 0007 What telescope should I buy ?
(+) 0008 How much Magnification can I get ?
(+) 0013 What are Equatorial and Alt Az mounts ?
(+) 0100 How do I use my first telescope ?
(+) 0109 What is a finder ?
(+) 0110 What is an eyepiece ?
(+) 0111 What is a Barlow ?
(+) 0112 What is a focal reducer ?
(+) 0114 What are Nebular filters ?
(+) 0116 How do I use Setting Circles ?
(+) 0120 What is collimation ?
(+) 0125 How can I safely observe the Sun ?
(+) 1030 How can I take photos of the stars ?
(+) 1033 How to take photos of the Aurora ? - (Northern Lights)
(+) 1036 How do I calculate FOV for Eyepiece projection ?
(+) 1038 What is Star trailing ?
(+) 1039 How can I take photos of Meteors ?
(+) 2100 What is Universal Time (UTC) ?
(+) 2114 What are AUs Parsecs and Light Years ?
(+) 2115 What is Bodes Law ?
(+) 3010 When was Neptune discovered ?
(+) 4000 How do I update Stellarium with new Comet data ?
(+) 5000 How To build the MAS (Raspberry Pi) photoframe ?