Man operating stargazing gear (photo by iStock)

4 Essential Stargazing Tools for Beginners

Taking in the night sky doesn’t have to involve an out-of-this-world investment. If you want to get into this stellar pursuit, here is what you need to get you started.

Stargazing Phone App: Using your phone’s gyroscope, smartphone apps display the stars, nebulae and constellations currently in the sky. Most apps require some kind of investment to unlock all features. For 99 cents a month, Star Walk 2 is a breeze to use and has a function that lets you skip ahead in time. The paid app Sky Safari and the free app Stellarium are also good. 

Red Flashlight: Believe it or not, your eyes have a night-vision mode triggered by darkness. But nothing snaps them out of it like bright white light, which is what’s given off by your phone’s flashlight. Red light, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same effect, making it ideal for getting around stargazing sites without disturbing anyone’s ability to take in the night sky. 

Binoculars: Once you get the brightest stars and constellations in sight, you can zero in on planets and star clusters using binoculars. More portable than a telescope, binoculars offer a broader look due to a wider field of vision. Look for 7x42, 10x50 or 15x70 lenses, which are comfortable to hold for long periods of time but let in enough light to see stars. 

Telescope: When you’re ready to take the next step, invest in a small and simple Dobsonian-style telescope, which doesn’t require as much setup or know-how as others. If you plan on viewing the moon, Mars, Jupiter or other more visible objects, a 6-inch-diameter telescope will do. An 8-inch-diameter scope will let you see fainter objects.