You don’t have to be the kind to wish upon a shooting star to find our night skies interesting. You also don’t need lots of expensive telescopes to go stargazing.
No, all you need to see something special in the evening sky is the amateur astronomy website, Heavens Above. With a bit of know-how – there are some detailed FAQs to peruse, right here – you can be up and star-spotting in next to no time.
The easiest way to get up and running is by using Google Maps to get the co-ordinates of your house (or star-gazing location of choice). Enter those into the Heavens Above profile tool, and it’ll immediately map out where you can spot stars, the International Space Station, and even catch a glimpse of Iridium flares. The latter are flares in the evening sky, produced by the reflection of sunlight off the surfaces of Iridium communications satellites.
To make things super easy, HA provides charts of when you can spot Iridium flares, comets, and more, right down to the exact time of day. Also provided are details of where to look in the sky, charts for where the major satellites are currently orbiting, and brightness of the objects in the sky (pro tip: brightness is better when the negative number is bigger).
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the hands-free satellite spotting, you can decide whether or not you’re ready to splash out on a telescope. Even those are going for a song, relatively speaking.