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Last updated: 08 May 2006 1124 BST
Pic: Mark Lawrik-Thompson
Graphic: How to be an astronomer
Norfolk astronomer and Chairman of the Norwich Astronomical Society Mark Thompson is here to explain what you need to do to become an expert on space.
Picture: Do you want to be an astronomer?
One of the more powerful telescopes

If you fancy being an astronomer, find out how to get started, with local astronomer Mark Thompson.

Have you ever seen Galileo or a Geminid shower? If you're not sure where to start the best thing to do is to buy a planisphere, a red torch and take a visit to your local astronomical society.


A planisphere is a circular plastic device that will show you which groups of stars, known as constellations, can be seen in the sky at any time of the year.

Planispheres come in two sizes: the larger version with a diameter of about 20cm is easier to work with.

It is made up of two plastic disks fixed together at the centre. The bottom disk has a map of the sky with the days of the year around the edge.

The top disk has the hours of the day around the edge. By lining up the date with the time of day you will get a map of what you can see in the sky.

Pic: close up of a human eye
There is a lot you can see with the naked eye - a red torch will help them adapt to the dark.

Red torches for night vision

You need to see what you are doing when working outside at night.

It can take up to an hour for the eye to adapt to the dark, so the astronomer has to be outside for about an hour before they start to see things at their best.

White light from an ordinary torch destroys the dark adaption so it's worth buying a red torch.

It will help you read your planisphere without losing your ability to see in the dark.

These two pieces of equipment don't cost very much and will give you a great start.

You will also need some patience!

The British weather means we often have clouds and rain, but stick with it and you will soon learn your way around the sky and see some amazing sights.

How to be an astronomer »


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