Beginners’ Sessions

Beginners’ Meetings List

Brief aims

  1. To enable people who are new to astronomy to find their way around the night sky and to understand what they are looking at.

  2. To provide support and help for beginners wanting to learn how to use a telescope.

Beginners’ Programme

Beginners' sessions from Sept 2021 to May 2022 will continue online at least until December. Each session will start at 19:30. Access to the sessions will be via Zoom and a link will be sent to participants each month within a week of each session. The dates will be as they would have been for physical sessions at the observatory. Full details of the programme with dates can be found on this page. Each session will have two topics each lasting around 30 minutes. This will leave time for questions from participants and discussion of what is visible in the night sky. We hope it will become possible to return to the observatory at some point. For this reason the programme from January onwards is rather more provisional than September to December.

It is recommended that all participants download the free version of Zoom as this will make the process of joining the meetings more straightforward. If you have any questions about this, please get in touch using the link below.

New people can join the course at any time by using the contact email below.

Beginners’ sessions contact

For further information and to join the course please contact beginners' organiser, John –

Resources and sources of help

Links to external sites are provided for additional information. We do not endorse such websites; we are not responsible for, and cannot be held liable for their content.

Society for Popular Astronomy. If you are interested in joining a national society the SPA is a good starting point.

Optical Equipment

You can do quite a lot of stargazing just using your eyes. However, binoculars will reveal huge numbers of stars you could not see with the naked eye. They will enable you to see the colours of stars, split double stars, probably see some of the major moons of Jupiter and get a much better look at the Moon. It is very important to try binoculars before you buy them. 10 x 50 binoculars are often recommended for astronomy, but any binoculars will make a big difference to what you can see. If you have a pair bought for bird watching, they will do just fine. A tripod for the binoculars can greatly improve their usefulness. Any questions - talk to us. If you want to buy a telescope, talk to society members before you buy. They can help you narrow down what you’re looking for, even if they don’t always agree with each other!


There are many, many astronomy books for beginners. Choosing a suitable book depends very much on your personal preferences – don’t take our word for it!

If you just want to get more familiar with the night sky, then StarFinder for Beginners, published by DK, is a new and beautifully illustrated book well worth looking at. Much more detailed is The Practical Astronomer published by DK.

There are a number of small books published annually which show you month by month what is in the night sky and any special events to look out for. For 2021, these include: 2021 Guide to the Night Sky published by Collins, 2021 Stargazing published by Philips and Nightscenes 2021 by local astronomer Paul Money (PDF only this year).

Another book worth considering is Turn Left at Orion by Guy Consolmagno and Dan M. Davis (Cambridge University Press) – 31 Jan 2019 edition. This book is quite expensive and is one to grow into if you have a telescope.

If you are interested in books for younger children, the best thing is probably to Google ‘astronomy for kids’. Some websites offer you the opportunity to view sample pages and read other peoples reviews and see what would be appropriate for your daughter or son and, of course, they can look for themselves!


The Sky at Night’ magazine (linked to the well-known TV programmes) and ‘Astronomy Now’ are two monthly astronomy magazines which include substantial sections on what is in the sky in the coming month as well as a range of articles and news items. You might not need one of the above year books if you were regularly taking one of these magazines. A third possibility is the ‘All About Space’ magazine. This puts more emphasis on the space programme and some people find it more accessible. Try them out and see which is right for you!


If you want to look out for the International Space Station and other satellites, you could try these two websites: (make sure you put in your latitude and longitude), (has the advantage that it will send you emails alerting you that the ISS is going to be visible).

If you are interested in what is currently happening in the space programme, there is up-to-date information at and as well as the websites for ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA.

Stellarium – free planetarium software. As you enter the Stellarium website, it will prompt you to give it permission to use your location. You should allow it to. In the lower right hand corner of the screen, you will find the time and date. The time will likely be wrong. Click on the date and then click on the clock icon (return to real time). The time will immediately change to your current time.

Handouts and related links

These are all resources produced for, or used in, the Beginners’ sessions.

CDAS Glossary.

CDAS Carte du Ciel Ceres charts.

CDAS Finding your way around the Moon.

CDAS Observing the Moon with binoculars.

Pete Lawrence's Moon guides (Section 1: The lunar seas).

CDAS Identifying craters on the Moon.

CDAS Understanding the order in which events have occurred on the Moon.

CDAS Session 5 – Guide to the Mare Imbrium.

CDAS Moon sessions 6 & 7 – Interesting telescope targets.

Find the Apollo landing sites.

Finding your way around the sky (pdf of old no longer live website).

CDAS Orion handout.

CDAS Summer Triangle handout.

CDAS The development of our modern astronomical world view, including key historical figures & their contributions (Keynote).

CDAS The development of our modern astronomical world view, including key historical figures & their contributions (PowerPoint).

CDAS Our Solar System (Keynote).

CDAS Our Solar System (PowerPoint).

Life cycle of stars.