Binoculars donít have to be very strong to give you a much better, brighter view of the stars. Binoculars have the ability to gather light even at low magnifications. Even 4X ones will make a marked difference in the detail you can see.
No, you donít need a telescope, though they are fun. Telescopes require a certain amount of sophistication to set up and operate and they are not for everybody. There are some nice models available at affordable costs. The optics are available alone also if you want to build your own.
Youíll be happy to know that the best time to look at stars is the least popular time of year to be outside, the winter. So, dress warmly. Remember that the nights are longer in the winter.
I remember the 2002 Leonid meteor shower very well. The Leonid comes in November and that year it was really cold. I got up about 3:30 a.m. (yes, thatís right) to have a look. It was incredible. Meteors were streaking across the sky every few seconds. Sometimes several at once. It was the best Leonid for over 35 years. We sat on the deck in sleeping bags and drank coffee. Itís one of my happiest memories. Another Leonid of that magnitude is not expected again until 2098 or 2131.
Polaris (or the North Star) is where you want to start. Because Polaris is aligned with the Earthís axis of rotation, it remains fixed, with all the other planets and stars appearing to move around it. It is the one star that remains fixed at all times.
Yea, you have to find north. Itís where Polaris (or North Star) is. Youíll need a compass or major highway to orient yourself. Highway 400 is good because it runs due north and south.
You can make a compass with a needle, magnet and a cup of water. Just rub the needle across a magnet (see your refrigerator) or leave it attached overnight. Then rub the needle across your nose and place it in the cup very gently. It will float. It will turn north.
Once youíve decided where north is (right ascension), face in that direction. Next you have to figure declination (up and down). Extend your arm and make a fist. Put the bottom of your fist on the horizon. The top of your fist is about 80 higher. Place your other fist on top of your first. Youíve now measured 160 up from the horizon. Polaris is located between 250 and 300 above the horizon. Polaris is faint, so look carefully!