Getting Started in Astronomy

Some advice for those interested in becoming amateur astronomers.
Follow this advice and you'll save a lot of time, energy and money!

1. Don't buy a telescope right away! Become an educated consumer.

  • There are several different types of telescopes, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. (See "The Telescope Review Web Site" at -- especially their "Beginners" section.)
  • Start out slowly and build up to a purchasing decision after six months to a year. A lot of people go out and buy a telescope right away, but later find that the expensive telescope they bought doesn't really suit their interests. Or they eventually find that they really didn't like astronomy as a hobby like they thought they would. Either way, they end up both wasting a lot of money and needlessly burning out on a hobby they might otherwise enjoy over the long run.

2. Join an astronomy club. Meet experienced amateurs, see their various telescopes, learn about what the hobby is really like, etc.

3. Buy a "planisphere" -- a simple, $10 - $15, plastic device that will help you learn the constellations. Be sure to get one for your latitude (e.g., for the southern U.S. get a planisphere for 30-degrees North latitude; for all you damn Yankees [!] get a 40 or 45-degree North latitude planisphere). Available through Astronomy magazine and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

4. Subscribe to Astronomy magazine -- Available in most major bookstores. (Sky & Telescope, another major astronomy magazine you may run across, is a bit too advanced for most beginners.)

5. Buy a low cost, simple pair of binoculars. You'll find these come in handy from the time you begin learning the constellations: I use my cheap pair of binoculars all the time.

6. Check out the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. This non-profit group has lots of good, educational materials that will help you get started.

7. Get the following book: Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe, by Terence Dickinson, Firefly Books. This is an outstanding introductory astronomy book.

Here are a few other resources:

  • On-line night sky chart. Enter your zip code, and this web page produces a map of the stars that will be visible from your location tonight!
  • My space webpage. Includes links to websites about astronomy, space exploration, NASA, etc.

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