Frequently Asked Questions
I’m interested in learning about amateur astronomy. How do I begin?
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Lisiting this website was a good first step. Because there are so many different areas of interest,
we recommend exploring a variety of venues to find something that interests you. Read books and magazines,
watch television programs, visit websites, contact your local astronomy club and attend a Public Star Party.
Go outside as often as possible to learn your way around the night sky, and remember that you do not need
any special equipment, other than your eyes.
Where can I find a list of astronomy resources?
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Visit the News and Events Page of this website and click on the Astronomy Resources list at the top of the
page. It includes numerous organizations, online sites, and books and magazines, most of which are aimed at
young students, teachers and amateur astronomers.
What do amateur astronomers find interesting?
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Amateur astronomers have many interests, including
naked eye, binocular and telescopic observing; imaging with cameras and computers; astrophysics; and
multicultural legends and mythologies.
I am interested in purchasing observing equipment, such as binoculars or a telescope. What should I buy? Back to Top
Purchasing any astronomy equipment is very subjective. There are many things to consider, including,
but not limited to:
- How much experience do you have?
- What are you observing? (Moon, planets, deep sky objects)
- What kind of sky conditions would you normally observe under?
(rural, suburban, urban)
- Will the equipment need to be portable or will it be a permanent backyard setup? (Standard equipment,
when fully assembled, can range from 5 to over 200 pounds.)
- What is the age of the main observer? (If a child, will he or she need help setting up? If a child,
will an adult also be comfortable using the equipment, if the eyepiece is low to the ground? If an adult,
will a child need to stand on a step stool, if the eyepiece is not low to the ground?)
- What is your budget?
Where can I learn more about purchasing equipment? Back to Top
- Visit the Sky & Telescope website (www.skyandtelescope.com/)
and click on the "Equipment" links on the left navigation bar for more information. It lists a variety of
articles on how to purchase different types of equipment, as well as how to care for the equipment in the
- Visit your local astronomy club during a Public Star Party. SMAS offers an informal “Try Before You Buy”
program. Visitors are welcome to look at and test the various types of equipment in use during a Star Party,
talk to the owners about the pros and cons of each, and make an informed decision on what to purchase.
- Remember, telescopes and binoculars are optical instruments, not toys. If you invest wisely, you can
enjoy using the equipment for the rest of your life.
I already own equipment. How can I learn more about it? Back to Top
Join your local astronomy club and
observe with other members who can offer advice on how to use your equipment. Many of the newest SMAS members
tell us that they learned more about their equipment in the first several hours of observing with other
members than they learned in the previous months of using the equipment on their own.
Remember, everyone started as a beginner. You cannot be expected to instantly know how to use new
equipment, especially a telescope. Telescopes have many moving parts, and as such, they do have a learning
curve. Some types of telescopes are easier to learn than others. All it takes is a little practice, patience,
and persistence, and you will be well on your way to enjoying the countless wonders of the night sky.
How can I learn more about what to observe? Back to Top
- Visit the Sky & Telescope website
(http://www.skyandtelescope.com/) and click on the “How To” and “Observing” links on the left navigation
bar for more information. These sections list a variety of articles on what and how to observe. Experience
levels range from beginners to advanced.
- Join your local astronomy club and work with other members who can offer advice on what and how to observe.
est SMAS members tell us that they learned more about observing in the first several hours of working with
other members than they learned in the previous months of observing on their own.
What is "The Top Ten List of Things I Have Learned as a Backyard Astronomer"? Back to Top
The following list was compiled by a new member of SMAS, reflecting what he
had learned during his first year of observing.
- # TEN: Wear warm clothes, including a warm, ugly or silly hat.
- # NINE: Observe with a friend who is experienced, so you can learn
where things are and how to get around scopes.
- # EIGHT: Get a real red light.
- # SEVEN: Throw away the periscope finder scope and get a red
dot/cross or Telrad.
- # SIX: When you look through a red dot, Telrad, or true image
periscope finder, keep both eyes open. It is weird at first, but soon
you will see the whole sky with both eyes, including the red dot or
pattern, and you will no longer see the finder scope. This takes a bit
of practice, but it is worth it.
- # FIVE: Always bring binoculars outside with you, if you have them.
If you want to find clusters, for instance, use the binoculars to locate
the “faint fuzzies” in the constellation, and then you can easily aim
your scope at them.
- # FOUR: Get a good astronomy chair, so you can be comfortable
looking through the scope for extended periods.
- # THREE: Use moon and nebula filters.
- # TWO: Get a good computer program like “Starry Night,” “The Sky,”
etc., to help you find objects.
- and # ONE: Go outside and look up all the time. Watch how the
constellations move during the year. Get to know the sky. You will be
amazed at what you see, even the international space station. Join a club and come to observing sessions
and look through other people's scopes. Ask them
to show you things. It is very hard, for instance, to see a moon's
shadow on Jupiter, unless someone shows you what it looks like or when
and where to look for it.