Frequently Asked Questions - Beginner

Questions:

I am interested in learning about amateur astronomy. How do I begin?

Visiting 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.

Back to Top

Where can I find a list of astronomy resources?

Visit the Expanded List of Astronomy Resources page of this website. It includes numerous organizations, online sites, and books and magazines, most of which are aimed at young students, teachers and amateur astronomers.

Back to Top

What do amateur astronomers find interesting?

Amateur astronomers have many interests, including naked eye, binocular and telescopic observing; imaging with cameras and computers; astrophysics; and multicultural legends and mythologies.

Back to Top

I am interested in purchasing observing equipment, such as binoculars or a telescope. What should I buy?

Purchasing any astronomy equipment is very subjective. There are many things to consider, including, but not limited to:

  1. How much experience do you have?
  2. What are you observing? (Moon, planets, deep sky objects)
  3. What kind of sky conditions would you normally observe under? (rural, suburban, urban)
  4. 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.)
  5. 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?)
  6. What is your budget?

Back to Top

Where can I learn more about purchasing equipment?

  1. Visit the Sky & Telescope website Equipment Section for more information. This section lists a variety of articles on how to purchase different types of equipment, as well as how to care for the equipment in the future.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Back to Top

I already own equipment. How can I learn more about it?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Back to Top

How can I learn more about what to observe?

  1. Visit the Sky & Telescope website Observing Section for more information. This section lists a variety of articles on what and how to observe. Experience levels range from beginners to advanced.
  2. 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.

Back to Top

What is "The Top Ten List of Things I Have Learned as a Backyard Astronomer"?

The following list was compiled by a new member of SMAS, reflecting what he had learned during his first year of observing.

Back to Top

Last Updated: 2/15/16