A Guide to Beginning Amateur Astronomy
by Mark C. Yorkovich,
founding member of GLASS
This guide is about some of what I know about amateur astronomy. It is not intended to be an all-encompassing guide. I certainly don’t claim to know it all, though rest assured, I’ve tried my best to be as accurate as possible. To explain amateur astronomy in these four pages is like trying to explain everything there is to know about cooking in four pages. There is so much to learn. Amateur astronomy is as much about learning as it is about using the knowledge you’ve already gained.
For many people new to the hobby, or are mildly interested and are seeking to learn more, all of the information they can get exposed to can seem a bit overwhelming. My best advice is to do what I did: find out where your local astronomy club has their public star parties and go and ask lots of questions. Every astronomy book worth the paper it’s written on and every experienced amateur astronomer will tell you this. Amateur astronomers are eager to share with newcomers, both their knowledge and what they’re looking at through their telescope. One look at Jupiter or Saturn or a cluster of hundreds of thousands of stars and you’ll be hooked – I guarantee it!
To get an idea about what exactly amateur astronomy is (and is not), read the article on our “What is Amateur Astronomy?” page.
My Background in Amateur Astronomy
I’ve always been interested in astronomy. For as long as I can remember, when I go outside at night I automatically look up. I’ve always wondered what is out there besides what we can see with the naked eye. I got pretty good at learning the constellations and some other basics, but I always wanted to learn more.
In the summer of 2004 I took an astronomy course to help complete my general credits required at a community college. That really got my interest in astronomy as a hobby going.
One Saturday I was looking at books on astronomy at Barnes & Noble and wondering how to go about buying a telescope. I finally settled on “The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide” (in its third edition as of 2011). Buying that book proved to be the turning point. I read the entire book in about a week. My next step was to get a telescope. Naturally, deciding on what telescope to buy was a big decision and not to be taken lightly.
I realized I needed to get myself in contact with others who may have the answers to my questions. I hunted around on the Internet and quickly found out about astronomy clubs. I was living in Newport News, Virginia at the time and I found a local astronomy club in Virginia Beach, VA called the Back Bay Amateur Astronomers. I went to their Web site and found out when their next star party was.
So one fall evening in 2004 I dragged my wife to a star party an hour away from home. I say “dragged” because she originally went just to support my interest – she had no real interest in astronomy herself – at first. That night, she ended up asking more questions about amateur astronomy – especially telescopes – than I did! On the way home from that first star party I knew she was hooked (and I knew I was getting a telescope) when she turned to me and asked, “How much would a 10″ Dobsonian cost?” And I thought she was just along to humor me! The rest, as they say, is history…
Read on through the pages of this guide to get an overview of the equipment involved in the hobby of astronomy, what we look at, and what kinds of resources we use in the hobby.
Here I will present a brief overview of the vast array of equipment that is available for amateur astronomers to use. I’ll go over binoculars, telescopes (of course), lenses and filters, star charts, and more.
To the left is a picture of the famous Horsehead Nebula. In this section I will go over the different wonders in the sky that you can point your telescope or binoculars at – and what you can really expect to see out there.
The amateur astronomy community is larger than many realize. Starting out in the hobby can seem overwhelming, but there are many people and sites out there to help. Here I’ll provide information on some of the many Web sites that are available for the advancement of amateur astronomy.