So you are interested in astronomy and want to know where to begin? This is the most common question we are asked. The answer will lead us down a path that will hopefully answer a lot of your questions and end with you deciding to pursue what we believe is a most rewarding and fun hobby.
Hobby, that’s what this is. That is what you are getting into. While there are a small few in the club that are professional astronomers, most of us are amateur astronomers and enjoy astronomy as a hobby. Whether your astronomy interest consist of visual observing, astrophotography, reading everything you can find about astronomy, or just supporting your local science community you will find what you are looking for with the Atlanta Astronomy Club.
But back to your question. Where do you start? We would recommend the following list:
• Find a local club or Organization
• Get a pair of Binoculars/or small scope
• Get few suggested books to help you learn the night sky
• Consider a subscription to Sky and Telescope or Astronomy Magazine
• Go observing with other amateur astronomers (public outreach events)
Find a local Club or Organization
Well you kind of already got this one under wraps don’t ya? We are not just saying this cause we want you as a member of our club. Even though we do. But all kidding aside a local club or organization is an invaluable resource.
A club offers observing events, people to answer your questions, equipment and facilities you can use, monthly meetings where you can learn more and meet notable local astronomers, people to observe with and learn from, access to discounts and a larger amateur astronomy community like Nasa and the Astronomical League. Your local club will also have information on local resources you might not find online or in the library.
Get a pair of Binoculars/or small scope
Before spending money on a telescope we recommend trying a pair of inexpensive binoculars like these. A good pair of 10×50 binoculars will show you great views of the Moon, Jupiter and four of its moons, Saturn and its rings, the Orion nebula, the Andromeda galaxy, and more. Binoculars have the extra bonus of being useable for earthly hobbies as well like bird watching and sports, also if and when you decide to purchase a telescope the binoculars will still be around when you need them. A good book to accompany a pair of Binoculars is Binocular Highlights from Sky Publishing.
A few suggested books to help you learn the night sky
We suggest you get a couple books to help you learn more about astronomy and the night sky. Here is a list of a few good ones:
• Turn Left at Orion – provides all the information you need to observe a whole host of celestial objects. It is spiral bound and is meant to be read indoors or outdoors at the scope.
“This is quite possibly the most inviting guidebook ever written to help people with binoculars and small telescopes find, view, understand, and, most of all, enjoy everything in the night sky from the Moon and planets to distant star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. And if you think it’s only for beginners, think again–every telescope owner should have a copy.” Dennis di Cicco, Senior Editor, Sky & Telescope
• Binocular Highlights – a great compliment to any pair of binoculars. 99 objects that you can see with binoculars throughout the year. It is a great beginners guide to learn the sky and a list of objects that will become some of your favorite targets.
• The Naked-Eye Sky – This is for anyone who wants to learn about the night sky. If you are not ready to buy a telescope but have some basic questions this book will answer them. If you are ready to take the first step, but don’t know how do you begin? This is the guide for you.
• Atlas of the Skies – This book can be found at the bargain tables of most books stores and is quite the bargain even online. More of an introduction to astronomy and earth sciences than and night sky guide but you will love the illustrations and easy to understand lessons it has.
• Nightwatch – Another night sky guide that is easy to read and one you will use for years!
• Astronomical Calendar – This yearly publication has everything you want to know and more for all known astronomical events for the year, along with some other education astronomical information. This guide may be a little much at times but it is a wealth of information for observers.
Another good tip is to go to a store and purchase a copy of Astronomy and Sky and Telescope. Read them both and decide which you like best. If one stands out get an annual subscription. You can get a discount if ordered through the club! Both have digital version for tablets available too. Each will have great astronomy article and a section each month on that will be visible in the sky and what the sky will look like. Some find Sky and Telescope to be a little more advanced than Astronomy, so Astronomy might fit beginners better. Read them both and see which works for you. And you can always get both!
Go observing with other amateur astronomers
This is perhaps the best part of joining a club. Who wants to be alone in a field at night observing all by themselves? Observing with a friend or a group of people who are interested in the same things you are will make for a more entertaining and fun session under the stars. But it does not have to be an overnight camping trip like the club’s monthly Dark Sky Observing sessions, We suggest you show up at a public outreach event (also known as sidewalk astronomy). These are events we do when requested by a school, church, or other organization. We show, up setup scopes or do an indoor presentation and show the wonders of astronomy to the attendees. These are free events the club does to get young kids and the public interested in astronomy. You can volunteer to help out at the event (with or without a scope) or just come out as an attendee and learn from the volunteers. Let the kids ask all the questions while you absorb the answers!
Hopefully this will give you and idea where to start and provide a jumping off point to find more information. We hope you will join us at a club event soon and if you have any more question please contact us so we can help you further.
Have a question? One of our club members would love to help you.