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The American Association of Amateur Astronomers

Frequently Asked Questions 

A New Hobby:
Recommendations for Beginning Astronomers

by David Bushard 

This article was taken from postings on the AAAA eGroup, and includes contributions by Doug Kniffen and Brenda Culbertson

Advice about joining a club, using binoculars, finding an observing buddy, and using the Astronomical League’s binocular lists to get familiar with the sky are excellent suggestions for beginning astronomers to get information about their new hobby. But here's my take on what every new amateur astronomer needs: books. Books are always available, whether the sky is clear or cloudy, whether you feel well or ill, and you don't have to drive for a couple hours to view them. Books keep your attitude fired up between observing sessions, and they never get bored or exasperated with you. So here's my list of the Fundamental Few.

The Mag 5 Star Atlas from Edmund Scientific. This is a thin paper pamphlet, crammed with beginning practical info and maps of the naked eye sky. All the elementary "need-to-know" stuff is in there, including how to pronounce "Ophiuchus." I still use mine, and take it along to star parties. David Chandler’s Sky Atlas for Binoculars and Small Telescopes is a good alternative choice that is offered by the AAAA.

A planisphere is not exactly a "book," but it is a fundamental tool that can teach you a lot about the motions of the stars, besides helping you learn the constellations and find things in the sky. The AAAA offers the Night Sky Planisphere by David and Billie Chandler as one of the best on the market today.

Nightwatch and the Backyard Astronomer's Guide, both by Terrence Dickinson. These books are complimentary, with minor overlap, and are wonderful in-depth introductions to the field of astronomy.

Skywatching and Advanced Skywatching, both in the Nature Company Guides series, are splendidly and informatively illustrated, and are good starter observing handbooks.

The Year-Round Messier Marathon, by H. C. Pennington, and Turn Left at Orion, by Guy Consolmagno & Dan M. Davis. These books both show you how to find things in the most practical way possible. They lead you by the hand, assuming that you are intelligent but ignorant, and never talk down to you, even when explaining the obvious.

And finally, the Astronomical League’s observing programs are a great way to get started. I'm a big fan of those programs (AAAA President John Wagoner put half of them together) and several are oriented toward binoculars as the observing instrument.

It is extremely helpful to subscribe to either of the two major astronomy magazines - Sky &Telescope and Astronomy - which will be of great help in learning all aspects of your new hobby and keeping up with current astronomical news, events, and happenings. Join the AAAA and take advantage of the Club Discount on these magazines.

If you are not already a member of an astronomy club, or do not have access to an astronomy club where you live, join the AAAA. It is the Internet Astronomy Club, and as such, does not have regular meetings, but you will get our quarterly newsletter as well as full membership in the Astronomical League, which includes a subscription to the REFLECTOR.

Be patient in your new hobby. Astronomy is a vast subject. It takes a year just to see one cycle of the seasonal star patterns. It takes at least fifteen years to get two good (perihelion) opposition views of Mars, and almost thirty years to watch the rings of Saturn disappear twice. Throw in some eclipses and a few good comets, and you have a lifetime of astronomical experiences to look forward to.

Recommendations for Beginning Astronomers

Sky Atlas for Small Telescopes and Binoculars
by David and Billie Chandler

The beginners guide to successful deep sky observing

The Night Sky  Planisphere
by David and Billie Chandler

The finest and easiest to use star finding aid in existence

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First Light Astronomy Kit
by David and Billie Chandler

The essential resources a beginner needs to get started observing the sky

AstroMax Introductory Astronomy 
Binocular Kit

Get Started in Astronomy for less than $100

Nightwatch: A Practical Guide 
to Viewing the Universe

by Terence Dickinson

The Backyard Astronomer's Guide
by Terence Dickinson


The Year-Round Messier Marathon: With Complete Maps, Charts and Tips to Guide You to Enjoying the Most Famous List of Deep-Sky Objects
by H. C. Pennington

Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope-And How to Find Them
by Guy Consolmagno & Dan M. Davis

(Nature Company Guides)
by David H. Levy

Advanced Skywatching : The Backyard Astronomer's Guide to Starhopping and Exploring the Universe  
(Nature Company Guide)
by Robert Burnham

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Observing Programs 
from the Astronomical League 

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Sky & Telescope Magazine
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Astronomy Magazine
Get the Club Discount through AAAA

Join the American Association of Amateur Astronomers
The Internet Astronomy Club

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An Easy way to Get Started in Astronomy for less than $100
Includes FREE Membership in the AAAA
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