So you want to be an amateur astronomer? Well the first thing you should do is run out and buy a telescope… NOT! Many people believe that in order to enjoy the night sky they need to have a $1,000 worth of high tech equipment. This is completely unnecessary. Before you can look at something you have to know where it is. I know this sounds like common sense but, it is one of the easiest things to forget in astronomy.
The first thing you should do is pick up some books on astronomy. You can find a wealth of information on astronomy at the local library, bookstore, or astronomy club. One of my particular favorites is The Stars by H. A. Rey available at most bookstores for under $15. He does a great job of displaying the constellations in forms that make sense. Another good item to pick up is a planisphere. This is a disc that you turn to the date and time and it will show you the sky above. It is easy to carry with you to where ever you may be doing your observing. You may also consider a subscription to one of the “trade rags” like Astronomy or Sky & Telescope. Both have information on the current months sky as well as tons of other information useful to the begining astronomer. It is also a good idea to check out local astronomy club activities. Many offer classes and observation sessions as well as people that have some experience with the night sky.
If you are in the Champaign-Urbana area come check out our club activities.
Once you have become comfortable with the constellations and some of the brightest stars in the sky, then you may want to invest in a set of binoculars or a telescope. These tools will allow you to see fainter objects like galaxies, nebulas, distant stars, and better views of the planets. This bring us to our next topic: choosing between binoculars or a telescope.