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
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
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
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
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
to find out about
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