Astronomy is the study of the stars, planets, and other celestial objects that populate the sky.  It is an endlessly fascinating field, the oldest of the natural sciences, and one of the few areas of science that amateurs can directly assist the professionals.  It is open and accessible for any level of interest and involvement, from folks who just want to learn how to recognize the constellations all the way to near pros with telescopes worth more than their houses.

My goal in this instructable is to provide a set of resources for anyone interested in getting started with this hobby, in the form of a step by step guide for someone who just isn't sure where to begin.  When I got started a few years ago, I couldn't find any guides like this that really made sense to me, so in a way this is written to my past self.  If I had this guide, I could have avoided a lot of trouble, pitfalls, useless purchases, and dead ends.  Furthermore, I've been interested in astronomy since I was little, but I always assumed it was an expensive hobby that I couldn't afford to get into--I was wrong, and I wish someone had been there to tell me!

If you can think of anything I should add to this guide, make sure to leave a comment below--if I use your suggestion, I'll send you a DIY patch.  If I think it's a big enough suggestion or oversight on my part, I'll also send you a coupon for a three month pro membership.  Also, as I live in the northern hemisphere and only see the northern sky, if you're reading this from a southern hemisphere perspective, I encourage you to write a supplementary southern hemisphere version of this instructable.  If it's up to my standards (as determined solely by me and my whims) I will link to it here and send you a coupon for a one year pro membership!  I envy you, too, I'll probably never get to see the Magellanic Clouds.

Finally, please lend me your vote in the Space Contest.  If you found this useful or interesting, cast a vote my way!

Step 1: Don't Buy a Telescope!

I put this step first because it's often the first thing people do, and I want to stop you before you go wrong.  This is probably the biggest mistake I made, and a mistake that I believe a lot of people who are interested in astronomy make.  A lot of people think that a telescope is required to be an astronomer, and they head out to Wal Mart or Target and pick up one of those $50 telescopes they always have around Christmas time.  

People who have been doing this for a while have a name for those telescopes--they call them hobby killers.  Those things are incredibly difficult and frustrating to use, and aren't good for much except looking at the moon, and while that's definitely worth doing, don't take that step yet. The one I bought was awful, I used it a couple of times and then put it away, convinced I was doing something wrong.  It put at least a two year break between me deciding I wanted to get into astronomy and me actually doing so.

You will probably want to get a telescope some day, but you really don't need one yet, and you most definitely don't know what kind you want.  There is a wealth of options out there, and you should take some time to learn about them before you settle on one to buy (more on that in a later step).

If you absolutely must spend some money on something (I know sometimes if I drop a few bucks on a new hobby I feel obliged to see it through), buy a Planisphere.  This is a very useful resource you will come back to over and over again, and worth the few dollars it will cost.

****Update 8/1  --  dimtick has pointed out that another good, small investment is a green laser pointer.  They are very cheap these days, and if you're planning on involving anyone else in your hobby they are great for pointing out what you're looking at.  Also, they're fun!
this is a great article. I was at a star party once in Austin where they were saying that there is a website you can go to that will tell you when and wgat part of the sky astronomical events (like a satellite streaking across the sky) will occur in your area. <br><br>Any idea what that website is called? I cant find it for the life of me
<p>Thanks, glad you liked the article! I think you may be talking about this site: http://www.heavens-above.com/</p>
I would also recommend using darksky.org
<p>I've recently discovered a fantastic smart phone application that I think you should check out and add to this article, if you enjoy it as much as I do of course. I only know that it works on Android, and probably does work with apple, but I haven't checked yet. It's called Star Chart by Escapist Games. It's a fantastic tool for anyone with a smart phone, a data plan, and a urge for astronomy. It finds your location, and from that, it allows you to point your phones camera in any direction and it'll show you what stars names are, where planets are in the sky, where galaxies are, and it shows every constellation. (That's just the free version, too). I found it invaluable, even if it's just to point my eyes in the direction of stellar bodies I know I want to look at, as opposed to randomly searching the sky. here's a link to it. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.escapistgames.starchart&amp;hl=en</p>
As a beginner who just found out his love for the skies, this instructable is a boon. thank you for this amazing post. I started looking up about a few months ago and last week I bought my first low power telescope. was this a mistake?
<p>really helpfull article.</p>
<p>Thanks, glad you found it useful!</p>
Very informative. Thank you.
There is an app called starlight, you can point your I phone or I pad to the sky and it will tell you what planets and stars are above u. U can move it around too, it's reall cool. It will also show you the constellations.
This is just awesome! Great job on this tutorial! <br>I've been an astronomy fan since I can remember (though Saint Seiya helped on it...) but sadIy I was never good on Mathematics, so I couldn't go to Astronomy school, otherwise I'd be killed by Calculus! <br>Thank you for helping me getting closer to this amazing world (or rather, this amazing universe!)
Thank you, I'm glad you liked me instructable!
Pretty good guide. I live in the Philippines, and I enjoy looking at the stars. Orion is always visible from my house, but I've yet to consistently see Polaris! <br> <br>Another good tip for beginners is to go to local observatories (if any are nearby). They have a wealth of resources and a live-in Astronomer. Sometimes they even let you look through their telescope.
Using a green laser pointer is likely to get you in trouble if you ever do it at a star party...
Why do you say that? At the local star parties the Eugene Astronomical Society puts on, they use green lasers all the time. They talk a lot about laser safety and not pointing them at airplanes, but they're in pretty broad use.
If you're just messing around visually and there's no aircraft, they're not too bad, but as soon as people have imagers on their scopes, and a flash of light destroys one of their exposures, you rapidly become less popular.
Great instructable! I love astronomy; it is truly astounding to see the various celestial gems which are too often ignored. A great guide, and well thought out. However, I noticed that while you took several of the pictures, there is no instruction regarding how to take good photographs of the night sky. Perhaps you might add a short blurb for astrophotography? I have taken some of the Moon and Jupiter using a simple point-and-shoot camera and my 6&quot; dob; but the results are always rewarding! <br>As a side note, the Orion Nebula is my favorite, too!
Wonderful instructable. Lots of great tips. I'm in southern Ontario and we have a lot of light interference in my area but we went skiing farther north and were amazed at the nighttime star show.
Thanks Flooflox!
Duh.you don't know how's the condition here in asia.. <br>anyway,astronomy isn't about what size did you rolled in. <br>but it's how do you use it. <br>anyway,a 6&quot; is a start.10&quot; is more than enough.But if you want a cheap one,either make it yourself,(which takes hours..and hours) or buy a smaller ones.4&quot; is not bad.
ANyway,great instructables..Really,it's rare I ever read some astronomy guides. <br>Oh,please add more: <br>Books, <br>and Photos! <br>it's great if you can add some more of planetary photos.that's what everyone look for .and books. <br>I suggest you read Turn left at Orion,really,a great book! (and honest one) <br>And you should add how to pick telescope. <br>And another links. <br>I found astronomyforum.net quite helpful . <br>Looking forward to see updates. <br> <br>
Hey.. Great write up buddy. This is what exactly the informations I was looking for. You have provided many great information for a starter and have saved a lot of money for me at this point of time. I am mad to buy a telescope (though its far beyond from my budget) all these days but you made me realize there is much more out there to do before actually investing on the telescope. Thanks a lot. <br> <br>I should get a lot familiar with the sky and your write up added as great motivation for me to do so.. <br> <br>
I'm glad to hear it, that's the best kind of praise we instructablers can get!
absolutly, i actualy found out by accident about venus (while i was waiting for my binos to arrive from the U.S, so a good omen i think). yeah solar projection looks very damn interesting, i might try and rig something up, like put some effort into making a totaly slick and reuseable setup. my solar sheets arrived like 3 days ago and its been solid overcast day and night. good call with stellarium (was using winstars2) a great tool for getting your bearings, a little funny to calibrate tho (tells me orion is below the horizon when i can physicaly see it) even if i enter correct time and location.....
hey great write up, im from australia and just got myself a pair of 20x80 skymasters and im just loving them. down here we've got the crux constellation, the jewel box cluster,also saturn is easy to find at the moment seen as a great golden orb....im finding more things i can name or knew were out there. one good point with the skymasters is the excelent rubber eye caps you can fold down so when they're on a tripod (highly recomended with these binos, i got lucky and had materials to build a wonderfully rigid stand) you can gaze upwards with no part of the body touching the binos thus no tiny jerky movement....also dont forget to sort out some solar filters for your binos and scopes to view the transit of venus early next month, i built some using solar filter sheets i got off ebay for around $10 (6&quot;x6&quot;) and sun viewing is totaly amazing on its own....
I'd like to get a solar filter for my binoculars, but right now I've been playing with solar projection:<br> <a href="https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-View-an-Eclipse-Sunspots-or-the-Transit-o/" rel="nofollow">https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-View-an-Eclipse-Sunspots-or-the-Transit-o/<br> T</a>hat's my plan for the transit of Venus, I know I won't get another chance in my lifetime!
I already know this stuff because I am 20 and when Im thirty Ill be a astronaut<br>taking classes
Send us a post card from Vesta!
I'll try my best
Can you add this? <br> <br>https://www.zooniverse.org/ <br> <br> <br>It is this great web site where you can help astronomers by classifying galaxies.
Thanks for another great site nurdee, I've added it to the list!
How would you find jupiter or saturn if you were in the middle of the desert with only a planisphere, telescope, and flaslight?
Two options: <br><br>1. Get one of those smart phone apps that tell you where everything is in the sky<br><br>2. Find out before leaving when and where the planets will be rising and setting, then search from there.
I think I saw the ISS tonight at around 8:30-50ish on august the 16th. Is it supposed to look like a star that is moving slowish? Is it supposed to get dimmer as it gets farther into the horizon?
I'm not sure where you're located, but it was up here in Oregon around 9:30 and moving northeastish, are you west of me? That would just about do it. It should look like you say, like a very bright star moving along at a fair clip, but slower than a shooting star. It then slowly fades as it goes into the shadow of the earth.<br><br>It's pretty cool, the first time I went out to look for it I was all worried I wouldn't be able to spot it, but when it goes overhead you can't miss the thing!
I live in California, and it was slower than a shooting star, and it was noving northeastish but more east than north.
Cool, sounds like that's the beast! It's a fun sighting, and very easy to do when you know where to look.<br> <br> When I was camping this weekend there was a cloud break, my girlfriend looked up and said, &quot;Hey, what's that?&quot; and there it was, the ISS!&nbsp; Kids really like that one, you can explain how there are people riding on it.<br> <br> If you want to plan for it for next time, you can find sighting info here: <a href="http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/">http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/</a>
I am also in to Astronomy, Ham Radio, Computers. I suggest for a new comer get at least a good pair of 7 X 50 Binoculars. I lived in Tucson, AZ for a number of years and did not have an intrest in Astronomy. I went up Las Vegas for ComDex and while driving down to Tuscon thru the Joshaw National Forest there is little light out there. You could see someons street lamp about 5 miles from the road. <br><br>The stars were out in force. Surprising what you can see when it is really dark. The Milky way was very very visible. I did not stop as I was very tired and it was 30 degrees out. I still had 5 to 6 hours to drive. I really regret not stopping now. As I now live in Michigan near Detroit. I have since built a 6&quot; Newtonian from Berry book. I have 7 X 50 Binoculars. also a 60 mm Cheapey that I use to look at the sun with a SOLAR shield ( DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN WITH OUT SOMETHING TO PROTECT YOUR EYES) You can't look away fast enough. You could BLIND your self without proper Protection. <br><br>I am thinking of making a homemade clock drive to my 6&quot; scope. But that is now on my TO DO list too.<br><br>Very nice Scope too. You got my vote.
Hey, thanks for sharing your story John. &nbsp;I've been to many dark sites before, but the darkest was at a place called Ice Lake in eastern Oregon. &nbsp;My friends and I hiked up there with my friends for the weekend, it was about 14 miles away from a tiny town, and way up in the mountains, at least seven thousand feet. &nbsp;I have never in my life seen a dark sky like that. &nbsp;I wish I had had some binocs then!<br> <br> Thanks for the vote, I'm glad you liked my instructable!
If I may, let me add in some two cents: <br><br>Light Pollution- During one's hunt for the stars one may find them self rather confuzzled on why some constellations are &quot;incomplete&quot; or rather &quot;missing&quot;. When I was a small kid I was always taught by...everyone I ever remember...that some stars just don't come out at night, then I grew up and learned the Sun is a star, and it never has not come up. Stars sometimes don't appear because of light pollution. Light pollution is simply the use of lights in cites that creates a haze; fog like. When star wrangling it is recommend that one should be away from light sources, such as going to open fields, and preferably away from cities. To create minimal light, cover flashlights with red plastic, as it dampens the light glare from lens. Do not fret if rural countryside is a long lost dream in the concrete jungles, as star gazing is still completely possible, but a little less effect when looking for stars at a farther distance. <br>Picture proof: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Light_pollution_It%27s_not_pretty.jpg <br><br>I hope that's real nice and helpful! :D<br> One of the biggest problems I had as a child... xD
Thanks 94, I've added a section on light pollution. I see that while I mentioned it a couple of times, I really never explained it, so a patch is on it's way! Also, if you feel I've earned it, please cast a vote for me in the Space contest!
Absolutely! Thank you, sir!
Hey, oh! It's easy to forget here in the States, but you forgot to add the Auroras, it's apart of astronomy, and amazing! If an amateur living far north or south starts astronomy using this, it would be nice to remind them of the auroras! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_%28astronomy%29
Oh, that's another good one, and a big oversight. I've always wanted to see an aurora, but on the few occasions when I've heard they could be visible here, it's just clouds as far as the eye can see. <br><br>Thanks again, I'll add that in!
Down here in Florida I don't have any hope. Thank you though, I really love astronomy but stopped because I was too young to go to darker areas of town when I was little. (I use to take out the street lights on my street by over loading them with a spot light. xD)
Time to VOTE people.....This awesome 'ible is entered in the &quot;Celestron Space Challenge&quot; so if you liked it, vote for it.....and any of the other nice contest entries that you found enjoyable. <br> <br>I already voted, now it's your turn.
Great instructable. But one thing you didn't point out is that there are some great astronomy computer programs. Many of these are free. My favourite is celestia. It is a free 3d space simulator. With it you can go anywhere in the solar system. There are also many free addons forit. <br> <br>Hope this helps
Thanks nurdee, I did mention Stellarium and Google Sky, but I've added Celestia to the list. Please cast a vote for me in the Space contest!
Hi Mike, yah I did ti I bought a nice telescope with a motor and remote afew years ago been in the attic for the same time but I am going to reserect it soon after reading your info. Thanks for all the tips.... from the captain in san diego
That's great captain, I hope I really have inspired you to dust off that telescope! Jupiter is going to start rising before midnight at the end of this month, that would make for a great first target! Please cast a vote my way in the Space contest if you would!

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Bio: depotdevoid is short for The Depot Devoid of Thought, the place where you go when you lose your train of thought and you're waiting ... More »
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