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Getting Started


Many people ask how what they need to buy to get started in astronomy. The truth is, it can be as easy or complex as you choose to make it. It can also be as cheap or expensive as you choose.

I generally tell people to start small and work your way up. The most expensive telescope is one that sits in the closet. You'll get much more enjoyment out of binoculars or a small telescope that you can quickly and easily setup than you will with a 100Lb monster that you set up once a year.

Starting small also give you the chance to find your interests better. Are you a "double-star" guy? Interested in "deep-space" objects? Do you have a lot of light pollution? Or would you really rather just sleep at night?

Equipment:

You may just want to start off with a good pair of binoculars. With these you'll be able to see many of the open clusters of stars, star chains, even the Andromeda Galaxy, and of course, the moon.

Next is a telescope. A good rule of thumb is that size matters in astronomy. Generally the bigger the better, but not always. The bigger the telescope is, the more light it collects. The more light, the brighter the image you see in the eyepiece. With some objects being extremely faint to begin with, the only way you can see them is with a large telescope. There are however plenty of things to see with even a 3" refractor.

Plan for a telescope with a motorized mount. You'll just be happier, trust me. The ability to "track" an object for long periods of time means you'll be able to sit and take time to view it. You can begin to pick out more and more details the longer you look at something. It also avoids the problem when you try to show a friend and then it's gone when they get to the telescope.

When you get that new telescope, set it up in the daytime to get familiar with it. It'll be much easier in a well lit, warm place to figure out which parts go where. Try to get as much as you can in a ready-to-go state before you set up in the dark.

Knowledge:

One of the best things you can do is to join forces with others who can help you get started. I started with a 4" motorized telescope and couldn't find a thing. I was ready to give up until I found that one of my co-workers was big into astronomy. After one night in my back yard he had me well on my way in this hobby.

The internet if full of people willing to help. Look through the astronomy forums to find the answers to many of the questions you might have. Join the Yahoo Groups related to the areas you're interested in. There are groups on telescopes, eyepieces, mounts, astro-photography, etc.

Learn some of the constellations and brighter stars. Not all of them, just the big ones. 4-6 constellations and 8-10 of the brightest stars will help you get oriented to the night sky. It's also a must when you begin to align a tracking mount. And you'll impress your friends.

Astro-Photography:

One of the greatest senses of accomplishment is to take beautiful images and share them with friends. There is however a huge amount to learn before getting good at it. Plan to spend hours and hours reading, more hours practicing in the field, and more hours processing the images you take.

Costs


I buy all of my stuff used A. because I'm just cheap that way and B. because astronomers take really good care of their equipment and you can get "like new" things for about 75% of "new" prices.

Astronomy equipment normally holds it's value very well so you can try something out to see if you like it and re-sell it if you don't.

Here are some sample "used" prices for some basic equipment:

$90 - Good pair of 11x70 binoculars
$200 - 3" tracking refractor telescope w/mount
$500 - 8-10" non-tracking "Dob" telescope
$700 - 5-7" computerized "Mak" telesope
$1400 - 8" on a GPS Computerized mount
$2500 - 11" on a GPS Computerized mount

Budget for eyepieces ($50 - $200), a battery pack ($50-$75), and other accessories too.

Astrophotography is a whole different ballgame. Cameras, adapters, more batteries, maybe a laptop and other specialized equipment is necessary.



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