An Introduction to Amateur Astronomy and Telescopes

Amateur astronomers are those who don’t have any formal astronomy training, who practice astronomy as a hobby and who don’t rely on their astronomy practices for income. Observing, photographing and generally enjoying the stars, planets and other heavenly bodies are all part of practicing amateur astronomy as a hobby. Whether you want to make use of a new telescope or you are simply fascinated with the night sky, those who get pleasure out of gazing up and soaking in the view are good candidates for taking up amateur astronomy.

Some of the entities that amateur astronomers observe and follow include:

  • comets
  • constellations
  • galaxies
  • meteor showers
  • moons
  • planets
  • satellites
  • stars
  • suns

While some who practice amateur astronomy simply enjoy knowing, tracking and viewing constellations, other amateurs who are far more serious about their hobby make efforts to travel to specific locations to view and/or photography specific astronomic phenomenon. 

Keep in mind that your geographical location can affect your practice of amateur astronomy. For example, people who live in more urban cities are far less likely to be able to see some of the finer nuances of the night sky than others who live further away from the hustle and bustle of city life (and the city lights!). In general, ambient light and pollution are two of the primary factors affecting clear views of the night sky.

In this section, we will highlight what you need to get started as an amateur astronomer. Our articles will also give you tips and advice on how to further your knowledge and practice of amateur astronomy.

How Telescopes Work
Telescopes are viewing instruments that gather light in a specific manner to provide a person with a close-up view of a particular object or scene. Depending on your needs, you can get either a refractor telescope or a reflector telescope. While a refractor telescope magnifies objects through a series of lenses, reflector telescopes are able to magnify images through the use of mirrors.

Although you may think that the choice between refractor versus reflector telescopes will dictate which telescope will be best for you, keep in mind that a number of other factors play a more important role in determining how telescopes work.

Affordable Telescopes
Like many other pieces of equipment that you need to start and practice a hobby, telescopes can come in a variety of models from a number of different manufacturers. As a result, they can range in price from as little as $10 for a plastic telescope to as expensive as $5,000 or more for the most technologically advanced models. As you are choosing between telescopes of different prices, keep in mind that the most expensive models may not be right for your needs.

Your skill level, current knowledge of astronomy and ultimate goals for practicing astronomy as a hobby will all determine which features you need on your telescope. Once you figure out these details, set a reasonable budget before you start shopping for telescopes. Be sure to include the cost of telescope stands, film and/or the necessary transportation equipment when making a budget for your telescope purchase.

As you start looking, be sure to check out sporting good stores, as well as online retailers, so that you can find the best prices for affordable telescopes.

In addition to viewing various astronomical entities, amateur astronomers may also want to snap pictures of what they see. While those first starting their practice of astrophotography may find it easier to focus on and take pictures of brighter objects in the night sky, more advanced photographers can learn to capture the faintest or fastest moving objects, including eclipses or meteor showers.

In general, taking clear astrophotography pictures requires a unique set of skills that are distinct from those required for other types of photography. Nevertheless, having a basic understanding of photography and how to manipulate a camera is helpful to enhancing your practice of astrophotography.