DON'T BUT A TELESCOPE UNTIL YOU ARE ABLE TO FIND THE CONSTELLATIONS AND MANY OF THE DEEP SKY OBJECTS YOU CAN SEE WITH BINOCULARS! It will be a waste of money. A good set of binoculars is much better than a cheap telescope. After you can find all of the constellations and major stars, then invest in a really good pair of binoculars. The boys in my astronomy club and I started out with a binoculars that we either already had at home or that we found at a good discount price. Now those of us who know that we are involved in a life time love affair with the sky shopping for a really good set of binoculars for astronomy. We have done a great deal of reading and we take a list of tests with us when we go shopping for binoculars.
After you know that you can find all the constellations easily and are adept at star hopping using binoculars, then look for a telescope. Pass right by those cheap telescopes at WalMart and K-Mart. A cheap teleschope is a waste of good money. Research telescopes carefully and buy a good one. Do a great deal of reading. Go to a star party and ask questions of the people there about the telescopes they use. Two of theyoung men I know were allowed to use a Dob at a star party they attended. That was enough to help them both know what they wanted to buy..Nothing beats hands on practice. Be prepared to spend a good sum. A good telescope will last you a lifetime, but it will cost a bit. One that I have been looking at costs at least 500 dollars. I just keep in mind that a good set of binoculars cost around one hundred. After some solid research, look for a used telescope. There are good ones out there. Don't spend a lot of money until you know how serious you and your family will be about astronomy and until you have done your research. Why waste money?
"How do you read star charts in the dark? With a red flashlight, of course! Why red? Because red light has the least effect on your night vision.
If you have ever been flashed with a beam of white light at night after you eyes have already adapted to the dark, you know that it smarts. Your eyes take about 20 to 60 minutes to adjust fully to seeing faint things in the dark. Unfortunately, it takes only a few seconds of careless exposure to bright light to set back your dark adaptation."
SKYWATCHING FAMILY STYLE by Greg Redfern, SKYWATCH '99, pg 9.
Mr. Redfern recommends Mini-Mag lights. They are small and inexpensive. You can remove the red lens and have a regular flashlight. If you have flashlights around the house you can convert them to astronomy flashlights by cutting out a lens for it from very deep red plastic. This is what my astronomy club did in the beginning. You can also use a rubber band and a piece of red paper. However you go about it, a red light is a must.
You will eventually want to buy one of your own, but until you do, check one out of the library. In the section titled BEFORE YOU GO OUT, you will see why a field guide is important.
SKYGUIDE A Field Guide to
the Heavens by Mark R. Chartrand III. Golden Press, New York
You will eventually need a field guide. I suggest that you check out those in the library before you buy any. See which one you like using the most. I got this at my husband's used bookstore. It has been very helpful. This is the book I would read before I went out to do my stargazing. This is the book I used to study about the constellations and stars. Everyone in my astronomy club has a field guide and we all use them to this day.
NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY FIELD GUIDE TO THE NIGHT SKY (Audubon Society Field Guide Series) by Mark R. Chartrand, Mark R. Chatrand, Jane Friedman (Editor) My boys love this field guide. They call it the "good one". A handbook for sky gazers that combines the best in astrophotography with a unique system of beautiful and easy-to-read star charts. Designed to make it simple for the reader to find and identify every major natural celestial object visible throughout the year with up-to-the-minute research and clear, accessible text, charts, and cross-references.
A FIELD GUIDE TO THE STARS AND PLANETS (Peterson Field Guides) by Jay M. Pasachoff, Donald H. Menzel, Roger Tory Peterson. Because I like the Peterson Field Guides, I included this one. Substantially expanded (new color photos) and revised since the last edition published a decade ago, this field guide serves as a sky tour for amateurs and a reference to data (through 1997) for more experienced observers. Includes 72 star maps and 52 atlas charts.
That is all you need to buy. There are a few more thing you need to consider before going out to have a family star party, however.
It may be colder than you think so dress warmly and take sweaters, hats and gloves. In the summer, you may want bug repellent.
Try to find a dark spot somewhere. It could be your backyard, a park, a field in the country, a beach, or whatever. Just make sure it is pleasant and safe.
Take a comfortable lawn recliner. Some folks also take a sleeping bag in colder weather. Don't let the cold weather keep you inside. Some of the most beautiful constellations are winter constellations. You must not miss them.
In his article Mr. Redfern recommends some music played softly. I often take my classical music. Now I know that I not the only one who likes a little music with my stars. I have decided that the boys in my astronomy club need to be exposed to classical music also. That is what we listen to when we have star parities. A little Beethoven goes really well with the Messier objects.
My astronomy club always takes snacks with them when they go out. Your family might enjoy a starlight picnic.
Sky and Telescope has published a wonderful article for people just starting a hobby in astronomy. Click to read it. It is well worth your time.