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Most people think of amateur astronomy as observing astronomical objects with a telescope. As a result, acquiring a telescope is the first activity most people want to do when they start out in astronomy. Using a telescope requires a fair amount of sky observing skills and telescope operating skills.
Buying a telescope is one of the most difficult purchase decisions for a beginner. There are many types of telescopes and prices that easily confuses the first time telescope buyer. Another difficulty is the beginner sees the wonderful astronomy images in books, in magazines and the on the Web and the beginner may have too high of expectations on what will be seen through a telescope.
One should try out different telescopes before purchasing one and the easy way to do this is to attend a local star party. Star parties are observing events in which a group of amateur astronomers get together to observer the sky. It is an excellent time to look through many different types of telescopes and ask the owners why they bought their telescope and what they liked and did not like about the their telescope. Also, knowing the sky is not needed when looking through someone's telescope at a star party because the telescope owners have set up their telescopes for observing.
Another excellent method of trying before buying is to find an astronomy club with a telescope library. For example, the Rose City Astronomers club in Portland, Oregon has different types of telescopes that can be checkout for a month at a time. I checked out an 8 inch Dobsonian and a Celestron 8 inch C-8 Schmidt-Cassegrain on a fork mount from the club's telescope library before I purchased my first telescope.
Using the club's telescopes taught me that as a beginner I needed to develop my sky observing skills before I was to be effective at using a telescope to observe with. Therefore, my first astronomy purchases were binoculars, astronomy books, charts and magazines. I observed unaided eye and with binoculars for nine months before I purchased a telescope. During the those nine months I attended star parties and check out the club telescopes to better understand how different telescopes would perform and how to use them.
Binoculars observing skills are very useful in using a telescope. All the skills used in binoculars observing are used in telescope observing. The more skilled you are at observing with binoculars the easier it will be to observer with a telescope.
There are many resources that can help you in telescope observing. They include information about astronomical objects that you can see with telescopes and what these objects look like through telescopes. Location information on when and where in the sky you can find these telescope objects. Also, information on telescopes and other observing equipment that can help you before and during your observing sessions.
© 1998-2006 David Haworth