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Dave Mitsky
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Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers
      #5631845 - 01/19/13 04:45 PM

Greetings,

Presented for your enjoyment and edification are the following tips that may provide some assistance to those who are just starting out in amateur astronomy.

Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe by Terence Dickinson is considered by many to be the single best book for novice amateur astronomers. As far as other beginning observing guides are concerned, I highly recommend Phillip S. Harrington's Star Watch: The Amateur Astronomer's Guide to Finding, Observing, and Learning About over 125 Celestial Objects and Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope--and How to Find Them by Dan M. Davis and Guy Consolmagno. One of the finest books, in my opinion, on learning how to star-hop is Alan MacRobert's Star-Hopping for Backyard Astronomers, which, unfortunately, is no longer in print.

http://www.fireflybooks.com/bookdetail&ean=9781554071470

http://www.philharrington.net/swtch.htm

http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item1111941/?site_locale=en_GB

http://www.amazon.com/Star-Hopping-Backyard-Astronomers-Alan-MacRobert/dp/093...

At a more advanced level, The Backyard Astronomer's Guide by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer is an excellent guide to astronomy and amateur astronomy. Another very good, yet inexpensive, source of general information is A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets (Peterson Field Guides) by Jay M. Pasachoff.

http://www.backyardastronomy.com/Backyard_Astronomy/Backyard_Astronomers_Guid...

http://www.hmhbooks.com/hmh/site/hmhbooks/bookdetails?isbn=9780395934319

As far as books on astronomy gear are concerned, look no further than Phil Harrington's excellent Star Ware: The Amateur Astronomer's Guide to Choosing, Buying, and Using Telescopes and Accessories. Astronomy Hacks by Robert Thompson and Barbara Thompson is another highly-recommended book full of great tips on equipment and the art of observing.

http://www.philharrington.net/sw2.htm

http://shop.oreilly.com/product/9780596100605.do

Information on planispheres, or star wheels, which portray the locations of the constellations and bright stars at a given time and date, is posted at http://www.skymaps.com/store/cat04.html and http://www.skyandtelescope.com/howto/visualobserving/3303986.html

An online planisphere is available at http://www.topastronomer.com/StarCharts/Planisphere.aspx

Weekly updates on astronomical events are available at these sites:

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/videos/skyweek/

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/ataglance

http://stardate.org/nightsky

Browse here or here for a free monthly star chart. There's a video on how to read a simple star chart at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTO11vNMRJg

An informative video discussing astronomical objects worthy of observing each month can be found at http://hubblesite.org/explore_astronomy/tonights_sky/

The major planets all orbit close to the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system. Their positions and that of the dwarf planet Pluto can be ascertained by consulting http://www.nakedeyeplanets.com/

Useful information on observing some of the planets and their satellites is available at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/javascript and a solar system simulator at http://space.jpl.nasa.gov/

Recognition quizzes on some of the major constellations can be found at the following URLs:

http://www.physics.csbsju.edu/astro/constellations/

http://www.uni.edu/morgans/astro/course/constellations/java/index.html

http://www.mhhe.com/physsci/astronomy/arny_3e_update/constellation_quiz/index...

A rudimentary tutorial on star-hopping from Ursa Major and Orion is posted at http://www.astrocentral.co.uk/starting.html

Click on http://www.robhawley.net/sh101/index.htm for an excellent video tutorial on the technique of star-hopping. Some excellent seasonal star-hops are presented at http://www.rocketmime.com/astronomy/index.html

Active observers will eventually need a good beginning star atlas in order to locate various stars and deep-sky objects or DSOs. Paper star atlases run the gamut from the simple and inexpensive to the complex and costly. Here are a few to consider: Orion's DeepMap 600, Norton's Star Atlas and Reference Handbook, 20th Edition by Ian Ridpath (Editor), The Edmund Mag 6 Star Atlas by Terence Dickinson, Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas by Roger W. Sinnott, The Bright Star Atlas 2000.0 by Wil Tirion and Roger W. Sinnott, and The Cambridge Star Atlas by Wil Tirion. The Sky Atlas 2000.0 by Wil Tirion is a more advanced and expensive atlas. The two volume Uranometria 2000.0 goes even "deeper" in stellar magnitude and displays the positions of a greater number of deep-sky objects.

http://www.telescope.com/Accessories/Astronomical-Maps-Charts/Orion-DeepMap-6...

http://www.astronomics.com/main/product.asp/catalog_name/astronomics/category...

http://www.scientificsonline.com/edmund-mag-6-star-atlas.html

http://www.shopatsky.com/product/Pocket-Sky-Atlas/sky-atlases

http://www.willbell.com/atlas/atlas1.htm

http://www.amazon.com/The-Cambridge-Star-Atlas-Tirion/dp/B0073JWOXW/ref=sr_1_...

http://www.shopatsky.com/product/Sky-Atlas-2000-Deluxe-Unlaminated/sky-atlases

http://www.willbell.com/atlas/atlas4.htm

Finder charts for various deep-sky objects can be found at http://astronomylogs.com/pages/finderchart.html

Videos by professional astronomers on the Messier objects and other astronomical topics can be seen at http://www.deepskyvideos.com/

The Telrad is a very handy 1x (non-magnifying) reflex sight finder. Telrad finder charts for the Messier objects are posted at these web sites:

http://www.atmob.org/library/member/skymaps_jsmall.html

http://www.solarius.net/Pages/Articles/dbArticle.aspx?artid=messier_finders

http://www.astro-tom.com/messier/messier_finder_charts/messier_maps.htm

Additional information on observing deep-sky objects can be found at these sites:

http://seds.org/messier/

http://messier45.com/

http://www.deepskyobserving.com/index.htm

http://observing.skyhound.com/archives.html

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/deepsky/3304001.html?page=1&...

Binoculars are a great way to get started in amateur astronomy. Binocular astronomy is rather easy to carry out and is also a lot of fun. Binoculars are relatively inexpensive and are eminently portable. Employing both eyes simultaneously definitely adds to the visual experience.

Binoculars are ideal for showing the "big picture". These instruments can readily display objects that are too large to fit into the fields of view of most telescopes. In addition, binoculars can often be useful in "surveying" the area where an object is located prior to conducting a telescopic star-hop.

A surprising number of celestial objects, including many binary stars, open and globular star clusters, nebulae, and some of the brighter galaxies, can be detected with binoculars. Scanning through the heart of the Milky Way with a binocular from a dark site is a very memorable experience.

I recommend purchasing a 10x50 (i.e., 10 power and 50mm aperture) binocular for astronomical use. A 10x50 binocular is usually not overly heavy for most people to hand-hold and provides a 5mm exit pupil that will be appropriate for most observers when age and observing site darkness are taken into account. People who must wear eyeglasses while observing may want to look for a binocular with at least 14mm of eye relief. Browse http://kingston.rasc.ca/Library/rasc-binoculars.pdf and http://binocularsky.com/binoc_basics.php for tips on choosing binoculars.

There's more on binocular performance at http://www.wwnorton.com/college/astronomy/astro21/sandt/powerbinocs.html

A chart showing the effects of magnification and aperture on binocular performance is posted at http://www.wwnorton.com/college/astronomy/astro21/sandt/images/pabin2.gif

A three part evaluation of three different binocular apertures can be found at the following URLs:

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/community/skyblog/home/7151386.html

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/community/skyblog/home/7172141.html

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/community/skyblog/home/7272326.html

In my opinion, the best binocular observing guides available are Touring the Universe through Binoculars by Phil Harrington, Binocular Astronomy by Graig Crossen & Wil Tirion, Binocular Highlights: 99 Celestial Sights for Binocular Users by Gary Seronik, and Observing the Night Sky with Binoculars by Stephen O'Meara.

http://www.philharrington.net/sw8.htm

http://www.willbell.com/handbook/HAND2.htm

http://www.shopatsky.com/product/Binocular-Highlights/books

http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521721707

Phil Harrington discusses various targets monthly in his Cloudy Nights Binocular Universe column at http://cloudynights.com/category.php?category_id=182 and in a quarterly column in Astronomy. He offers an excellent freeware planetarium program known as TUBA (Touring the Universe through Binoculars Atlas), which also includes information on purchasing binoculars, at http://www.philharrington.net/tuba.htm

A number of articles on observing with binoculars are posted at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/community/skyblog/stargazing/86589452.html

Tips on binocular astronomy are available at the following sites:

http://carolrpt.com/astroguidev9complete.pdf

http://binocularsky.com/

http://www.stargazing.net/david/binoculars/

http://www.skynewsmagazine.com/pages/binoculars.html

A video on observing with binoculars is posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAnAZz-ZPJ0

http://www.stargazing.net/david/binoculars/index.html

This website discusses a number of deep-sky objects that can be seen through binoculars. See http://astrogeek.wordpress.com/2007/07/18/binocular-objects/ for a long list of binocular targets. Other lists include the ones at http://www.starman.co.uk/book/database/database.html and at http://www.backyard-astro.com/deepsky/bino/homeb.html

My monthly lists of binocular deep-sky objects are posted at http://cs.astronomy.com/asycs/forums/t/48393.aspx

A list of binocular objects is included with each monthly Evening Sky Map at
http://skymaps.com/downloads.html

The Astronomical League's Binocular Messier, Deep Sky Binocular, and Southern Sky Binocular lists include many of the best binocular deep-sky objects:

http://www.astroleague.org/al/obsclubs/binomess/binomesb.html

http://www.astroleague.org/al/obsclubs/dsbinoc/dsbnlist.htm

http://www.astroleague.org/al/obsclubs/sskybino/ssbinoc1.html

Sketches of a number of deep-sky objects as seen through binoculars can be found at http://rodelaet.xtreemhost.com/binocular_astronomy.html

Mounting a binocular on a tripod, or better still, a dedicated binocular mount (guider) will improve views markedly. An informative pdf on binocular mounts is posted at http://www.cloudynights.com/documents/thoughts.pdf

The vast majority of deep-sky objects visible in amateur telescopes are quite faint and are best seen from a dark location. However, there are a number of DSOs that can be seen by urban observers. For further information on urban astronomy, see my post at http://cs.astronomy.com/asycs/forums/p/52886/487707.aspx#487707

A wealth of good astronomy freeware is listed here and here. Stellarium, Celestia, and Cartes du Ciel are all fine freeware planetarium programs. The Virtual Moon Atlas is a great aid for lunar observing. A number of surprisingly good free astronomy apps are also available. There are also many excellent commercial planetarium programs on the market, including MegaStar, SkyMap, Sky Tools, Starry Night, and TheSky.

These online planetarium programs may prove useful:

http://www.sky-map.org/

http://www.skymaponline.net/

http://neave.com/planetarium/

http://www.fourmilab.ch/yoursky/

http://www.shallowsky.com/sky.html

http://www.skyviewcafe.com/skyview.php

http://staratlas.com/index.html#topofpage

http://www.astronomy.com/stardome.aspx

http://www.wunderground.com/sky/index.asp

http://skychart.skyandtelescope.com/skychart.php

http://www.cloudynights.com/item.php?item_id=1052

http://www.geocities.jp/toshimi_taki/atlas_85/atlas_85.htm

http://www.pbs.org/seeinginthedark/explore-the-sky/your-sky-tonight.html

http://www.heavens-above.com/skychart.aspx?SL=1&SN=1&lat=0&lng=0&...

Daily, weekly, and monthly astronomy updates are available at these URLs:

http://www.calsky.com/

http://stardate.org/radio

http://earthsky.org/tonight

http://stardate.org/nightsky

http://astronomy.com/en/News-Observing/News.aspx

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/ataglance

http://www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/nightskynotes/index.php

http://www.nightskyobserver.com/the-sky-this-month/

http://astronomical-calendar.org.uk/

http://skymaps.com/articles/

The following web sites contain worthwhile information on many different aspects of astronomy and amateur astronomy:

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/letsgo

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/howto/basics

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/howto/visualobserving

http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/astronomy/glossary/

http://www.astronomy.com/en/News-Observing/Intro%20Sky.aspx

http://www.hobbyspace.com/Astronomy/index.html

http://www.astronomy.com/videos/astronomy-101

http://www.astromax.org/astrocourse/history.htm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b019h4g8

http://www.daviddarling.info/index.html

http://stardate.org/astro-guide

http://nineplanets.org/

http://www.space.com/

http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/

http://heavens-above.com/

http://www.spaceweather.com/

http://www.observingsites.com/

http://www.ovas.org/alinks.htm

http://www.observers.org/beginner/

http://beginnersguide.com/astronomy/

http://stars.astro.illinois.edu/sow/sowlist.html

http://www.atlasoftheuniverse.com/index.html

http://www.skynews.ca/pages/backyard.html

http://www.astrocentral.co.uk/beginners.html

http://www.opticsplanet.net/dozen-telescope-observing-tips.html

http://www.wwnorton.com/college/astronomy/astro21/sandt/usingscopes.html

Dave Mitsky


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cliffy54
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Reged: 03/14/10

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Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: Dave Mitsky]
      #5631887 - 01/19/13 05:12 PM

Great Stuff, Great Links. Thanks

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Gregen
super member


Reged: 11/25/12

Loc: CA
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: cliffy54]
      #5632179 - 01/19/13 08:24 PM

Thanks for the great advice! I love the backyard astronomer's guide!

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kenrenard
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Reged: 12/13/12

Loc: Dunmore, PA
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: Gregen]
      #5632749 - 01/20/13 08:54 AM

Thank you Dave,
I just picked up star hopping for backyard astronomers on amazon for under $3.00.

Great information


Ken


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Greyhaven
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Reged: 05/11/04

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Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: Dave Mitsky]
      #5633510 - 01/20/13 04:28 PM

I thank you for your very well done and very useful project for all levels of astronomers. I'll reference it often.
Be Well
Grey


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Jammer53
super member


Reged: 12/18/12

Loc: Central NY
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: Greyhaven]
      #5634856 - 01/21/13 12:28 PM

As a former moderator for six years I appreciate all the effort that you put into this for us Dave. Thanks very much for that.

I'll make use of it often.

Jim

PS: Star Ware is currently unavailable at Amazon for the Kindle. Seems they are pulling it until they investigate certain issues that were brought to their attention.

Edited by Jammer53 (01/21/13 12:30 PM)


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Meadeball
sage


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Loc: Midlothian, Virginia
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: Jammer53]
      #5635375 - 01/21/13 05:13 PM

I received a new book for Christmas; I like it because it's pocket-sized yet really, really detailed:

The Observerís Sky Atlas by Erich Karkoschka.

Wondering if any of you have tried it out?

Meade


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jkaiser
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Reged: 01/07/13

Loc: Wood River Junction, Rhode Isl...
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: Dave Mitsky]
      #5636735 - 01/22/13 11:53 AM

Hello,
I am new to Cloudy Nights and wanted to thank you for all the links they were very helpful and loaded with alot of info. I been using a 4" astroscan from Edmund scientifics for the past year and now its time to upgrade, so this week I am purchasing a Celestron Omni 102xlt and at the same time I am also upgrading to the Zhumell Z10, I am very excited and can't wait, I have been saving all year for those 2 scopes....Again thank you for the links and thank you Cloudy Nights for being readily available.


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Dave Mitsky
Postmaster
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Reged: 04/08/02

Loc: PA, USA, Planet Earth
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: Meadeball]
      #5637390 - 01/22/13 05:23 PM

Quote:

I received a new book for Christmas; I like it because it's pocket-sized yet really, really detailed:

The Observerís Sky Atlas by Erich Karkoschka.

Wondering if any of you have tried it out?

Meade




I don't happen to own it but I have seen a copy of The Observer's Sky Atlas at NEAF, I believe. It has quite a good reputation.

Dave Mitsky


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lamplight
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Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: Dave Mitsky]
      #5650876 - 01/29/13 06:18 PM

Thank you dave

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budafuko
member


Reged: 05/05/10

Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: lamplight]
      #5654315 - 01/31/13 01:22 PM

Thanks Dave.

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JoeSmith
newbie


Reged: 01/24/13

Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: budafuko]
      #5654361 - 01/31/13 01:45 PM

Thank you Dave. This will give me even more reading on cloudy nights which is about 70% of the time around here.

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PhotonFanatic
member


Reged: 07/23/10

Loc: Dubuque, IA
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: Dave Mitsky]
      #5658970 - 02/02/13 09:40 PM



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PhaedrusUpshaw
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Loc: Southwestern Indiana
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: PhotonFanatic]
      #5673329 - 02/10/13 11:56 PM

The Backyard Astronomers Guide is a reference book I find myself returning to time and time again.
Clear skies to all,
Bill


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Benson
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Reged: 05/22/10

Loc: -6 gmt
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: PhaedrusUpshaw]
      #5675100 - 02/12/13 01:04 AM

Star hopping can be very ... interesting. I usually retire for a vodka martini when frustrated - shaken, not stirred.

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nikdangr
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Loc: Annandale, VA
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: Dave Mitsky]
      #5683738 - 02/16/13 03:34 PM

Footnote: Several copies of Star-Hopping for Backyard Astronomers are available used from Amazon for as low as $18.

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mac57
super member


Reged: 02/19/13

Loc: DeLand of Oz, Florida
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: Dave Mitsky]
      #5693504 - 02/21/13 08:29 PM

Hi, my name is Mark and I am a 55 year old novice, but I aced my college Intro Astronomy course, so I know a little. As an observer, I am a beginner. I am trying to decide on a first scope, and am torn between an 8" Dobsonian, or something on an EQ mount. I like the idea of an EQ mount, because I don't want to constantly be distracted by moving the Dob. Is this a big deal? I know that the cheap EQ mounts have their drawbacks, but is the tradeoff worth it? Please explain, and grateful for your input.

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Doc Willie
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Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: mac57]
      #5694504 - 02/22/13 11:37 AM

The hassle of manually moving an 8' Dob to keep a target in the field of view is less than the hassle of dealing with a cheap EQ mount. IMHO.

The former is more likely to induce you to upgrade to a better telescope. The latter is more likely to induce you to give up the sport.

Edited by Doc Willie (02/22/13 11:40 AM)


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rinalmj
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Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers new [Re: mac57]
      #5694711 - 02/22/13 01:13 PM

I don't think it's a very big deal. I've done most of my observing with 8" and 12" dobs and very rarely found it to be a problem. Wide-field eyepieces help a lot with this too. The only times I've ever thought that re-positioning was a distraction are times when I've used extremely high magnifications (>300X), but sky conditions rarely permit that anyway.

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csrlice12
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Loc: Denver, CO
Re: Helpful Advice for Novice Amateur Astronomers [Re: rinalmj]
      #5694798 - 02/22/13 01:58 PM

While I do like the tracking of my EQ mount, I still enjoy the views my dob gives me better. With wide-field eyepieces, viewing thru the dob is a pleasant experience...

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