Gene Hanson Website - Beginner's Guide


Astronomy Beginner's Guide



Why This Astronomy Beginner's Guide?

There have been a good number of books written and a good deal of internet articles to help beginners start in astronomy. But as a near lifetime member of the Milwaukee Astronomical Society (MAS) I'm amazed that we still get questions about getting started. The most common are recommendations on what telescope to purchase and those seeking help because they already have bought a telescope. People even ask us how much do they need to know before becoming a member of our club. Spoiler alert: there is no minimum knowledge. Those that join any club have knowledge that spans the spectrum from raw beginner to those having advance knowledge. But all members have the same goal: they want to learn more!


Join an Astronomy Club!

MAS Open House - Instruction - MAS / Gene Hanson image

Gene Hanson showing the Sun.

Though I am going to offer instruction on how to get started, it is immeasurably helpful to have a real person(s) who can help you out when the going gets tough and we guarantee it will be tough at times. Maybe you have a family member into astronomy who knows a lot and can be that helper. Maybe a friend, even a close neighbor. Unfortunately that is the rare exception. That is where an astronomy club like the Milwaukee Astronomical Society can step in. We have many members who were all exactly in your position and are very willing to offer that help. Along these lines the MAS does a series of public open house nights where we show astronomical objects - to the unaided eye, in binoculars, and of course in telescopes. Sadly, for many of the guests it is the first time they've seen objects in a telescope.

But the Milwaukee Astronomical Society isn't the only astronomy club. You should join a club that is near enough in proximity that you can reasonably attend their meetings so you can meet other astronomy enthusiasts. I offer the following list of astronomy clubs:

Milwaukee Astronomical Society list of clubs in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.

Astronomical League list of affiliated clubs in the United States.


Spoiler Alert!

Unfortunately you will find that astronomy will test you. It will test both your patience and humility, and at times you'll be frustrated. At first it will seem that it might be impossible. There is so much to learn, and especially when you put a telescope into the mix. And even when you've learned stuff there is the weather - endless cloudy nights, freezing temperatures in the winter, and mosquitos in the summer.

I am not telling you this to discourage you! I point this out to let you know that all of this is normal. One of the reasons that astronomy is so ultimately satisfying is that you overcome that knowledge barrier and learn to deal with all of those obstacles. And I can't stress this enough: you don't have to learn it all at one time!


Important Note: If you write to ask questions I can only provide so much help. Once again I highly encourage you to join an astronomy club where you can get hands on help.


Getting Started. The basics: What you need, using your eyes, and learning the sky.
Stellarium. A very useful planetarium program for those just starting out to advanced amateurs.
Stargazing. A tour of the night sky about the constellations and to help you learn them. And it will also show you just some of the objects you can find.
Naked-eye asterisms that will help you learn the sky.

Binocular asterisms for the fun of it.
The Celestial Sphere. Learn how the sky moves and how it's mapped.
A guide to buying your first telescope. It is split into 3 sections: Telescopes Page 1, Telescopes Page 2, and Eyepieces.
Using Your Telescope. Suggestions and tips to make the experience more enjoyable. It has 2 sections: Telescope Accessories and
Solar System. The sun, moon, and planets. 5 sections: Overview, Sun and Moon, Planets, Solar Eclipses, Lunar Eclipses.
Deep Space Objects. Objects beyond our solar system.
Double Stars How to observe them, what it takes to split them, and the best examples in the sky.
Star Hopping. A technique for finding objects in the sky.
Day and Time. All about how we measure time and what you need to know about it.