resources for the newcomer TO ASTRONOMY

There are lots of enjoyable ways to dive into astronomy! Here are a few suggestions.


Books & Magazines


Looking for a gift for a budding astronomer? Here are two good books to start learning with, one very clear and enjoyable textbook, and an essential magazine that beginners can also enjoy.

The Stars by H. A. Rey
This book first came out in 1952, but it is still in print in an updated edition, and easy to obtain from bookstores.

365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year by Chet Raymo

Voyages Through the Universe by Andrew Fraknoi, David Morrison, and Sidney C. Wolff (any edition)

The magazine Sky and Telescope (see link under websites)

If you’re a Southern California native you might enjoy this astrophotography book:
Sierra Starlight by Tony Rowell

“To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.”

— Stephen Hawking


Telescopes & Astronomy Clubs


I am sometimes asked by parents or grandparents about which telescope to buy for their children or grandchildren. I have known kids to get telescopes and be disappointed or frustrated because it is not very easy to use them. So, my answer is three-fold: first, for true beginners or younger children, consider a good pair of binoculars before a telescope. Second, for advice on beginner telescopes, visit OC Telescope in Santa Ana and speak to the owner (see link below).

Third, and just as importantly, join an astronomy club and talk to small telescope owners. The Orange County Astronomers club has special classes for beginners on how to use their telescopes.

Astronomy clubs host lectures and star-gazing parties. My local one is the Orange County Astronomers,


Shops, Observatories, & Planetaria


OC Telescope in Santa Ana has telescopes and binoculars of course, and a selection of books and charts.

The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles has telescopes, exhibits, and live shows.

Mount Wilson Observatory in Southern California has tours and lectures.


Websites, Courses, & More


Some very useful sites: Sky and Telescope and StarDate. A most enjoyable site—Astronomy Picture of the Day.

As a Cornell grad, I have to include this website that answers many common questions in astronomy and physics! Questions are categorized by level of difficulty.

This site tells you how to pronounce the names of the constellations both in print and in audio file. This site has details like the exact boundaries of the constellations. View details on the most familiar constellations seen by northern-hemisphere observers here.

For staying up to date, I find it helpful to monitor the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California.

If you’re a teacher, you must visit the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and see their resources and programs page.

Search the PBS website for NOVA and other programs on astronomy or space.

Listen to StarDate Radio for space news, science, history, and more.

You can get a postgraduate degree in astronomy online from Swinburne Astronomy Online based in Melbourne, Australia. (Full disclosure: I used to do some instructional work for them.)

The Planetary Society in Pasadena has an archived class.

The Open University in the UK has astronomy courses.

I know people like to point their phones at the sky to identify stars, planets, constellations, and even the space station (e.g., Sky Guide) but I don’t use much commercially available astronomy or planetarium software or apps, nor would I have the time to stay abreast of changes, so I can’t personally recommend any at this time. But I know that NASA has a free app, as does the European Space Agency. There are free apps devoted to the Hubble Space Telescope’s discoveries and images. You might find up-to-date recommendations here.