Stephen Shellman holds a PhD in political science. He joined the College of William & Mary as a research scientist in 2008. In tandem with his work at the college, Steve Shellman is CEO at Strategic Analysis Enterprises, Inc. Outside of his professional duties, Steve Shellman enjoys hobbies such as music and astronomy.
From the outside looking in, astronomy may seem like an expensive hobby. The truth is that anyone can get started, no telescope required. In fact, many experts recommend beginners buy a decent set of binoculars before they invest in a telescope. Binoculars show a wide area of view, which makes it easier for beginners to locate popular constellations such as the Big Dipper. In contrast, even the most high-end telescope magnifies only a sliver of the sky.
After selecting binoculars, search for a few guidebooks and maps that note the location of skyward attractions. The best guides go beyond X-and-Y coordinates. Look for guides that divulge facts, figures, and extended histories of constellations. Also, keeping a journal of observations, questions, and comments keeps budding astronomers on track and offers a steady supply of talking points when they get the chance to consult experts.
When the time comes to invest in a telescope, prioritize quality over cost. Telescopes found in department stores are affordable but usually fall short of the power needed to observe detailed constellations. Aim for portability, magnification, and, for stargazers who appreciate having information at their fingertips, special features such as built-in charts and guides.