Essential Visual Skills
The naked eye is the best bit of hardware you will ever own so always start with that
Get to know the night sky. Find and learn to recognise the shapes (asterisms) and constellations (saucepan = Plough, cross = Cygnus, bow-tie = Orion, w = Cassiopeia, backward question mark = Leo )
Sometimes the journey can be just as rewarding as the destination
Once you can recognise the shapes in the sky, learn how to use them as pointers or sign-posts to the brightest stars – Polaris (North Star), Rigel, Arcturus, Sirius, Aldebaran, Spica, Capella, Vega, Altair, Procyon, Castor and Pollux.
The best decision you can make might be to not buy a telescope (yet)
Download Stellarium* on your PC and install the app on your phone.
As well as white ones, learn to recognise orange, red, and blue stars.
Learn how to tell planets from stars and be able to identify Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Find out why planets don’t twinkle.
Then find the Orion Nebula and the Pleiades Cluster and if it is really dark the Andromeda Galaxy.
Find out how far away these objects are, how big and how hot they are.
Apart from meteors, this is a slow hobby. Don’t expect quick results but patience will reward you.
Find out more
Recommended sky map: Sky Maps – The Night Sky
* Cartes du Ciel also gets good reviews