I started this hobby about a year and a half ago so I am by no means an expert but since I began I’ve had a few people ask me what they should think about before getting involved.
So I think I’ll just create a couple of simple lists and update them as time goes on.
Determine how serious you want to be with this hobby first and foremost.
This is one of those hobbies where going cheap and buying the lowest cost telescope you can find on Amazon likely leads to a bad experience and turns you off to astronomy. Glass is the main component in all of it and making that glass correctly is expensive. Time is also a required large investment.
Decide what you want to view or image through a telescope.
Early on I think you have two choices; deep sky objects (nebula, galaxies, etc.) or our solar system (planets, sun, moon). The processes to do one or the other can be quite different at times. I have a telescope for deep sky objects (Celestron RASA 8) and I just bought a new telescope for imaging planets (Orion 180mm Maksutov-Cassegrain). One of the big differences being the focal length for each; 400mm for the RASA and 2700mm for the Orion. You need a long focal length and high magnification for the planets.
Be prepared, the learning curve is steep.
It’s easy to get frustrated when things don’t go right. Understand this is a complicated hobby from start to finish and it will take time to learn and get things right. There is also the weather to contend with, cloudy skies mean no telescope time. There are a multitude of sites online for research and guidance. Use them!
Research. Research. Research.
I can’t emphasize this one too much. Especially early on when you are new to this hobby. Nothing sucks more than buying the wrong piece of equipment especially since most things you need to purchase aren’t exactly cheap. A year and a half into this and I’ve mostly settled on a few different brands for various equipment I need.
Make yourself a checklist or five.
As I mentioned, this is a complicated hobby with multiple steps for just about everything you do. I made a checklist for simply setting up the telescope because I would forget a step and then wonder why my images didn’t look right. Beginning a session when a step has been missed usually means a complete do over. You can have checklist for everything from telescope setup to image train setup to image post-processing.
Mark the position of your tripod mount.
If you’re like me and bring your telescope inside after each session, then marking the position of your tripod will greatly decrease your setup time the following night.
Make yourself an activity log book.
There were numerous times early on when I wanted to look back and see what I did previously only to realize I couldn’t remember. Not documenting the object, date, time, camera, filter, weather conditions, etc. makes it impossible to determine what worked and what didn’t and why.
Save and organize everything you do.
Notes, files, images, everything. I’ve read many examples of people using images they’ve taken years earlier and combining those with more recent ones. You also want to be organized. I haven’t been doing this anywhere near as long as some folks and I already have so many images that it’s easy to get lost and confused with what you have.
Think ahead before you purchase.
Before I purchase anything, I consider whether it can be used on telescopes I may purchase in the future. For example, I use 2 inch filters and I made sure the Orion telescope I just bought could use those same size filters. I also plan to eventually purchase a Sky-Watcher refractor telescope and I want to make sure I can use these filters with that future purchase.
Purchase from dedicated astronomy outlets.
For the most part, these places don’t sell crap like you can end up with on Amazon or similar places. I’ve also noticed significant price gouging on sites like Amazon for products in short supply which at the time of this writing is a majority of astronomy equipment because of supply chain issues due to COVID-19. The dedicated sites are also full of friendly people who can help you out and shopping from them also helps keep them in business during these tough times.
Purchase a polar alignment scope.
Correct polar alignment is crucial and while there are several ways to do it that aren’t overly complicated, a polar alignment scope connected to a computer will align things much better than you can do visually. The QHY PoleMaster seems to be a favorite and the one I use.
I’m sure to come up with more points to add. Stay tuned!