Beginner Checklist

The sky will be there forever. You will find it can be lots of fun getting to know all the objects in the sky, and how to use instruments.

Things to know in the sky, for anybody with OK vision. Each of these items has the potential for hours of discussion, and repeated visits are a good idea

The Moon, phases and motion


Celestial Motion

Named navigational stars

RA and Dec, alt-az coordinates

Sidereal time

Milky Way, zodiacal light

Meteors, fireballs

Predicting appearances of Ir flares and other human-launched objects

Mercury and Venus

Mars surface features and retrograde motion

Jupiter and Saturn

Uranus and Neptune

Oppositions and conjunctions

Minor and dwarf planets


Dark and reflection nebulae

Emission nebulae

Supernova remnants and planetary nebulae

Open or galactic star clusters

Globular clusters


Algol and variable stars

Albireo and pretty double stars

The Sun

Useful tools for optical observing, and things to know about telescope systems.

Your eyes


Paper and electronic charts

Light paths: refractor, reflector, Cassegrainian, Maksutov

Mounting systems: equatorial with a wedge, alt-az, computer controlled

Tripods, rocker boxes




Field of view



Finder scopes and devices

Star hopping

Digital setting circles do push-to

Goto still requires knowledge

I-products as controllers

Optimizing your scope—visit the ASEM ATM SIG meetings

Connecting cameras to scopes—visit an ASEM Imaging SIG meeting

Viewing with others—visit an ASEM Observer’s meeting

Stuff to investigate on a cloudy night, roaming the Internet.

Was Kepler’s Mom a witch?

Is faster than light possible?

How do we know how far away something is?

What is spectroscopy?

How do we know a star’s temperature?

Is a fun place?

What’s a pulsar?

What’s a black hole?

Can you build your own radio telescope?

Who is Halton Arp and why is he such a trouble maker?

Antimatter is not the same as dark matter

Which is a bigger concern for us on Earth: when the Sun expands as a red giant, or when the Milky Way gets gravitationally messed-up by the Andromeda Galaxy?

And much, much more…