Welcome to amateur astronomy! If you are new to this field, and especially if you have never owned a telescope before, this chapter is for you. Otherwise, feel free to skip ahead. I've tried to write a book that I'll actually use while observing. Parts of it are quite specialized; take what suits you and save the rest for later.
Amateur astronomy, like other hobbies, is something you can go for a little or a lot. Computerized telescopes make casual stargazing easier than ever before, since you don't have to gather up star maps and look up planet positions before going out under the sky. At the other end of the spectrum, the advanced amateur with a busy, semi-professional observing program will find that a computerized telescope is a real time-saver. Both approaches to amateur astronomy are respectable, and so is everything in between.
The key to enjoyment is to have realistic expectations and continue building your knowledge and skill. Looking through a telescope is a very different experience from looking at photographs in books, and it may take some getting used to. If you don't already have a telescope, get some experience looking through other people's telescopes before buying one of your own. Contact a local astronomy club if possible.
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