These are resources I have gathered along my journey that can help get you started. I hope your interest in astronomy turns into or continues to be a lifelong, rewarding hobby.
Happy stargazing! Wishing you dark skies!
A basic star chart, such as The Night Sky (be sure to get one for your location and latitude), a sky atlas such as Sky Atlas 2000, and a red flashlight (red light helps to preserve night vision, but still, don't use a bright one) are all helpful. There is also a red-light filter on your iPhone, and for Android, try Midnight. You might also consider a pair of astronomy binoculars (7X50, 8X50 or 10X50 is recommended...do consider the weight, as heavier binoculars are harder to keep steady after using them a while). Binoculars are great to start with, and you do not need an expensive pair. An expensive pair is much less likely to get out of alignment if dropped, but a cheap pair of binoculars can give excellent views--just don't drop them! Since a cheap pair can easily get out of alignment, do follow the instructions to focus the lenses and make sure they are properly aligned when you receive them. If you keep seeing double, you'll need to return them or figure out how to align them. A beginner's stargazing book for either binoculars, telescopes or just using the unaided eye is also very helpful in telling you where to find objects. I prefer the books that are spiral bound, such as "Turn Left at Orion," which I use to find the best objects in the sky with, and then I store them as favorites in the SkyGuide app so I can easily find them later (use your app's Night Vision setting so your night vision isn't messed up by the bright light of your phone). Be sure to check out the many great astronomy apps, and there are many great online resources. Don't forget to bring bug spray, a chair (or an adjustable astronomy chair)! And of course, make sure you stay warm, safe and have fun!
When it comes to telescopes, I mainly just know what I learned from my own telescope research, so please do your own research and get opinions from others, but hopefully I can help you get started. To really be rewarded by your telescope, I recommend starting with an aperture (the size of the lens) of at least 80mm (3") for a refractor, or 102mm (4") for a reflector (but 6" for deep-sky objects). However, I know there are also many out there who have received immense enjoyment from smaller telescopes as well. After all, Galileo had a small telescope with only a 2" aperture! For a better idea of what you can expect to see from different scopes and apertures, see this article.
I would note that reflectors sometimes need to be collimated, especially if they get moved or tossed around. However, once you get used to collimating your scope, it's said this can usually be maintained in less than a couple of minutes. For the largest light gathering ability at the best price, I would recommend a Dobsonian telescope. Start with at least a 4," but try for at least an 8" or 10" if you can afford it and are able to move it around. If you're wanting to view deep-sky objects (my favorite!), consider at least a 6." Dobsonians can be put together and transported in two large pieces. For an 8," you'll typically have a mount that weighs about 20 lbs, and a tube that also weighs about 20 lbs. The Astronomers Without Borders One Sky Telescope at only 15 lbs and retractable is also worth considering if you're okay with a 5" aperture.
For traveling, a refractor can take more abuse. There are also Catadioptric (such as a Cassegrain) telescopes to consider, which are considered hybrids of refractors and reflectors, and they can also be great for travel and offer features from both types. For my own travels, I chose a small, 4," light-weight, alt-az mount (see below), quick to set up refractor that has a fast focal ratio of f/5.9 (a shorter tube which offers a wider field of view and is great for viewing deep sky objects). It's been amazing and a joy to use. Even when I keep it set up at home, it's just so easy to pick up and carry outside.
You'll also want to consider the mount. An equatorial (EQ) mount is much easier for tracking objects in the sky, but they are also heavier and bigger. An Alt-Az mount is lighter weight and smaller, but not as easy to keep objects centered. A Dobsonian (a reflector on an Alt-Az mount) is a popular choice among many new stargazers.
Many people like having a GOTO scope (computerized), but I recommend and absolutely love the joy and fun of star hopping and finding an object on my own, but it's a personal preference.
I would recommend one of the well known and respected telescope brands such as Celestron, Meade or Orion.
The best telescope is the one you'll use. Where do you plan to store it? Will you keep it set up all the time? Will you have to carry it or travel with it? Do you want it to have a travel case? Do you want to be able to set it up easily and quickly? All of these questions greatly factor into the decision you'll make. It's incredibly important to spend the time researching and carefully deciding which telescope will be the one you will get the most use and enjoyment from so you'll be able to continue to develop and enjoy your interest in astronomy. If it's too heavy or time consuming to set up, you probably won't use it much. I have heard some serious astronomers say their smaller, lighter weight scopes are what they end up using the most.
I Bought a Telescope, but I Can't Find Anything!
Learning how to find objects in your telescope can be challenging at first, but you'll soon get the hang of it, and it's well worth the effort! To start, make sure you're looking for objects bright enough to see in the light pollution conditions that surround you. Start with the moon, a bright planet or star. Many astronomy apps will tell you the brightest objects in the sky for your time and location. Before you start, it's essential that your finderscope is properly aligned. Most likely, it will arrive misaligned, and you'll have a hard time seeing anything in your eyepiece if so. I recommend this video for learning how to align your finderscope, but if your finderscope has a red dot finder, I recommend this one. Be sure to start with the lowest power magnification eyepiece (normally, the higher the number, the lower the magnification) when locating any object so you'll have the widest field of view, and if you're viewing deep sky objects, you'll usually find lower power is best. If using the star hoping technique, you'll quickly get the hang of it and will find it a ton of fun! Be sure to check YouTube, forums or online articles for any tips on using the telescope you bought. Finding an object in your telescope never gets old. Have a great time!
MISC. ASTRONOMY RESOURCES
DARK-SKY PLACES & LIGHT POLLUTION:
If you're hoping to find a place to observe away from light pollution, Dark Site Finder, Light Pollution Map, and The New World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness are all great light pollution maps. There is also a Dark Sky Finder app, and be sure to see if there is an International Dark Sky Place near you. You can also check bortle scales. For example, if you're in Texas, checking the bortle scale of Texas parks will show you their light pollution levels.
If you're not a camper, I recommend searching the dark sky areas of google map for hotels, inns, B&Bs, or any website with a search by map feature, such as bedandbreakfast.com, and you might be surprised to find a hidden jewel under dark skies!
Always be aware of your surroundings, be safe and have fun!
Stargazing in the city?
This helpful post can give you some pointers for using light pollution eyepiece filters (however, it's important to note that if you want to view the sun, *never* use a solar filter at the eyepiece--see this article). My favorite objects to view in the city are Jupiter, Saturn and the beautiful Double Cluster, which, to my sister and I, looks like crushed up diamonds even under light polluted skies. If you have a moon atlas, the moon is another fun object to view in the city--there are so many craters to find!
These are a great way for amateur astronomers to learn about the night sky. You simply point your phone up to the sky, and the apps tell you what you can see! Be sure to also check out the dark sky apps under the dark-sky resources page!
Sky Guide, for iOS, is by far my favorite astronomy app. It's beautifully done, has a night mode, wonderful information and will alert you when and where the International Space Station can be seen flying over as well as satellite flares. Looking for satellites and flares is a lot of fun, and this app makes it so easy. It will tell you the brightest objects in the sky and lets you add favorites as well. Highly recommended!
Star Tracker, for iOS and Android, is a great app for beginner astronomers. The graphics make it really easy to see where all the planets and constellations are, and it even points out where you can find some of the brightest deep sky objects. It's really handy to have. Thanks Dad!
SkySafari is probably the most comprehensive astronomy app out there and has many amazing features if you get the Plus or Pro version. I highly recommend this one! Join their mailing list to be notified of special promos (such as 50% off). Thank you Richard!
GREAT FOR BEGINNERS:
Getting Started in Astronomy is a great introductory video.
Scott's Sky Watch is a favorite astronomy blog of mine that will guide you through the year explaining what you can see with just your eyes alone. Scott's blog is very unique in that he speaks from the heart and often adds personal stories and uplifting reflections that will help inspire you and your family's interest in astronomy and the world around you.
Eyes on the Sky has lots of fun videos for beginner astronomers.
Kid's Astronomy is a fun resource for both kids and grown ups! Here you can learn basic facts and even play astronomy games!
ASTRONOMY COURSES ONLINE:
Introduction to Astronomy is a fun video series.
Teach Astronomy is like an online astronomy course with helpful information for teachers or those wanting to learn more about astronomy.
SITES for finding SATELLITES:
Spot the Station is a fun site all about the International Space Station and how you can watch it pass over.
Heavens Above has very detailed information about satellites, satellite flares, ISS flyovers and also has lots of star charts and astronomy information. They also have an app for Android. Thank you Jeff!
MORE GREAT INFORMATIONAL SITES:
Space.com is a great resource for all the latest astronomy and space news.
NASA of course has a great website with lots of information. It's especially great for viewing beautiful videos and images of space.
The Astronomical League--is a great resource. It is based in the U.S., but you do not have to live in the U.S. to join. You can use its website to find astronomy clubs in your area (USA only), attend events, earn awards for honing your skills in observing the night sky, earn the dark sky advocate award, and much more! Thanks Richard!
Astronomers Without Borders is another great community of astronomers around the world offering many programs, resources, and community.
Zooninverse is a lot of fun if you'd like to help with volunteer space research for scientists!