Avoiding Disappointment for Astronomy Beginners

Since I enjoy public outreach Astronomy, I frequently speak to beginners, at public gatherings and online. I find they have often had disappointing first experiences with Astronomy, as I did myself more than fourty years ago.

The following articles are a result of many conversations with beginners, after which I have noted some patterns of common causes of disappointment. I try to provide some guidance and advice to avoid, or recover from, bad first experiences, and to approach the hobby in a way that will be satisfying and lasting. These are my personal opinions, advice I often provide. You’ll find other opinions out there too, often contrary to these. Gather all the information you can, and then make your decisions.

For true beginners, I suggest reading the following mini-articles in this order. However, I’ve tried to make them self-contained, so you can jump straight to sections of particular interest.

An exaggerated “life in the trenches” account of a fictional beginner having a terrible time.
A summary of the problems that were the source of our fictional beginner’s disappointment.
Avoiding disappointment by understanding what a beginner should and should not reasonably expect as they enter Astronomy.
As a beginner, you’ll want to get advice on how to proceed. It’s readily available, but the quality varies widely.
General advice on choosing a beginner telescope. Pointers to good books and articles, and my own, somewhat controversial, feelings and advice.
A very basic introduction to the kinds of motion and activity that take place in the sky, and the effects you’ll see when you observe.
You’ve received your first telescope. How do you set it up the first time, to maximize your chances of an enjoyable “first light”?
Magnification is often misunderstood and often the source of absurd claims by toy telescope manufacturers. Understand what it is and how much you need.
Some astronomical objects are natural choices for beginners. Unfortunately, it’s easy to set your sights on something that will be difficult or disappointing. Some ideas on good objects to observe at first, and how to find them.
Thoughts on accessories that will enhance your experience, and on others that you may find disappointing as a beginner.
An introduction to the types of Astrophotography and the equipment and skills involved. Leaping into Astrophotography too soon is a major cause of beginner frustration – it’s much harder than you think.


  1. Great job Richard. Have had a hankering to get into astronomy for years and your site has given me a good basis for proceeding. You are a natural teacher- you anticipate where your student may have problems and address those issues before they arise- a rare talent. Keep up the good work and thanks again. Frank.

  2. I found your site on Google and have spent all day reading and rushing back and forth to the garage to check things on the telescope and the mount. I’ve learnt a lot but am still a bit puzzled about setting the GEM. I’ve checked and I’m on lat 46 deg 20″ in Europe and I think (?) I’ve set that on the mount – but now what? Unfortunately, having bought the whole setup second hand there’s no manual and the only name showing is Eden Astro. I’ve learnt a lot today and the forecast is for clear skies tonight – meteors and some attemps at star gazing.

  3. This is by far the best introduction to astronomy and telescopes I have seen on the Internet. Thanks for doing this! I have recommended it to my friends and hope you can find the time to finish the links that are under construction.

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