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Get into astronomy

What can you do to find out more about astronomy during IYA2009? There are five easy steps:

1. Attend some International Year of Astronomy events in your area
With hundreds of events happening around the country, there's bound to be something near you that you can get involved in. Visit our interactive map and calendar of events to find out what's on when and where.

2. Visit a planetarium
With an expert astronomer as your guide, planetariums are an excellent place to develop your interest in astronomy, in a warm and comfortable environment. There are many planetariums in the UK, and you can find the nearest one to you on the website of the British Association of Planetariums

3. Join your local astronomical society
An astronomical society if a great place to meet people who share your interest in astronomy. All societies will welcome new members, and you can learn a lot about the night sky by attending regular meetings. They will also be able to advise you whether you should buy a telescope, and if so which to buy. Your local astronomical society will almost certainly have plans for open days or activities during IYA2009, and that might be a good opportunity to find out more about them. For a list of UK astronomical societies visit the website of the Federation of Astronomical Societies
You can also join the UK's Society for Popular Astronomy, or the British Astronomical Association

4. Do astronomy online!
There are many great astronomy websites online. Visit our Links page to see our list of recommended sites.

5. Subscribe to one of the UK's excellent astronomy magazines
Both Astronomy Now and BBC's Sky At Night Magazine offer a good place to start your astronomical explorations from the comfort of your own home. For young adults, why not check out the Starlight newsletter.

6. Buy binoculars or a telescope
The first question that astronomer usually get asked by people wanting to take up astronomy as a hobby is "what kind of telescope should I buy?". The following advice comes from the Society for Popular Astronomy:

  • First, have you considered binoculars? They are better value than telescopes, are cheaper, and have other uses. And they're ideal for many forms of stargazing. Don't get cheap high-power or zoom types. 7 x 50s or 10 x 50s are ideal.
  • Beware of non-achromatic telescopes! These are really toys, without colour-corrected lenses, but they may look good and make great claims. Check that there is not a plate with a hole in, behind the lens, to cut down the diameter.
  • The view through your telescope should be sharp and clear, with little trace of false colour round the edges of objects. But don't view through a window - go outside. If you are not happy with the quality, get your money back.
  • Don't rely on a daytime view - or on the sales pitch - for a guide to quality. The only way to be sure is to view at night and know what you are looking for.
  • Beware of zoom telescopes! The extra lenses that vary the magnification also introduce distortions. And don't be impressed by high powers - a maximum magnification of twice the aperture in mm is all you can use.

For more advice on buying a telescope, visit these websites:

suntrekSuntrek.org, an excellent resource for info on our local star, has just published their guide on "Observing the Sun Safely". Make sure you read it before you observe!