Hi, Jim, I'm interested in buying a telescope, learning where to go to use it to see the stars and planets. Is the San Jose Astronomical Association a suitable organization for me? Tell me about it. I don't know much about astronomy other than I'm interested in learning about it.Hi,
Yes, SJAA is probably right for you. The various meetings are open to the public; you are welcome and encouraged to come to them. Membership is not required, and nobody will be calling for donations. Even so, after a few meetings, most people will to join so as to support the organization.
We have a monthly indoor meeting with an invited speaker on some aspect of astronomy. Some are professional researchers, others are experienced amateur astronomers, photographers, historians, telescope makers, etc.
We conduct public star parties about twice a month in San Jose, so you have a chance to see various types of telescopes. These are informal events, so there is plenty of time to talk to the owners, ask lots of questions, compare types of telescopes, etc.
Here is the SJAA Calendar. Come to the meetings!.
Note: I should point out that when we say "star party", it has nothing to do with alcoholic beverages or recreational drugs. The strongest "drug" in use is in the form of coffee or cola drinks. On this subject, amateur astronomers rarely smoke, as it constricts capillaries, and thus reduces ability to see faint objects.
We have a number of loaner scopes that you may borrow for three months. For this, you must be a member ($20/year), but there is no other fee as long as it's returned in good order.
Buying a telescopeOf course, you want to have a telescope. But make haste slowly! Which one? It depends on your interests, your budget, the strength of your back, and the size of your vehicle.
Buying a telescope is not so simple; it's not like buying a tool, but more like buying a musical instrument. What sort of music do you want to play? Similarly, what sort of astronomical objects do you wish to see and study? If you will use it often, you want one that can be set up quickly. You see why astronomy clubs are so necessary. At a club star party you'll have a chance to see various types and sizes of scope, look through them, ask lots of questions, see various objects -- planets, Moon, star clusters, nebulae, galaxies -- the sky's the limit!
Getting out of the cityThe star parties that I've mentioned above are all here in the city. That's convenient, but the city lights greatly restrict what can be seen -- planets and bright star clusters can be seen, but most galaxies and nebulae are lost. You need to get out of the city.
For getting out to dark-sky sites, the best resource is TAC (The Astronomy Connection), a "non-organization" that does only dark-sky star parties. They exist only on the web, and have no city meetings. You may read the mailing list, on their website, or subscribe and get the messages by e-mail. The list can be very busy, so read it on their website before deciding whether to subscribe.
TAC is not part of SJAA, but many SJAA members subscribe to their mailing list, and some are also registered as members of TAC.
If all that advice is not enough, I have yet another advice page!
Clear Skies, and, keep looking up!
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2015 Feb. 3, 0049
Link to new SJAA calendar