Using the Web's newsgroups and the special-interest forums ottered by commercial on-line services, amateur astronomers troin every naMon now talk to each other every day, New-comers can post questions about what to buy or how to get started in the hobby. FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) files provide useful advice on equipment and astrophotography. The world has become one big virtual astronomy club.
But nothing can replace meeting fellow skywatchers face to face. Most large towns have astronomy clubs that host regular talks, courses, and star parties. A club can be an excellent source of advice and learning, and many clubs offer observing nights or courses for beginners.
A favorite event is the local star party. Most clubs will host monthly observing sessions at their club site or observatory in the country. At these gatherings, a newcomer can look through a variety of instruments and talk to the owners about what they like and dislike about their telescopes. To contact your local club, call a nearby planetarium, nature or science center, college, or university. Chances are the club is affiliated with one of those. You could also check the Internet for lists of clubs in your area.
Once a year, most regions also host an enormous star party, usually at a park or campground with dark skies. These events attract hundreds of amateur astronomers, and for many, the annual star party becomes their main chance to escape light-polluted skies. Swap-tables become popular places to pick up bargains, and vendors often set up sales booths. Check astronomy magazines or their web sites for dates of major star parties coming up in your area.