The universe is fucking awesome. You should peer into it. You can see some amazing shit from your own yard throughout the year.
Equipment ramps up in price as you get more serious. You can start with nothing.
You can learn alot about the night sky with little more than a tilt of your head.
The first step is to grab yourself a starmap/software that will show you the constellations. From here you can learn the significant stars in the sky and learn the constellations, which besides being impressive to the LAYDEEZ, will also set you up for using equipment.
At the very least, consider learning constellations like learning the map of Grand Theft Auto. Learn this, and you will be able to know which points of light are random stars and which points whiteof light are significant stars, and which points of light are planets.
Binoculars come in many different shapes and sizes and are meant for many different purposes. Binoculars cover everything from Opera Glasses to birdwatching to astronomy.
At best with binoculars you'll be able to see some details on the moon (but nothing amazing), no craters. Perhaps some different shades of colour. You'll also see a heck of a lot more stars in the night sky. Planets will just look like larger blobs of blurry white light,
If you're very cautious about buying a telescope, consider buying binoculars. 7x50s or 10x50s will do you just fine. Note that the larger the binoculars are the harder they are to keep steady in your hands while observing. If you doubt this, hold a 4lb weight above your head and keep it perfectly still (you won't be able to).
If you're serious about watching the night sky, you'll want a telescope.
When looking to buy a telescope the first trick you'll run into is ZOMG MAGNIFICATION. Every "toy" telescope in the toystore will boast bazillion times magnification, and when you know nothing about telescopes, this will seem great. It ain't.
What you want in a telescope is girth. The fatter/wider the scope is, the more light will enter it, and the more you can see. Telescopes are essentially "light buckets" from which you can see feint objects. Once you can see the feint object, THEN you can magnify it.
Refractor telescopes are what a layperson thinks of then they think of a telescope. Yar Harr Matey golden tubes with lenses at either end. The higher the big end is, the lower you have to get down to look in the lower end. While the technology has progressed since the pirate days, refractor telescopes are still expernsive as shit and probably not a good choice.
Newtonian Reflectors use two mirrors to show your the sky. Instead of being a big-end to small-end scope, they are just a big fat tube. The light comes in at the top, reflects off of a parabolic mirror at the bottom, and focuses on a secondary mirror at the top, which sends the light into the eyepiece, which means you don't have to squat down. They're also much cheaper to make.
A standard reflector comes on an AltAz mount (a tripod with a counterweight and controls for switching the Alt and Az).
Reflector mounts can also come with motorized/computerized components, letting you punch in some numbers to view an object, and take timelapse photographs with a camera mounted.
Same technology as the Reflector, but with a different mount. The Dobsonian mount swivels and pitches with ease, and is much easier to swing around to a target, as well as setup and teardown time.
Terrible for time lapse astrophotography and motorized targeting systems don't really exist.
Choosing a telescope
The first thing to do is figure out what you want to do with your scope. Astrophotography can rule in or out a heap of choices. Figure out whether you want to punch in some numbers and have the scope aim itself or whether you want to aim manually. This will narrow down the type of scope you want to one of the above scope types.
Next comes your budget. Whatever you have to spend on a scope, knock off 10-15% for accessories (barlows, filters, collimators).
With this final budget, pick the scope with the largest width. 5" is ok for the moon and basic planet watching. 8" is ok for nebulae/star clusters. Wider is better. Scopes are lightbuckets, after all. Go for the widest you can afford (and you'll note that the price goes up according to width).
A Barlow Lens, usually a 2x or 3x lens, will double or triple the focal length of your scope, essentially doubling/tripling the strength of your eyepiece. The barlow fits into the scope like a regular eyepiece, and an eyepiece will fit into the top of the barlow.
There are plenty of filters to filter light from different objects. The most common types of filters are Moon filters and Solar filters. The Moon filter, commonly used on larger scopes to both increase the contrast and dampen the brightness of the moon (large scopes being larger light buckets and shining more moonlight into your eye). Solar filters enable you to observe the sun during the day without making you go blind. Through different solar filters, the sun can appear to be different colors, however the suns natural color is actually white.
Location usually doesn't make too big of a difference, but the main points are that you need
- Somewhere without a bunch of trees or other obstructions blocking all the cool shit
- Somewhere that is dark (e.g. not near a city)
If you live in a rural area with lots of trees, you will most likely want to find a body of water nearby because you can get a fairly good view of the sky in at least one direction.
- Before looking at the sky, sit somewhere dark to let your eyes adjust so that you will be able to see more in the sky.
- If you need a flash light, find one with a red tint as this will help prevent your eyes from adjusting to the light making it hard to see anything.