As the Treasurer for one of the largest Astronomy clubs in the USA, I can tell you that NOTHING has helped me along with the Astronomy hobby more than the CLUB! and it's members.
Most large Astronomy clubs have:
Monthly meetings where all things about the club and the hobby are discussed.
Free star parties where members set-up their telescopes and show the sky to the general public. They share all manner of information about the hobby to the people who attend the star party.
Some club's have a "dark sky" location, usually a large field, where members can take their telescopes away from city light pollution and really SEE the sky! Our club has a bunkhouse, meeting room, and domed observatory with a 16 inch computer controlled telescope at it's dark sky site. Additionally we have several nice loaner scopes at the site that the members can use for free.
Many clubs, ours included, have close ties with a local college or university. Our club is sponsored by the Physics Department of a nationally known university. We use a campus lecture hall with full multi-media facilities to hold our monthly meetings.
The club offers member discounts on the two major Astronomy magazines - Astronomy, and Sky and Telescope.
Most club's have Special Interest Groups called SIG, that specialize in certain aspects of the hobby; like Public Observing, Astro-Photography APSIG, and Amateur Telescope Making ATMSIG. You can get specialized assistance with whatever interests you, or join others and show the sky to the general public at a local star party!
What does this all COST? Not very much really! Our club dues are $40 per year. A very small price to pay for access to the dark site observatory, and speakers at our monthly meetings; along with all the other club activities.
So my advice to you would be to JOIN a local Astronomy club and get involved with it's activities. The Astronomical League has a list of clubs BY STATE, at this web site:http://www.astroleague.org/societies/list
Join now BEFORE you purchase your first telescope. The members will help you purchase the right one to fit your Astronomy interest.
Visit our club's web site here:www.texasastro.orgRSS Link to all of TelescopeMan's Audio & Video Podcasts