Astronomy opens the door to the universe. It comes with having to learn new terms and technology. The jargon and the equipment are just some areas of what you need to get to know. In this article, I list a range of astronomy books that are useful for backyard astronomers, in particular for beginners. It including pdfs that are free downloads.
I recommend you own one or two of these as resources as it will help you speed up your induction into things relevant to your night sky viewing experience and allow you to get the most enjoyment out of stargazing sooner.
Who is this for? This list of recommended astronomy books is for anyone keen to spot objects in the night sky, to know what they are; to get an understanding of space and the universe; or just to get a better handle on astronomy equipment and how to use such gear for a truly satisfying experience.
Best astronomy books for beginners – Practical guides
As a newbie to backyard astronomy, you’ll want to understand the practical side of things more than the theory, right? The following books can help speed-up your understanding in this department.
By coinciding the things you read in these books with practical observations, you’ll gain more enjoyment in using your binoculars or home telescope. It’ll also help get the most out of reading star maps and sky atlases.
The following books offer information on what you can expect to see from Earth, which galaxy or star clusters you’re likely to spot, the different constellations, whether you can see Pluto, the rings of Saturn, and more.
I recommend you put one or more of these on your astronomy reading list.
NightWatch: a practical guide to viewing the universe
A top-selling stargazing guide globally for the last two decades, this book is updated every few years with relevant star charts and illustrations, making it hugely popular. As well, if you are interested in astrophotography, you’ll find useful information in this book. It also has an equipment section that includes computerized telescopes.
See NightWatch: A Practical Guide at Amazon
Among the great practical information, this book has a chapter on viewing the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere, said to be one of the best locations to view the night sky.
This astronomy book by Terence Dickinson comes with spiral binding, which makes it perfect for using outdoors to refer while observing the sky and so get a better understanding of night sky objects.
The author is a recipient of several national and international science awards.
Also by Terence Dickinson with Alan Dyer as co-author…
Starry Night Companion
A guide to understanding the night sky and learning more about the hobby of astronomy. This book is written by astronomy author, John Mosley.
Starry Night companion available at Amazon
It’s a companion to the Starry Night software (containing complementing exercises).
But, as a stand alone source, this reference book is super useful because it’s written in a no-nonsense way for the backyard astronomer to understand and garnish a whole bunch of knowledge about the right gear, the objects to see, what to expect, and how to get the best out of a starry night.
What I especially like about it is it’s size. It’s light and compact, so fits nicely in a backpack or carry bag to take places and refer to.
Backyard Astronomer’s Guide
Another great book with Dickinson as co-author. From it, you should learn, not only about objects in space but also about telescopes and the astronomical gear to get the best out of viewing the Solar System and beyond.
See Backyard Astronomer’s Guide at Amazon
If you are on a tight budget, maybe choose one or the other of these two books by Dickinson as they do cover similar information. Both have rave reviews, are popular and informative, but of the two, NightWatch is hard-spiral.
Astronomy Hacks: Tips and Tools for Observing the Night Sky
This book by Robert Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson covers observing, maintaining, and upgrading gear. It’s aimed at you getting the best from your experience as an amateur astronomer.
See Astronomy Hacks at Amazon
Think of it as a telescope book for beginners. It offers pearls of advice on the art of telescope and astronomical hardware use.
It has an equipment section and one chapter alone focuses on the Dobsonian telescope, a design considered to be one of the best for beginners.
An example tip in this book…
“If you use DEET, particularly in high concentration, be careful with it around plastic, including plastic eyeglass lenses. DEET dissolves plastic.”
This exemplifies the hints in this book on simple things that are not always obvious to a newbie but which can save you from dissatisfaction in your outdoor experience.
The collection of knowledge in this book should help you accelerate your knowledge of astronomy and the use of your telescope, astronomy binoculars, or other hardware you’re keen on using for stargazing or planet viewing.
Turn Left at Orion
The next one in this list of best books to learn astronomy is also spiral-bound, this time written by Guy Consolmagno.
See Turn Left At Orion at Amazon
This is a guide to the night sky with a spread that covers object-by-object to show you how deep-sky objects and planets look in real terms through a small telescope. Yes, it has illustrations.
If you have a Dobsonian or intend on buying one, this is a relevant reference book for you, as it was designed for use with Dobsonian telescopes.
It is available at Amazon – See reviews.
The Art of Urban Astronomy
A guide for stargazing wherever you are by science writer, Abigail Beall. It has all the facts for a beginner to get going with stargazing. It includes star charts by the season. And, it’s tailored to urbanites, so you can view the night sky in the city like London with greater awareness and see the likes of Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn.
See Urban Astronomy at Amazon
The author takes you step-by-step to find and recognize these planets as well as constellations and other celestial objects. It’s all given in lay persons’ terms.
What I like about this book is that it covers the northern and southern hemisphere fairly equally. The southern hemisphere offers some great viewing of the night sky with some best dark places while a lot of practical astronomy books focus more so on a northern hemisphere experience.
It covers each and every zodiac constellation, including the latest, Ophiuchus.
This female author’s coverage of astronomy for beginners is refreshing.
Best books to learn astronomy – PDF versions
Some basic astronomy books are free to download, others require membership.
Most of them will suit those interested in studying or understanding the concepts or more the theory side of astronomy and some cover the practical matters for beginners.
Free astronomy PDFs
- Chaisson’s 596 page “A Beginners Guide to the Universe”.
- A 593 page self teaching guide: “Astronomy Demystified”. Consider this an astronomy for dummies pdf.
- Universe 9th ed. – 859 pages
These are among some of the best books about astronomy, and you can read them at archive.org, where you’ll find free download, borrow or streaming Astronomy books PDFs here.
Where to read or download some best astronomy books for beginners PDF or astronomy books free download wise:
- Scribd – you need to be a registered user & read free for a set time
- Stuvera.com claims to give access to some
- ebookshelf – requires a sign up
- other random places online
Among the list of astronomy for beginners books pdf, you will find…
Starry Night Companion education PDF
- Mosley, John. 2003. Starry Night Companion. Space Holding Corp. where you’ll find information on topics like measuring angles in the sky.
as well as…
Astronomy Textbook PDF – Introduction to Astronomy
By Jeffrey Wright Scott, this basic astronomy pdf of a student book is available free as a PDF download from library of an independent school.
Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology: An Introduction
This 2nd ed. 2015 edition book by Peter Schneider is suited to introductory university students or those wanting to study astronomy and astrophysics more so than the use of telescopes and similar home equipment.
You can download / read this at:
- Scribd – it does require you to sign up (as a registered user) and there’s a read free for a set time
- ebookshelf – requires a sign up
Encyclopedia Of Space And Astronomy (Science Encyclopedia)
This authoritative reference presents the main concepts, terms, resources, and important identities in astronomy.
Where to download / read this:
- ebookshelf – requires a sign up
Bottom line – My recommended book
I hope this list of best books on astronomy for beginners inspires you to go further with your interest in astronomy. The best way to gain experience and knowledge is through practice. But having said that, from my own experience, when you correlate this practice with what you learn from reading any of these telescope books for beginners, you’ll get much more enjoyment out of each viewing experience. Your confidence will growth much faster.
Recommendation: If you want a telescope book to take out in the field with you, consider one with a spiral binding, such as the NightWatch by Dickinson — to check it out, scroll back to the astronomy for beginners books.