For northern hemisphere folk, the dark nights of winter are almost upon us.
If, like many thousands of people around the world, you find the sight of a dark, star-filled sky inspiring - or perhaps you've read some of the many fascinating articles here on Discovery News and want to see the objects with your own eyes - then there is no better time than the nights of winter to get started as an astronomer.
Many years ago I was just starting out, and in the following years I have learned there are a few essential things you can do right now to start enjoying the night sky in all its glory.
Here are my six steps to start stargazing - surprisingly, the first isn't to rush out and buy a telescope!
Step 1: Buy a Red Torch
It takes between 40 minutes and an hour for your eyes to become fully adapted to seeing in the dark, but even astronomers need a little light to read a chart or tend to equipment. Unfortunately, any exposure to bright lights will instantly ruin your eye's acclimatization to the dark.
The solution to this problem is to use a red light that won't affect your ability to see in the dark. It's best to resist using a rear bicycle light as bright red lights can be just as bad as any other color. A better idea is to buy a purpose-built red torch, just for astronomers.