Before you unpack the new telescope you received as a gift for Christmas or Hanukkah - and fumble through the instructions - why not let a pro help guide you to the night sky?

The York County Astronomical Society will host a free new telescope clinic from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at its observatory at John C. Rudy County Park in East Manchester Township.

Members will help people assemble their instruments, align the finder scope and go over the manual.

Henry Hoffman, co-chairperson of the clinic and vice president of the YCAS, said telescopes often come with poor instructions.

Even if newbies manage to correctly assemble their telescope, they might find it difficult to move from one object in the sky to another.

"It becomes a matter of such frustration that people just give up," Hoffman said.

So the YCAS wants to help you save storage space in your basement, while fostering your interest in astronomy.

It could take up to a half-hour per person, so don't arrive later than 7:30 p.m. Hoffman said attendance has ranged from one person to 15 people.

The YCAS held another clinic in November that focused on how to buy your first astronomical telescope.

Hoffman said the market is full of cheap telescopes that are a waste of money.

At past clinics, he said, people have showed up with telescopes of such poor quality that the YCAS couldn't do much to help them.

When buying a telescope, he said, choose one made by a reputable brand. Prices can range from $260 to $3,000.

Aside from having a good telescope and the proper setup, you also need to do your homework if you want to learn more about astronomy.

Hoffman recommended getting a sky chart and becoming familiar with the constellations.

Guide books, simple maps and computer software can help direct you to various features, such as distant galaxies, star clusters and nebulas.

"Getting into astronomy just doesn't mean looking through a telescope," he said.

Hoffman said it's important to know what the objects in the sky are and how they work from a scientific standpoint.

"Astronomy is about science," he said.


If you go

WHAT: New Telescope Clinic

WHEN: 6 to 8 p.m.

Saturday

WHERE: York County Astronomical Society Observatory at John C. Rudy County Park, 400 Mundis Race Road in East Manchester Township

COST: Free

DETAILS: Call 717-578-9109 or visit www.ycas.org. The YCAS will cancel the clinic if it's snowing.