What resources would you consider to be essential for an amateur astronomer?
I have found two books particularly useful:
"NightWatch" by Terence Dickinson (Firefly) The best starting place for a beginner.
"The Backyard Astronomer's Guide" by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer (Firefly) More advanced and complete, with very little overlap with NightWatch. You need both!
An older book which is still very helpful: "A Complete Manual of Amateur Astronomy" by P. Clay Sherrod (Prentice-Hall)
Find your local astronomy club and become a member. Nearly everything I know about astronomy I learned from the clubs I've belonged to. Find your local club here: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/community/organizations
Several online communities:
CloudyNights - Reviews, articles, and a huge and active forum of amateur backyard astronomers. Amateur telescope making, classic telescope restoration, astrophotography, new equipment discussion, etc.
Astromart - The quintessential buying/selling site for telescopes and equipment (requires a small signup fee). Also contains forums/articles/reviews.
I am a sub-amateur astronomer but here are my essentials:
- Decent binoculars
- A small, properly aligned spyscope on my telescope
- An almanac so I know the where and when of transits, eclipses, planet rises and satellites
- A torch shielded with red cellophane to see in the dark without disrupting night vision
- Warm jacket and thermos of hot chocolate
- Friends to go stargazing with