I have found that the Sony NEX line is great for beginning photography. It's a class called compact mirrorless, which is basically an entry level DSLR crammed into an almost point and shoot form factor (but not quite!).
It has full auto mode so you should be able to use it as if it were a point and shoot, but you have the manual options if you want to experiment. Some shots, astronomical ones in particular, are impossible without manual modes.
Close-ups, on flowers for instance, are better with at least focus set to manual, because auto focuses use higher f stops than are really necessary, so you can't get that cool out-of-focus blur on the out of focus portions(called bokeh) as easily. It is also harder to get the particular flower you want (say, in a cherry tree, auto-focus will try to focus on the tree rather than your particular flower).
I started astrophotography setting my NEX-3N targeting a light across the lake for focus, then setting my camera down on stump and setting the exposure to 15 seconds. I moved on to better techniques(you'll want a tripod), but I still use the same NEX-3N(and the kit lens, no less!).
Video is good as well.
This one is a class up from mine, but is only $250:
To sum up, it can do astronomical shots, is very compact (though not quite pocket-able), you can treat it like a point and shoot in auto mode but has all the manual settings and changeable lenses so you can transition to a more DSLR like experience without buying a new camera. And if you do decide to go full DSLR later, you will have a better idea what you need from the experience.
- Very cheap for the capability(it's an outgoing model, hence the deal)
- Great quality images, competitive with entry DSLRs like the Canon Rebel
- Same APS-C sensor as entry DSLRs(will DESTROY almost every point and shoot for light exposure, essential for astrophotography)
- Manual mode just as complete as a DSLR, essential for astrophotography
- Interchangeable lenses
- Much more compact and portable than a DSLR
- Good Video
- No viewfinder (Bright sunlight on the screen can make shooting difficult, try the NEX-7 if that's a deal breaker)
- Sony E-mount lenses aren't as prolific as other, more established competitors like Canon or Nikon
- Not pocket size like a point and shoot
- Not a con per say, but this only one of many in this class, so look around!