|Athena Rocket/Kodiak Island|
(author: Nasa image source)
1. When it comes to telescopes, you don't get what you don't pay for, but you can still shell out big bucks for garbage.
This is the first rule for a reason. It means two things:
First, a good scope will cost you a little, no way around it. If your budget just won't allow much of an expenditure, I recommend binoculars. If you can afford it, I recommend having both. More on that later.
Second, if it comes in a pretty, rectangular box showing a kid looking through a small white telescope with marvelous pictures of all the cool things you will be able to see with it, says it magnifies 400x on the side and costs around $100, run in the other direction as fast as you can. Or...
If it comes in a pretty, rectangular box showing an adult looking through a bigger black or teal colored telescope with marvelous pictures of all the cool things you will be able to see with it, says it magnifies 600x on the side and costs around $200 (or considerably more), run in the other direction as fast as you can.
Both scopes are garbage and will render fuzzy images on a rickety mount that will make you want to do like that bushman with the Coke bottle in "The Gods Are Crazy" and toss it off the end of the world. They are usually right next to each other in the store, and the people who work there know less about them than the box it comes in. Run.
2. If it is a pain in the backside to drag it outside and set up, it's going to sit in a closet gathering dust.
A quality scope you can easily carry and set up quickly is the one you will use over and over. The remaining rules mean nothing if you don't observe this rule of thumb. If you stick with this hobby long enough you will probably own several scopes, but for now we are talking about your first telescope.
3. Bells and whistles do not always make a telescope commendable.
Being able to find an object on your own is what exploring the night sky is all about! Like any adventure, getting there is half the fun. If you can't enjoy taking the time to manually find M1 in Taurus, you probably aren't going to enjoy looking at it much either. The sense of discovery is missing.
|A Celestron 130SLT Goto-Scope |
(author: Bowlhover image source)
What less reputable retailers don't tell you is:
Nothing you look at in your relatively small telescope is going to look anything like the pictures you have seen, except for the moon.
Without a really dark sky, a much bigger telescope (read...not very portable at all), and time exposure photography (a major undertaking), you can't even see 90% of the objects your smart-scope can point to. At all.
4. Optical quality, stability, and mechanical precision are paramount.
If you don't have these three qualities in a reasonably portable, easy to set up telescope, you won't use it often enough to warrant buying it. The mechanical qualities should be smooth and silky, a pleasure to use. The mount the telescope moves around on should be solid and stable. Last but not least, you want optics that provide a clean, crisp image that snaps into focus.
A Few Terms You Need To Know
Objective: The biggest mirror or lens of the telescope.
Aperture: The diameter of the objective of a telescope.
Eyepiece: Magnifies the focused image.
Focal Length: The distance between the objective and the point where the light comes into focus in the telescope.
f/ratio: An expression derived by dividing the focal length of the telescope by the objective diameter. The smaller the number, the "faster" the instrument. For instance, a telescope with an objective of 100cm and a focal length of 700cm would have a focal ratio of f/7.
Equatorial Mount: A telescope mount which has two axes of rotation, one parallel to the earth's axis, and one perpendicular to it. When polar aligned it allows for an object to stay centered in the eyepiece by turning the telescope on only one axis (usually motorized so that it automatically tracks the object once centered).
Dobsonian: A type of reflector telescope, usually not computerized or motorized. Smaller ones are very portable, optically very good, and a pleasure to use. VERY kid friendly, but adults like them too. Larger ones are still fairly portable, and inexpensive in comparison to similar apertures of other designs.
Types Of Telescopes
|Telescopes: Take Your Pick! |
(author: Shizhao image source)
Orion has a complete line of their own equipment, for any budget, and also retails a few other lines of related items. They have a large selection of quality items. Customer service is very good. They make a decent effort to accurately inform you about what to expect with different equipment, with a modest amount of exaggeration.
Astronomics retails the astronomy related equipment of several other makers. Like Orion, they have a pretty good line-up of both high quality and budget minded items. They even carry some of Orion's reflectors. Customer service is great. The descriptions of each item are usually quite extensive and informative. They also have some great tutorials on equipment that are really helpful to beginners.
OPT carries a wider array of astronomy related items for sale, with good selection, editorials, and prices. I always check them out when making price comparisons.
The same is true for Highpoint Scientific.
Amazon.com sometimes has the best deal on equipment (or shipping) available from several vendors so they are definitely worth checking out. Returns are easiest here by far.
All of these companies want to sell you equipment, of course, but they also want to help you make informed decisions and be happy with your purchase. They have great websites and are happy to answer questions you may have.
What To Buy (keep in mind the four basic rules!)
First, a little more about rule #3 (goto scopes)--Manual movement can satisfy you for many years, but you will eventually want tracking, it is only a matter of time. It is getting hard to find a small to medium sized telescope that will track the object you are observing without buying a goto scope. That said, a goto scope can be a solid choice, if, you don't sacrifice in other areas. The mounts on these scopes can be a little on the jiggly side, though. I purchased the Celestron 130SLT scope pictured above (and put a real finderscope on it) for my 11 year old as a first scope. I taught him how to do an alignment procedure, and I let him move the scope using the slew functions. No "goto" allowed until he learns the sky using charts and a finderscope. But, it tracks beautifully once he finds what he's looking for and that's pretty handy when you are learning the sky. Keep this in mind as you read on. Just because it can goto, doesn't mean you have to goto.
If money is no object:
Lucky you! Check out the Questar line of telescopes. It's hard to spend more on a really portable telescope! They are functional works of mechanical precision. A work of art. Also of premier quality are Televue products, and Takahashi telescopes, among others. Astronomics retails all three lines. There are many other high quality refractors that are small, portable, and costs thousands.
|The Horsehead and Flame Nebulae |
(Nasa image source)