How To Looking to buy your first telescope? Read This!

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I see that the links to some of my better scope buying post have died so I'll post them again. Mods: If you want to move or something go ahead.......

Budget Scopes:

Question that is sometimes asked "How little can I spend" I don't always agree with S&T on their reviews but these work. I've tried some of them.

From S&T's Skywatch 06
5 Scopes for under $200

1) Orion SpaceProbe 3 Altazimuth Reflector: $99

The lowest-priced telescope to make the grade. A good performer for stargazers on a very tight budget.

Upside: Complete instrument for less then $100.

Downside: Mount less sturdy then ideal.

2) Orion Observer 70: $129

Provides right-side-up images, which makes it the best choice for those looking for an instrument to do double duty as a daytime telescope.

Upside: Crisp images in a low-maintenance optical system.

Downside: Some chromatic aberration (false color) visible at high magnification.

3) Orion StarBlast: $169

A rugged, easy-to-use instrument that is a near-perfect all-around performer. (I have used this scope (on a table) at the GCSP, with eyepiece that cost more then the scope, it was impressive)

Upside: Nicely built scope with a stable, smooth-moving mount.

Downside: Low mount means it must be used on a sturdy table.

4) Scientifics Astroscan: $199

A kid-friendly low-maintenance reflector that produces bright wide-field views. (I like it, it's a fun scope, easy to use. We call them "imp in a bottle scopes" after the old magic trick. It can be mounted on a sturdy photo tripod)

Upside: Optics are factory aligned.

Downside: Difficult to focus and keep aimed at high magnifications.

5) Orion SkyQuest XT4.5 Dobsonion: $199

The best high-magnification telescope of the bunch. An excellent choice for those especially interested in viewing the Moon and planets. (I've used the bigger 8" and 10" Orions and don't usually tell anyone to get a smaller dob then 8" but this does work)

Upside: Good optics, sturdy mount.

Downside: Low mount results in some awkward eyepiece positions.
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Choosing Your First Telescope
By Joshua Roth

Sky & Telescope

So you've decided to take the plunge and get a telescope. Congratulations! That alone is a big step. But what comes next? Not an impulsive shopping trip to the nearest mall! Buying a telescope is very different than buying a television, and department-store salespeople rarely understand what amateur astronomers need.

Rule Number One: shun the flimsy, semi-toy, "500 power!" department-store scopes that may have caught your eye. The telescope you want has two essentials: high-quality optics and a steady, smoothly working mount. You may also want the telescope to be nice and large, but don't forget portability and convenience. Your first telescope shouldn't be so awkward heavy that you can't tote it outdoors, set it up, and take it down reasonably easily.

Those are the basics. But to choose a telescope that meets your needs, you need to ask some questions — of yourself, of other amateur astronomers, and finally, of the people who make and sell telescopes for a living.

Aperture: A Telescope's Heart

All astronomical telescopes, large or small, are designed to do two things: to brighten and magnify your views of celestial objects. Refractors, reflectors, and compound (catadioptric) telescopes do this in different ways, each with its benefits and drawbacks.

Whatever the telescope, its most important spec is its aperture: the diameter of its main, light-gathering lens or mirror. (This lens or mirror is called the telescope's objective.) The bigger the aperture, the sharper and brighter the view will be.

Therefore, a bigger aperture allows you to use more magnification. You can actually make any telescope provide any magnification at all (just by changing eyepieces), but without large aperture, high magnification is worthless — it just shows a blurry, dim mess. A telescope that can only be pushed to 50x (50 times magnification) before the view goes blurry will reveal Jupiter's moons, Saturn's rings, and some detail in the brightest star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. But to discern Martian surface features or to see both members of a tight double star, you really would like to have sharp views at 150x or more.

Depending on optical quality and observing conditions, you can expect to get anywhere from 20x to 50x of useful magnification per inch of aperture. In other words, a 4-inch scope tops out at 200x under ideal conditions, but a 6-inch scope can work well as high as 300x under ideal conditions.

But that's the maximum; most of the time, you'll find that the best views are actually had at the telescope's lowest power. If the advertising on the box hypes super-high power, the manufacturer is trying to fool you.

Perhaps more importantly, big aperture also lets you see fainter objects. This is different from providing magnification. In fact, the problem with most astronomical objects is not that they're too small and need more magnifying, it's that that they're too faint and need more light — in other words, more aperture.

For example, several dozen galaxies beyond our Milky Way can be discerned through my 4½-inch (105-mm) reflector. Some are more than 50 million light-years away. Not bad for a telescope I can tuck under my arm and carry on a plane! But with my 12½-inch Dobsonian, hundreds of galaxies are within reach. Even if I use the same magnification on both scopes!

Focal Length

If a telescope's aperture is its most important spec, its focal length comes next. Say you have two telescopes with the same aperture but different focal lengths. The one with the longer focus (that is, a higher-numbered f/ratio) will generally lend itself better to high-magnification viewing. (The f/ratio is just the focal length divided by the aperture.) One reason: you can stick with longer-focus eyepieces, which are easier to use, especially for eyeglass wearers. Another reason: "fast" objectives, those with low f/ratios, are harder to manufacture well, and thus they tend to make fuzzier images unless you've paid a premium for top-quality optics.

"So it's simple: I should go for the largest, longest telescope I can afford." Maybe; maybe not! A long focal length is preferable if your primary targets are high-power objects like the Moon, planets, or double stars. And a large objective is a necessity if you dream of viewing numerous galaxies. But if you want to take in large swaths of the Milky Way or sparkling showpieces like the Pleiades in a wide view, then a short, small, scope is called for — one that works nicely at low power.

"Why's that?" Because high power only let you see a small patch of sky at once. With standard eyepieces (those with 1¼-inch-wide barrels), a focal length of 20 inches (500 mm) can provide a 3° field of view — enough to take in all of Orion's Sword. A scope with a focal length of 80 inches (2000 mm), by contrast, barely lets you encompass M42, the Orion Nebula in the Sword's center.

What if I want to do a bit of everything?" Don't worry, there are plenty of midway compromises. Many astronomers think of the 6-inch reflector as an ideal "do-it-all" instrument. But even with that aperture, you still face a tradeoff between a wide-field performance (f/5 or thereabouts) and high-power performance (optimal at f/8 and up). And remember that the long-focus unit will be bigger and heavier and so will require a beefier mount — making it harder to carry, set up, and store. Everything's a tradeoff.

A Telescope's Other Half

Just as a car's engine is useless without a chassis and wheels, the optical tube assembly is only half a telescope. The other half is the mount. It is just as important as the optics if not more so. It has to be steady, sturdy, and smoothly working.

Telescope mounts come in two basic kinds. An equatorial mount allows the telescope to move in the directions of celestial north-south and east-west. This can be a big help. If you align one axis of an equatorial mount on Polaris, you can track celestial targets as the Earth turns by moving the telescope around just this one axis. Many equatorial mounts come with an electric motor to do this for you. Motor tracking is especially useful for high-magnification viewing and for showing celestial objects to groups of people. It's also a prerequisite for most through-the-telescope photography.

An altazimuth (altitude-azimuth) mount, by contrast, moves up-down (in altitude) and right-left (azimuth). A photo tripod is an example of an altazimuth mount. Another is the popular Dobsonian mount
Altazimuth mounts are generally lighter than equatorials, in part because they don't require counterweights to balance the telescope. (I hasten to note, however, that the equatorial "fork" mounts sold with many compound telescopes are relatively lightweight, too; the photo above shows one example.) Dobsonian mounts, in particular, can be very stable and low-cost.

But altazimuths do not readily lend themselves to motorized operation, and you have to move the telescope in two directions simultaneously to track celestial objects as the Earth turns. While this becomes second nature to many observers, others find it maddening. (See the section below on "smart" telescopes for a high-tech way around this problem.)

Your own personality should play a part in choosing a mount. Are you comfortable with instruments that require tools and a head for numbers to set up and use? Or are you looking for the astronomical equivalent of a point-and-shoot camera? A Dobsonian can be set up in the time it took to read this paragraph. An equatorial mount can take a bit longer if you want to get the most out of its features. Computerized "smart scopes," which promise easy object-finding, are actually the most complicated to deploy.

Other Essentials

We've already covered a lot of ground, and hopefully the tech talk you may get from a salesperson or stargazer will now make more sense. But a few topics remain before we can set you loose on your hunt. Most of us picture the big things when we think of a telescope, and those stand out in catalogs and ads. But just as you can't drive a car off the lot without the keys, there are little essentials you'll need to use a telescope to journey among the stars.

Eyepieces. By bringing light to a focus, a telescope forms an image — a little picture floating in the air inside the tube. But you need a way to view the image! That's what eyepieces are for. Think of them as like little magnifying glasses for looking at the image. Changing eyepieces lets you change a telescope's magnifying power (which equals the objective's focal length divided by the eyepiece's focal length). Every telescope owner should have several.

Eyepieces come in a bewildering variety of designs with exotic names. Generally speaking, the more expensive an eyepiece, the more lens elements it has. Complex multi-element designs can give a very wide field of view, and they also can compensate somewhat for the aberrations that plague "fast" (low f/ratio) objectives. By contrast, many amateurs find that simpler, older designs like Kellners, Plössls, and Orthoscopics suffice for use on "slow" (high f/ratio) telescopes, such as the once-universal 6-inch f/8 Newtonian reflector.

Most telescopes come supplied with one or two eyepieces. Ideally, you'd like to have a set that spans a range of magnifications. You can expect to spend anywhere from $40 to $250 on a good eyepiece.

A Barlow lens is also worth considering: it multiplies each eyepiece's power by two or three times, effectively doubling your eyepiece collection.

A tip: avoid buying a telescope that uses eyepieces with barrels that are 0.96 inch (24 mm) wide. This is generally a sign of poor quality. Just about all good eyepieces nowadays are made with 1¼-inch barrels or larger.

Finders. You've got a telescope set up with an eyepiece in place. Now what? Naturally, you'll want to point it to something! Simply sighting alongside the tube may enable you to find the Moon and a few bright stars or planets. . . maybe. But that's all. An astronomical telescope can't be put to good use without a finder of some kind.

The reason is that even with its lowest-power, widest-field eyepiece in place, a telescope shows you such a tiny piece of sky that you can't tell exactly where you're aiming.

A finder solves this problem. Three types, shown here, are commonly available. A few low-power, wide-field scopes come with simple peep sights; no optics involved. The next step up is the so-called "reflex" sight. This projects a glowing red dot or red circle on your naked-eye view of the sky; to set your telescope on a desired star or planet, you put the red marker on it. But you still have to be able to see your target with the naked eye.

Most telescopes are sold with a real finderscope: an actual little telescope that rides piggyback on the main scope. The finderscope's eyepiece has crosshairs that you set on your desired target.

A good finderscope has several advantages. It brightens and magnifies the view, allowing you to find things beyond the naked-eye limit. When properly aligned, a finderscope also allows you to point a telescope more precisely than do peep sights or reflex finders. This is especially important whenever you're aiming at a blank point in the sky where your charts tell you an interesting, faint object ought to be.

On the downside, most finderscopes turn the view upside down, and many entry-level finders cannot be used by eyeglass wearers.

In fact, all too many consumer-grade telescopes come with cheap finderscopes that are so poor they're useless. Beware of any that has a tube hardly thicker than your finger, or that gives a dim, fuzzy view in the daytime. A poor finder is a critical weak point that can kill the usefulness of the entire scope.

Star Charts. Once you warm up a new car and hit the road, you need a map to find your way — especially if you're in brand-new territory that you've never seen before! So it is with a telescope. In fact, even the most expert telescopic travelers use the biggest, best, most detailed sky maps they can get.

You may already own a planisphere, a rotating "star wheel" that helps identify constellations. Certainly you should be adept at using a wide-sky constellation map like this before embarking on telescopic astronomy (our companion article gets you started). However, a planisphere alone will no more get you to the Cat's Eye Nebula, say, than a map of the Earth will get you to the shoe store at the corner of Park and Elm. To mine the heavens' riches, you need a set of more detailed star charts.

Most astronomical atlases display all stars brighter than some specified magnitude, along with an assortment of nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. An atlas that reaches 6th magnitude (the faintest you can see with the unaided eye under a dark, unpolluted sky) suffices for users of binoculars. But an 8th-magnitude atlas like our famous Sky Atlas 2000.0 (shown here) better serves a telescope user.

If you haven't used star charts before, there's no better way to get started than with binoculars (see our primer on binocular astronomy). Stargazing with binoculars offers two bonuses: views are right-side-up, and the field of view is wide enough to take in recognizable formations of naked-eye stars. The view in binoculars is very much like the view in a good finderscope.

"Smart" or "Go To" Telescopes

You might think that with computers in everything from dishwashers to cars, someone would be putting computers in telescopes by now. You're right! Actually the computer doesn't go in the scope itself but in the mount, along with electric motors on both axes. A motorized telescope on a "smart" altazimuth mount can track celestial objects as accurately as one on a more bulky and complicated equatorial mount. Even better, once you set up the scope and initialize the computer with the current date, time, and location, it can (if all goes well) automatically point to thousands of celestial objects.

Until recently such futuristic capabilities would set you back thousands of dollars. But a new generation of battery-powered "smart" or "Go To" scopes has come onto the market at affordable prices. A keypress or two gives the times of sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset, and the dates of meteor showers, solstices, equinoxes, and eclipses. Or choose a guided tour of the best celestial showpieces currently up, complete with a brief description of each on a digital readout. These scopes can literally give you a beginner's course in astronomy.

Still, these scopes aren't for everyone. For one thing, the affordable models have much smaller apertures than similarly priced entry-level scopes with no electronics. Second, a computerized scope can require a lot of careful setup that has to be done correctly at the start of each observing session (in the dark!) to make it work right. Third, these telescopes consume lots of electricity; some will exhaust a set of eight batteries in one night's use. Finally, when your "smart scope" fails to show a particular object, you may have trouble figuring out whether your eye or the scope's pointing is at fault — unless you already know the sky and your charts well enough to confirm that the instrument is indeed pointed to exactly the right spot.

Be An Informed Buyer

Now that you're up to speed on some of the most important concepts and terms, take the time to peruse the ads and product reviews in recent issues of Sky & Telescope magazine. Search for additional reviews and opinions on amateur astronomy Web sites and newsgroups. Then go ahead and call or write to makers of instruments you might be interested in. Their brochures and catalogs should tell you much of what you want to know; if not, call and ask.

However, nothing substitutes for firsthand experience. The best way to acquaint yourself with the wide world of telescopes is to ask to join a local astronomy club's nighttime get-togethers — or perhaps attend an even bigger "star party." There, you can try out and ask about a wide variety of telescopes. (Find an astronomy club or star party in our directory.)

You may also be able to buy a used telescope from someone in an astronomy club. Used telescopes carry risks, including undisclosed damage and no warranty coverage, but they can also be spectacular bargains. You can also find used telescopes on the Internet. (Be sure to take reasonable precautions if buying from a private party online.)

Of course, many buyers will want a new instrument. This should be bought from a source specializing in astronomical telescopes. Many camera stores are excellent sources of astronomical products as well.

If you're set on buying new, be prepared to spend at least $200 to $400, and even then you have to be careful to avoid junk. If this is beyond your means, your astronomical aspirations will probably be best served by buying a decent pair of binoculars and a lawn chair. Remember that whatever investment you make should be of good enough quality to serve you well for decades.

Kicking the Tires

You can't test a telescope's optical performance properly in a store, and many of the best telescopes are sold by mail order anyway. So you should ask the vendor to spell out return policies (preferably in writing). Make sure you'll be given enough time to try a scope out under the stars and the opportunity to return it for a refund. (If you buy the telescope mail order, expect to pay for shipping if you return it. In addition, being asked to pay a "restocking fee" is only fair if you want the privilege of being able to test-drive and return a telescope that's not actually broken.)

Once you get the telescope, new or used, scrutinize everything about it in daylight. The mount should be stable enough to remain standing even if someone bumps into it in the dark. Give the scope a gentle tap while viewing some distant target. Does the view jump around only a little, then stabilize? Good! But if it hops around for several seconds or more — or if the view moves so much when you hold the focus knob that you can't focus well — it'll be endlessly frustrating. Finally, you should be able to move the telescope easily and smoothly (whether by pushing the telescope's tube, turning a knob, or switching on an electric motor) without jerkiness or a backlash problem.

Assessing the telescope's optical performance is harder for a newcomer to visual astronomy. But even an inexpensive telescope should pass the following nighttime tests.

Point the scope at a starry region in or near the Milky Way. Use a fairly low-power eyepiece. Stars at the center of the view should focus to points without any flares or colored halos. (Flares or halos may appear at the edge of the field of view, but they shouldn't be prominent until at least halfway out.)

Now get aimed at a fairly bright star and switch to high power. Focus the star, then turn the focus knob just a little one way, then the other way. The out-of-focus images that you see when you turn the knob one way, then the other, should be nearly alike. This is a strict test; rare is the telescope that passes it perfectly. But if the either-side-of-focus images are quite obviously different from each other, the optics are poor and the views will never be as sharp as they should be. (Eyeglass wearers with astigmatism should keep their glasses on for these tests.)

Finally, examine the Moon: it should look crisp, not hazy, and it shouldn't produce distracting ghost images (the result of inadequate coatings somewhere in the optics).

Keep in mind that perfection is expensive, and that a lot can be seen with less-than-perfect equipment. (It's the only kind I've ever owned!) Be patient with your new telescope and with yourself. At the same time, don't be afraid to ask for help! As time goes on, the wonders of the heavens will become familiar friends.

A senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine, Joshua Roth teaches stargazing classes in the Boston, Massachusetts, suburbs.
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Four Infamous Telescope Myths

Stop me if you've heard this one before! Here are some plausible-sounding ideas that turn out to be less than true.

By Gary Seronik
Gary Seronik is an associate editor of Sky & Telescope magazine and an accomplished telescope builder

Amateur astronomers are a gregarious lot. Whether at club meetings or in Internet newsgroups, they share ideas, observations, and experiences, usually with generosity and good humor. Many a newcomer to our hobby has benefitted from this casual exchange of ideas. The flip side of the coin is that the same forums provide fertile breeding grounds for myths that are perpetuated and redistributed, often without challenge. Here is my selection of notoriously long-lived telescope myths. Each contains a grain of truth. Yet they are demonstrably incorrect and may have caused many a telescope owner unnecessary effort, expense, or angst.

"Pyrex telescope mirrors are better than those made from plate glass."

The primary mirror at the heart of a reflecting telescope is typically made from either Pyrex or ordinary plate glass. Both materials can be fashioned into excellent mirrors. So why is it so commonly held that Pyrex mirrors are inherently superior? There are two main reasons.

First, because plate glass is less expensive, it is presumed inferior — you get what you pay for, right? However, in truth the cost of the substrate material has little to do with the price of the finished mirror. Most of the expense lies in turning that piece of glass into a working optical component.

Second and more to the point, unlike plate glass, Pyrex is a low-expansion material. This means that a mirror made from Pyrex is less prone to warping when it is at a different temperature than the air surrounding it. The ultraprecise curve on the surface of a Pyrex mirror isn't as severely deformed when the telescope is moved from a warm house into the cool night air.

This relative insensitivity to temperature changes also has its advantages when the optician carefully refines (or figures) the curve on the mirror's polished surface. When the glass is worked, a certain amount of heat is generated by friction between the tool and the mirror. Because this heat will deform Pyrex less than plate glass, the optician doesn't have to wait as long to test the mirror and proceed to the next figuring step. Since a commercial firm presumably wants to minimize the time spent on an individual mirror, some amateurs assume that a Pyrex mirror will turn out better than one made from plate glass.

This sounds logical enough, but I have seen no evidence of it in the dozens of mirrors I have tested over the years. In fact, our tests of six 8-inch Dobsonians (S&T: January 2000, page 60) showed no correlation between glass types and optical quality. In any case, these attributes are more of an issue for the optician than for the mirror user. If you're making a mirror, Pyrex does have its advantages, but if you're simply buying or using one, these characteristics really shouldn't come into play.

"But don't Pyrex mirrors cool faster than plate-glass ones?" Yes, but the difference is not nearly enough to be significant in most amateur-size mirrors. In theory, Pyrex should cool about 20 percent faster than plate glass. But other factors — notably the mirror's thickness and the design of its cell — are far more important.

There's yet another reason why glass type makes little difference: when it comes to thermal problems, your main enemy is the layer of warm air in front of the primary mirror. Bryan Greer’s article in the September 2000 Sky & Telescope (page 125) shows that no mirror, regardless of glass type, will perform adequately until this "boundary layer" goes away. Temperature-related deformations of a mirror's figure are minor compared to the boundary layer's deleterious effects. Venting the primary mirror — ideally with fans, as pictured here — can help you get rid of this problematic air layer.

The bottom line? Pyrex is slightly better than plate glass in theory, but not in practice. Ventilation is far more important.

"Large telescopes are more impaired by light pollution than small ones."

This claim has no basis whatsoever in truth, but it's pretty easy to see how it arose. The "logic" behind this myth is that since large telescopes gather more light than small ones, they must also collect more unwanted light (light pollution). This is true, but the real issue is image contrast. The brightness ratio between a galaxy like M31 (say) and the background sky is the same regardless of telescope size. All telescopes are equally impaired by light pollution compared to what they would show under a dark sky. A large telescope's advantages — superior light grasp and resolution — are the same under bright skies and dark ones.

"Short-focus Newtonians require much larger secondary mirrors than long-focus models."

Telescope makers agonize over the size of their secondary mirrors the way golfers fret about choosing the right club for a given shot. But for telescope makers, at least, there's help. Anyone trying to set the size of a Newtonian secondary mirror should review my August 2000 S&T article (page 120), then download Alan Adler’s computer program Sec. With Sec you can demonstrate that the optimal size for a particular telescope's secondary mirror hardly depends at all on the f/ratio of the telescope's primary mirror. For example, all other things being equal, the same 1-inch secondary mirror will serve well for 6-inch reflectors from f/4 to f/10, in all cases producing essentially the same edge-of-field illumination — one of the most important parameters to consider when you are selecting a secondary mirror. (An important clarification: this logic applies to telescopes used for eyeball observing, not astrophotography.)

The point is illustrated here. While the fully illuminated field of the long-focus reflector is greater than that of the short-focus one, the illumination drops off much more suddenly in a long-focus telescope once you get past the fully illuminated zone (the zone within which one sees all the light gathered by the primary mirror). What does this mean for makers of long-focus Newtonians? Unless they are willing to lose a lot of light at the edge of the field of view, they probably are going to wind up choosing a secondary mirror about as big as they would on a much faster (lower f/ratio) instrument.

You can fine-tune the size of the secondary to suit a particular observing program. Planetary observers are fanatical about keeping the size of the secondary as small as possible to minimize image-harming diffraction effects, while variable-star observers want larger diagonals for larger fully illuminated fields (which ensure that the brightness of a variable can be reliably compared with that of any other star in the field). But it is a gross oversimplification to say that short-focus reflectors need big diagonals and long-focus reflectors need only small ones.

"Large scopes are more adversely affected by seeing than small ones."

The idea behind this myth is that when it comes to planetary observing, there is little point in getting a large telescope unless the seeing conditions at your observing site are unusually good. Some actually claim that a small scope can outperform a large one on nights of mediocre seeing.

I call this assertion a myth for two reasons. First, my own observations do not bear it out. Second, no one has proposed a plausible mechanism for it. Telescopic resolution is limited by the weakest link in a chain made up of optical quality, atmospheric steadiness, telescope design, and the observer. No doubt, some small scopes give better views than some large ones, but this can easily be ascribed to factors having nothing to do with the atmosphere. In particular, poor collimation and poor thermal characteristics often plague large reflectors.

When I first heard that small scopes could beat out big ones, I checked it out for myself. At the time my principal telescope was an optically good 12½-inch f/5 reflector. I built a 5-inch-diameter off-axis mask that could quickly be placed at the front of its tube, making it into an unobstructed 5-inch reflector. Over the course of several years I took this mask with me to every observing session and compared full-aperture planetary views with those seen with the mask in place. I did this on nights of good seeing, okay seeing, and poor seeing. Not once did the reduced-aperture view show greater detail than the full-aperture view.

Admittedly, when the seeing (or atmospheric steadiness) was below average the off-axis mask produced an aesthetically pleasing view. But this did not translate into greater detail — though it's easy to understand how a casual glance would give this impression. Most often I would wind up using my telescope's full aperture because even on nights of substandard seeing, occasional brief moments of stillness would allow me to see details that simply could not be seen with the aperture mask in place.

The Tip of the Iceberg

The myths discussed here represent only the tip of an iceberg — many more are in circulation. Many of these myths rely on anecdotal evidence and invalid comparisons. When evaluating provocative claims, let's all do our best to combine well-established optical theory with unbiased first-hand observations. Ultimately, all astronomers will benefit.
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From Sky & Telescope Skywatch ‘06

Ten Tips for First-Time Telescope Buyers
By Alan Dyer

1 Avoid any telescope advertised by how much it magnifies. Any claims of “powerful 600x model” are a sure sign of a poor telescope to be avoided, no matter how appealing the bargain price

2 Don’t fuss over reflector versus reflector. One optical system is not better then the other, both can provide wonderful images. Make a choice based on aperture versus portability versus price.

3 Avoid aperture fever. While more aperture provides sharper, brighter images, a bigger scope is also less portable. The best telescope is the one that you’ll use, and often. An expensive superscope that’s too heavy and complex to set up in a reasonable amount of time is no more value then a cheap miniscope if it always sits in the basement.

4 Make portability a priority. In a first scope you’re best served by choosing one that can be carried outside in one or two pieces - for quick and convenient setup, for ease of moving around a backyard and for transport in a car. A big scope (more the 8 inches in aperture) might be practical only if ir can be left assembled, then uncovered or wheeled out in one piece.

5 Consider your observing site. If you have ready access to dark skies, then a fast f/ratio, large-aperture reflector suitable for viewing faint deep-sky targets like nebulae and galaxies might be ideal. If you live under city lights, where the Moon and planets are likely to be the main targets, then a long-focal-length refractor or a Schmidt-Cassegrain scope might serve you better.

6 Tailor the telescope to the owner. Select a scope with an eyepiece easily accessible to the prospective owner. The ideal scope for a short child won’t “fit” a strapping basketball player. Buyers with limited mobility or lifting ability might consider a lightweight 90-mm to 125-mm Maksutov or Schmidt-Cassegrain that can sit on a small table.

7 Don't be seduced by astrophotography. Many people buy more telescope then they really need, thinking they will eventually get into serious astrophotography. Few do. While snapshots of the Moon and planets are possible with any telescope that can track the sky, acquiring superb images of nebulae and galaxies requires gear that’s more expensive and specialized then most beginners should consider.

8 Test-drive models. Some astronomy clubs loan or rent telescopes to their members, and all host star parties, where you can look through telescopes of all types. Both options provide a chance to check out types and brands, and see what a particular telescope can show

9 Buy from a knowledgeable dealer. A big-box discount store might offer a great bargain on a model that you know, from research, is a good buy. But if you‘re uncertin, turn to a dealer who knows telescopes: either a local scope shop or a Web-based retail outlet that specializes in telescopes. And remember to consider who will provide service should your scope need repair.

10 Get to know the sky first. No telescope, not even the most advanced computerized model, will work well in the hands of someone who knows little about the sky. Many a Go To scope collects dust because it‘s owner has never learned to identify essential alignment stars or even which way is north. To get the most out of a telescope you should first be able to identify the brightest stars and constellations, and have some experience reading star charts to find a few key objects, like the Andromeda Galaxy, in binoculars
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So You Want to Buy a Telescope... Advice for Beginners

Courtesy of Ed Ting

So, you've decided to take the plunge and buy a telescope -- congratulations! Astronomy can be a life long pleasure, with the right equipment. But what to buy? There's more equipment out there than ever before. This article will attempt to make some sense out of the seemingly huge selection of scopes and accessories. Ready? Good. Let's begin. First of all, some words of advice:

1) Learn to spot a few constellations and maybe a planet or two with the naked eye. If you can't point to M42, how do you expect to able to point a telescope (which has a much narrower field of view) there?

2) Subscribe to one of the two major magazines, Sky and Telescope or Astronomy. These will get you started not only with finding celestial objects, it will also acquaint you with the variety of equipment out there. Don't buy anything yet!

3) Join a club, or tag along on one of their observing sessions. This is the single best piece of advice I can give you. There is no substitute for spending time with real equipment out in the field. You may discover, for example, that you like the portability of Schmidt-Cassegrains, or that you enjoy the views through a good refractor, or that the big Dobsonian you saw in the catalog is much more of a handful than you imagined. Or whatever. There's no substitute for experience.

That said, your ideal first telescope may not be a telescope at all, but a pair of binoculars. Perhaps you have a pair lying around the house already. Most experienced astronomers keep a pair of binoculars close by, for quick peeks or for scanning the field of view before using their telescopes. The common recommendation is to get a pair of 7X50's, or at least, 7X35's. The first number "7" is the magnification, the second "50" is the aperture of each objective lens, in mm. You want the largest lenses you can comfortably hold. Many astronomers opt for 10X50's, although you should make sure in advance that you can hold them steady at that power. It seems that the current trend is towards 10X50's, but I still like the traditional 7X50 size. Finally, there are new "giant" binoculars which can give stunning views of the heavens, if you know how to use them. If someone offers you a view through one of these, by all means oblige, but hold off buying a pair for now. You'll know later if you want them. OK, so binoculars aren't exciting the way telescopes are.

Before I leave the topic, allow me to make a final case for good binocs: 1) Cheap binoculars are much, much more useful than cheap telescopes. Trust me on this one. 2) Good binoculars can last you a lifetime. As you trade up (or down) your telescopes, you'll still need a pair of binocs for quick peeks and scanning. As a result, binoculars tend to be something you buy only once or twice.

Ask a roomful of people what the purpose of a telescope is, and chances are they will say something like, "to make distant objects look bigger." I'm a frequent guest speaker at local schools, and I always get that answer (or something close to it) when I ask that question. Is the primary function of a telescope really to make things look bigger? Take this test. Step outside on a clear night from a brightly lit room. See anything? Probably not. But it gets better after a few minutes, doesn't it? In fact, after a while, you'll wonder why you didn't see all those stars before. What made it better? Did you change the magnification, or make the apparent size of anything change? Of course not. What you DID change, was the amount of light your eye gathered, when your pupils opened to compensate for the darkness. So, the primary function of a telescope is to gather light. The more light a scope gathers, the more powerful it is. And remember, telescope apertures are circles, and the areas of circles increase with the square of the radius, so moving up in aperture, even modestly, can yield big results. Our hypothetical 7X50 binoculars (above) gather over twice the light of the 7X35's, even though they look about the same size. Put another way, the owner of an 10" Schmidt-Cassegrain who decides to upgrade to a 12" will see a 44% increase in light-gathering ability. Not bad for a 2" increase, eh? So, you should buy the biggest telescope you can afford, right? The answer, is an unqualified MAYBE, and for some people, the answer will be NO. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Types of Telescopes
Modern amateur telescopes can be divided into three classes: 1) The refractor is what most people think of when they hear the word "telescope". Refractors gather light with an objective lens at one end and focus the light at the eyepiece at the other end. Refractors were almost extinct at one point, but modern glass elements (including an exciting new artificially grown crystal known as fluorite) have brought the refractor back to prominence. Refractor advantages: Potential for the best images, no obstruction in light path. Refractor disadvantages: Some secondary color ("chromatic aberration") still visible in all but the best units, large aperture instruments can be massive, most expensive of the three designs (often by a large margin), "Guilt By Association" with horrible department store refractors

2) The Newtonian Reflector, invented by Sir Isaac Newton, uses a parabolic mirror at the end of a tube and focuses the light back at the front of the tube, where the eyepiece sits, after being deflected by a smaller secondary mirror in the light path. Reflector advantages: Cheapest of the three designs (especially those on Dobsonian mounts), more portable than refractors of similar aperture, inherently color free (no chromatic aberration). Reflector disadvantages: Secondary obstruction results in some loss of contrast, still quite large compared with Schmidt-Cassegrains, can require frequent collimation (alignment) of optics.

3) The Schmidt-Cassegrain and its derivatives (Maksutov-Cassegrain, Classical Cassegrain, etc.) use BOTH mirrors and lenses to fold the optical path back onto itself, resulting in a compact tube. The technical term for these scopes is catadioptrics, but since nobody seems to use this term, I won't. S-C Advantages: Most compact of the three designs, less expensive than refractors, huge assortment of after-market accessories, can be totally computer driven, very popular. S-C disadvantages: More expensive than reflectors, images are potentially the worst of the three designs (notice I said "potentially!"), most subject to dew of the three designs.

So, which one should I buy?
Depends. The "right" telescope depends on you, your observing habits, and your financial situation. Picking a telescope used to be a simple matter. You started out with a 60 mm refractor (probably from a department store), then you upgraded to a 6" f/8 reflector from either Criterion or Meade, and if you stuck with it long enough, you eventually bought an 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain from Celestron. My, how things have changed. Throughout the 1960 and 1970's, the Newtonian reflector ruled the amateur roost. From about the 1980's onward, astronomers flocked to the portability of Schmidt-Cassegrains as both Meade and Celestron duked it out to try and out-do one another on features. Then, the refractor, long given up for dead, came roaring back with the advent of ED and fluorite glass. Now, you see all three designs in use regularly. The advantages/disadvantages of each design are well-documented elsewhere, so I'll attempt to give you some "other" information which may be useful to you.

Despite the optical superiority of good refractors and the lower cost of reflectors, most astronomers still wind up with Schmidt-Cassegrains as their primary instruments. It's not hard to see why. A 10" S-C is relatively affordable and portable. A 10" reflector is a handful, especially an equatorially- mounted one. And a 10" refractor? Forget it -- you'll probably need a separate observatory to house one.
4.5" or 6" reflectors make excellent beginner's instruments. For $300-$650, you get a decent aperture and a scope that's relatively portable. On the refractor side of the table, look for an 80 mm scope on a stable mount.
Avoid like the plague any cheap refractor sold on the basis of its magnification. A "675X" 60 mm telescope is almost certainly a piece of junk. Maximum useful magnification is usually given as 50X-60X per inch of aperture. Thus, the 60mm example given above is really only a 120X-144X telescope (and its images will probably break down well before that point). You find these scopes all over the place, in department stores, toy stores, "Science & Nature" centers at the mall, etc. Let me repeat that one again: Do NOT buy a telescope from your local department store, toy store, or from a television mail-order program. Most scopes found at the Nature/Science stores at your local mall also fall under this category. These telescopes are little more than toys and will likely kill your budding enthusiasm. Buy from a retailer who specializes in serious amateur telescopes. Some of the better ones are linked off my "links" page. As a general rule, avoid any telescope that costs less than $300. ALL department store telescopes are junk; please do not e-mail me with something you have found.
On the other hand, if you're the type who always has to have "the best" (and can afford it), consider a modern ED or fluorite refractor. I should point out that a world-class 4" refractor will cost you well over $2000 for the optical tube assembly alone. Scopes in this category include the Tele Vue 85 and 101, the numerous Takahashis, the Astro-Physics refractors, and the apochromatic models by Vixen. Other scopes in this category include the Maksutovs by Questar ($4000-$12,000, depending on model, less, if used.) Questars are built like precision scientific instruments, have a cult-like following, and seem to last forever, but they are not ideal beginner's instruments in my opinion.
I'll say one thing for Newtonians. They're the most comfortable to use of the three designs. The eyepiece is nearly always at a convenient height. Refractors are the worst in this regard. Looking at anything near the zenith with most any refractor is a less-than-appealing proposition.
Many astronomers give up trying to decide what's best for them and buy more than one scope. While this may not be the best advice for beginners, newcomers might want to keep this in mind when making a purchasing decision. For example, if your first scope is an 80mm refractor, you might balance things out by getting a 12" Dobsonian in a year or two. That way, you'd have both a light bucket and a planetary/double star scope.
Avoid any thoughts of astrophotography for now. You are going to have your hands full dealing with the scope itself. Trust me. More astronomers leave the hobby due to excessive involvement with astrophotography than for any other reason, save the cheap department store telescopes.
Finally, avoid "paralysis-by-analysis." If you spend more than an hour a day reading telescope catalogs, you are probably in this category. Just get something; you'll feel a lot better.

OK, Ed -- You still haven't answered the question: Which one would you buy, if you could only get one?
This is a tough one to answer, since everyone has their own priorities and preferences. Still, knowing what I know, if I were starting out today, I would probably get a 6" or 8" Dobsonian-mounted reflector. The fact that I am something of a "refractor guy" says a lot about this choice. A 6" Dobsonian is simple, cheap, and will teach you a lot. The simplicity part is important, since you will spend your time aiming and observing with your telescope, rather than playing around with the sometimes complicated controls on an equatorial mount. Beginners need early success, and the 6" or 8" aperture is big enough to throw up a bright image of most common celestial objects. I like all the 6" Dobsonians from Meade, Celestron, Orion, and Discovery. I like the Orion the best, but you can just pick one; they're all good. If you're feeling ambitious, get an 8" version. The differences between the brands show up mainly in the quality of the accessories. Look for a 6X30 finder (or larger), Plossl instead of Kellner eyepieces, and Pyrex instead of plate glass mirrors.

Avoiding "Aperture Fever"
Audiophiles have a saying that goes something like this: The stereo system which reveals the most music to you is the one you use the most. For most of us, that's our car stereo. Astronomy is a lot like that. The probability that a telescope will be used is inversely proportional to its size. This seems to apply to just about everyone, regardless of experience. I've carried on a correspondence with a fellow astronomer. He has an 18" "Luxo-Dob", I have a tiny Tele Vue Ranger. Our conversations tend to go something like this: Me: So, did you see Saturn last night? Him: No, it was too cold out to go observing. Me: Oh. Him: But my 18" dob blows your puny little 2.7" refractor out of the water, you teeny dweeb! OK, so maybe it doesn't go exactly like that, but you get the idea. Sure, he's got me whipped on aperture, but I got in 2.7" worth of observing that night, and he got in zero. Little scopes get used more often, and thus show you more. Your Luggability Tolerance may be different from mine, however, and that's where visiting public star parties becomes an invaluable experience. The star parties also come in handy when I DO want to look through a big scope. I just look through someone else's. This way, I get my share of "big gun" observing time and I don't have to deal with the hassle of set up and break down. For balance, I should state that I have recently learned to dodge this "bulk" issue with larger telescopes by placing them on rolling platforms with lockable castors. Go to your local lumber yard/hardware store and get 3/4"-1" thick plywood and four castors. Don't skimp on the quality of the castors; get the best ones the store carries. Also remember to use lock washers or the nuts will eventually work themselves loose. I can leave the 20" Obsession fully assembled in my garage, and when I want to use it I just roll the whole thing outside. I can be observing in less than 5 minutes. There is something rather nice about kicking a 20" Dob out the door and observing with it within a couple of minutes while your friends are still assembling their small equatorial mounts. This works so well, I built platforms for the rest of my scopes as well.

Here's one area where beginners tend to go overboard. You don't really NEED more than 3 or 4 carefully chosen eyepieces, a Barlow, and perhaps a filter or two, but most of us eventually wind up with collections, some of them needlessly impressive. Still, the first accessory a newcomer buys is usually a new eyepiece. Below is a guide to various designs. Ramsden and Huygenian are 2-element eyepiece designs. While simple, they exhibit narrow fields of view, have numerous aberrations, and terrible edge correction. Generally supplied only with the least expensive telescopes. While not of much use visually, they make good solar projection eyepieces (i.e. you can risk 'em). About $25-$40. The Kellner is a three element design that shows an acceptable 40-45 degree FOV, and good correction of spherical and chromatic aberration. Offshoots include the Meade MA, Celestron SMA, and Edmund RKE. A decent general-purpose eyepiece for the price. About $30-$50. Orthoscopic eyepieces were once considered the best for general use, but have lost some of their luster compared with newer Plossl designs. Using 4 elements, they are still popular for planetary work. They are well corrected throughout their 45 degree FOV. About $40-100. The Plossl seems to be the most popular eyepiece design today. Using 4 or 5 elements, they are very well-corrected and have a wider (50-52 degree) FOV than Orthoscopics. However, some models have shorter eye relief than equivalent Orthos. About $50-$150. Erfles seem to have fallen out of favor these days. Using 6 elements, Erfles throw up a wide 60-65 degree FOV, with increasing distortions near the edge. Rapidly becoming extinct. About $75-$150. Newer designs, primarily from the efforts of TeleVue, are gaining in popularity. These include the 6 element, 67 degree FOV Panoptics (about $200-$400) and the 7-8 element, 82 degree FOV Naglers (about $175-$425). Both series are truly amazing. It is said that once you have looked through a Nagler, nothing else will be good enough for you. As a Nagler owner, I think they might have a point. Sparked by the success of the TeleVue eyepieces, the Japanese have gotten into the act. The Meade Super Wides ($140-$300) and Ultra Wides ($170-$300) are virtual clones of the Tele Vues. And Pentax's 6-7 element SMC-XL (about $250 each) are thought be some to exceed the performance of the Tele Vues, especially at the lower focal lengths. Vixen's Lanthanums ($100-$200) and Tele Vue's Radians ($250) throw out a generous 20 mm of eye relief regardless of focal length, and are a godsend to those who must wear glasses while observing. Many observers find a barlow lens to be a valuable accessory. Inserted between the focuser and your eyepiece, a barlow will typically double or triple the magnification of any eyepiece. Thus, for $60-$100, you have effectively doubled the size of your eyepiece collection. Also, a barlow preserves the eye relief of your longer focal length eyepieces, thus reducing the amount of squinting you have to do.

What can I expect to see?
Next to "What telescope should I buy?" this is the most common question I usually get asked. This is a tougher question to answer than you may think. What you can see depends on a lot of factors, including the type of telescope you bought, the quality of your local seeing conditions, and your level of skill. Since the quality of your instrument and conditions are largely out of your control, it would make sense to hone your observing skills. Sadly, I don't see this happening much anymore. Observers, eager for instant results, often upgrade to larger and larger telescopes without bothering to learn how to "see" properly. Seeing well is both an art and a skill. You need to spend lots of quality time with your telescope. The more you look, the more you will see, and the better you will get. As a result, an experienced observer might enjoy deep sky objects in an 80 mm refractor, while a beginner with a light bucket next door is still struggling to find the Orion Nebula. Astronomy is a patient hobby. Don't be in too great a rush. The cosmos will still be there tomorrow. OK, now that the lecture is over, here's what you can see with a typical 6" reflector under reasonably good skies:
All 110 Messier objects, which includes nebulae, open and globular clusters, and extended galaxies. Most of these will seem impossibly dim to you at first. Later in your career, they will seem really bright.
All of the planets except Pluto. Saturn's rings are easy. Shadow transits on Jupiter are easy. Detail on Mars is somewhat harder, but gets a little easier once every two years. Venus, Mercury, Neptune, and Uranus are pretty much featureless balls.
Hundreds of named craters on the moon.
Sunspots and other activity on the sun, with a proper filter. Do not look at the sun without proper filtration!
Hundreds of other various objects.

Summing it up...
In summary, here are the prominent points given above:
1) Binoculars, even cheap ones, are sometimes a good substitute for a cheap telescope. In addition, binoculars are almost always good companions to a telescope.

2) Avoid department store, toy store, and "Nature/Science" store telescopes. I cannot restate this strongly enough: STAY AWAY from department store telescopes!

3) The primary purpose of a telescope is to gather light. Thus, all other things being equal, beginners should buy the largest aperture telescope they can afford. A 6" Dobsonian reflector is an excellent first telescope.

4) BUT, if the instrument is too large, you may never use it. Be realistic about what you're willing to lug around.

5) You don't need more than 3 or 4 carefully chosen eyepieces in your collection at first. The minimum quality you should consider are Kellners (and their offshoots). A Barlow is useful tool for doubling your collection at minimal cost.
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This is a great thread, a nice collection of invaluable advice. Thanx! I think I will suggest this one be pinned in place of the one at the top of the forum.

But the Krell forgot one thing John. Monsters. Monsters from the Id.

I really, really, really, really miss the "first unread post" function
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This is, dare I say, a legendary thread.

I second the suggestion of a pinning maneuver.
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Replying to:
This is, dare I say, a legendary thread. I second the suggestion of a pinning maneuver.
Posted by rybanis

I am going to pin this one, and once I get an OK from Calli will unpin the other. While it was a good thread, it has gotten quite bloated, while this is a superb and concise compilation. Many thanks, tfwthom!

I hope you don't mind, I have slightly altered the title of the thread. I changed the other one to Part 1.

Meteor Wayne

But the Krell forgot one thing John. Monsters. Monsters from the Id.

I really, really, really, really miss the "first unread post" function
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I'm not sure I like this in the telescope thread. I'd rather see a seperate thread discussing what you can see with a reasonably priced telescope. It is a different subject. By putting it here, you are diluting the subject of his thread. Can you please start a new thread with the subject what you can see with an inexpensive scope?

If you don't do it, I will copy them over to a new thread, but since it is your idea, I'd rather it starts under your name.


But the Krell forgot one thing John. Monsters. Monsters from the Id.

I really, really, really, really miss the "first unread post" function
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Replying to:
3) Orion StarBlast: $169 A rugged, easy-to-use instrument that is a near-perfect all-around performer. (I have used this scope (on a table) at the GCSP, with eyepiece that cost more then the scope, it was impressive) Upside: Nicely built scope with a stable, smooth-moving mount. Downside: Low mount means it must be used on a sturdy table.
Posted by tfwthom

I would add the new Orion Starblast 6 to this list of user-friendly beginner's scopes. It has received outstanding reviews in several publications, comes fully assembled, includes two very good plossl eyepieces, and couldn't be easier to use, from the sounds of it. I'm thinking of buying one myself as a "grab and go" scope.
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Just bumping the thread to make it easier for Danzi to find. In fact, this thread should be pinned....


My best advice to anyone who is inexperienced with astronomy and is considering buying a telescope was just touched on in one of the posts, and it bears repeating --- buy a pair of 7x50 binoculars first. You will want them anyway, even if you have a telescope. They are a lot cheaper than a telescope. You might already have them or be able to borrow them for free. They are a lot easier to use than a telescope. And you can use them for other stuff like watching birds or naked people. And you will be AMAZED at how much you can see in the sky through binoculars.

Pull out a comfy patio lounge chair, or get a blanket and pillow and lay on the ground. Kick back and scan the sky with your binoculars. It's awesome! Buy a star chart and learn how to find things in the sky. I've got a nice big detailed one with a list of top binocular objects printed on the back and the locations marked on the front.

Going the binocular route gives you a way to be sure you actually like sitting outside in the dark looking up at the sky as opposed to maybe just viewing great astrophotography on line. If it turns out you don't like the actual activity, you still have a great pair of binos for the game. And if you DO like the activity, you'll be one step ahead owning something you can use your whole life.

I've got a decent telescope, with goto features and a bunch of eyepeices and other expensive accessories, and I end up using the binoculars FAR more often, just for the simplicity of being able to grab them off the shelf and put them up to my eyes. Telescopes can be a bit of a rigamarole to st up --- it's worth it, but you don't always want to go through the effort.


My first telescope I built with a little help from a friend of mine when I lived in North Bay, Ontario. We used a Sono tube (very thick cardboard tube for making concrete columns). We sanded off the wax coating, treated it with a preserver. Then we primed & painted it black. The spider, & accessories I bought through Orion telescopes. The mirror and holder I bought through Arnold Optics (best optics maker in Canada). It cost about $1500.00Can for the 10" F5. I thought it was an awesome deal since to buy the same scope new would have cost $6000.00Can at the time. I use it, but I still need the EQ 6 Equatorial Mount :p


Telescopes make a very nice gift for a young child. Their open minds can really enjoy the telescopes.


That certainly is true, if it's a good enough telescope to provide useful images. That's where you have to be careful. A lousy useless scope can do more harm than good.


My son is almost 10 and VERY BRIGHT! He is interested in space and I would like to get him a good telescope not priced more then $300. I'm looking at various ones and there are reflective and refractive ones, etc., etc. and well I'm at a loss! I remember from a college astronomy course I took the instructor saying that a Celestron 8 was a good one to start with but that was back in the late 80's! If anyone could give me some suggestions I would really appreciate it!


puddiecat":290jf4yt said:
My son is almost 10 and VERY BRIGHT! He is interested in space and I would like to get him a good telescope not priced more then $300. I'm looking at various ones and there are reflective and refractive ones, etc., etc. and well I'm at a loss! I remember from a college astronomy course I took the instructor saying that a Celestron 8 was a good one to start with but that was back in the late 80's! If anyone could give me some suggestions I would really appreciate it!

I don't think you can go wrong with an Orion 6" dobsonian, and their Starblast 6 is especially easy to use right out of the box. But if you think he will use it mostly for looking at the moon and planets (which is what gives kids the biggest "Wow!" factor), consider an 80mm or 90mm achromatic refractor on an alt-azimuth mount with slow-motion controls, since it can do double-duty as a terrestrial spotting scope.


DJAtkins27":33uxlbgu said:
Telescopes make a very nice gift for a young child. Their open minds can really enjoy the telescopes.

I agree with you. Make a gift for a child. :)
Luxury Locs.


crazyeddie":2zy6v9ve said:
RonMaverick":2zy6v9ve said:

It looks like it's made by the same manufacturer as the Orion Starblast. But I don't recommend it; it's aperture is only 76 mm, which is way too small for a reflecting telescope. The 4.5" aperture Starblast is the smallest size I'd ever recommend in a reflector.

I am a beginner but I *REALLY* want the "Orion StarBlast 6 Astro ReflectorTelescope" (or any cheap telescope that can offer a view like this)

I am a college student so do any companies like Meade or Orion offer discounts? Are there sites that offer telescopes for discounted prices?

Would you suggest using software for a beginner or should one learn everything manually? I know there is software that can auto navigate telescopes towards starts and such, does it matter which way you learn?


RonMaverick":1qvrz5rb said:
I am a beginner but I *REALLY* want the "Orion StarBlast 6 Astro ReflectorTelescope" (or any cheap telescope that can offer a view like this)

Most telescopes will give fairly impressive views of the moon -- many larger aperture scopes will give even better views than what was shown in the video.

RonMaverick":1qvrz5rb said:
I am a college student so do any companies like Meade or Orion offer discounts? Are there sites that offer telescopes for discounted prices?

I doubt there are any student discounts. I don't know for sure, but I doubt it.

RonMaverick":1qvrz5rb said:
Would you suggest using software for a beginner or should one learn everything manually? I know there is software that can auto navigate telescopes towards starts and such, does it matter which way you learn?

There are pros and cons to GOTO scopes that can automatically aim at objects. The pros are that the feature can help you find objects that would otherwise be difficult to locate --- especially things that are not at all visible to the naked eye, like faint galaxies or nebulae. Another pro is that these scopes can track the object as the earth rotates, so it does not drift out of view. Cons are that GOTO adds a lot of cost to the whole telescope package that could otherwise be used to buy better optics (the telescope and eyepieces themselves). Another con is that it takes some setup to make a GOTO scope work, and some people have a bit of trouble just getting it set up to work at all. It can be just complicated enough to be discouraging.

Before you buy, if you know anyone who has a telescope, you should ask them to set it up some night and try it out. Or if there are any astronomy clubs who set up star parties, it would be a good thing to try out a few different kinds. I didn't do that, and now I have a really good telescope, but maybe not the best one for me.


I am looking to get a telescope and looking at this thread has educated me alot so thankyou! What I need to know what options is out there so I can view through the scope onto my computer as I have poor eye site but also would be great to do this also for ease. Is there scopes out there so I can plug my notebook to view whats been seen ?


InfoSpong":2p6buf6i said:
I am looking to get a telescope and looking at this thread has educated me alot so thankyou! What I need to know what options is out there so I can view through the scope onto my computer as I have poor eye site but also would be great to do this also for ease. Is there scopes out there so I can plug my notebook to view whats been seen ?

What you are seeking is possible, but if you don't already own a digital camera or video camera, be prepared to spend some money. Here's a website you might find very useful:

If you need a telescope with GOTO capability that can be controlled remotely with planetarium software, you'll looking at some big bucks!


...Thank you for the informative thread, I plan on buying a new telescope by the end of the year........I will probably purchase it from Orion Telescope Company........
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