Telescope Buying Guide

| January 17, 2012 | 0 Comments

There is an old saying that goes “the best telescope is the one that you will actually use.” When someone decides to buy a telescope, they almost always are drawn to the more expensive, more powerful models that come with all sorts of extra features like star finders and astronomy books. However more often than not these potential astronomers wind up sticking the telescope in a closet and rarely using it and it is eventually forgotten. They got stars in their eyes and wound up buying a telescope that was too hard to use, too heavy to carry, or too complex to setup.

When you go out to look for your first telescope, you want to make sure you buy one that you will actually use. If you buy a telescope, fall in love with astronomy, and want a bigger one then you can sell the smaller one. A properly taken care of telescope retains a lot of its purchase value so buying a smaller model now and upgrading later won’t cause you to lose too much money.

Look for a scope that is lightweight and has a sturdy tripod. If you buy a heavy telescope then you will spend many nights deciding against going out to look at the moon because you don’t want to bother with carrying a 100 pound telescope out into the yard. The tripod is important because it holds the telescope firmly in place. A flimsy one could fall over, damaging the telescope. Cheaper telescope tripods also do not hold their position very well so they have a tendency to drift, meaning that you will keep constantly having to adjust the telescope when you are using it.

It is important to understand that most inexpensive telescopes are considered “planetary” telescopes. This means that they are good for looking at the moon, Mars, Venus, and the bigger outer planets such as Jupiter and Saturn. Planetary telescopes are not good for looking at nebulas or distant galaxies. This is because of the aperture size of the scope. The aperture size refers to how much light the telescope takes in. A larger aperture means that more light is making its way into the telescope. Far off galaxies and nebulas are very dim so in order to see them you need a scope that sucks in a lot of light. Planetary telescopes have small apertures and do not perform well when looking for objects outside of our solar system.

The telescopes that can see far outside of our own solar system have a much larger aperture size and are therefore heavier and more expensive than the standard long tube telescope you may be familiar with. Believe it or not, you don’t need much magnification power to see a distant galaxy – you just need to be able to capture enough of the light coming from that galaxy. The “power” of a telescope does not increase what it can see it just makes what it does see bigger. If our own eyes had a larger aperture then we would be able to see more stars and galaxies at night without having to touch a telescope at all.

You may be tempted to buy a scope that includes an automated star finder or a motorized mount or other fancy widgets that promise to unlock all the beauty of the night skies. These are great in some instances but for a beginner telescope you can forget about them. Most of them are more complicated to use than they would lead you to believe and the automatic star finders can be unreliable if not configured properly.

For a beginner telescope, the long tube planetary telescopes are a good choice. They are generally lightweight, easy to carry and assemble, and are easy to use. There are a lot of good beginner telescopes on the market and they can be had for just around $100 for a good quality one. It is highly recommended that you buy an affordable scope first. If you love it and want a bigger one, then sell the cheap telescope and upgrade to a better one then.

A good telescope can provide you with plenty of stargazing opportunities for decades. There is no need to invest several hundred dollars in a large scope if it is just going to sit in your closet because it is too big or too complex. For your first telescope go with something cheap and then decide after a few months if you need or want something bigger. By


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Category: Telescopes Guide

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