Buying a telescope can be one of the best purchases you ever make; whether you want to be an astronomer or just want to indulge a new hobby.
The best part about stargazing is that anyone can do it. An Australian minister named Robert Evans currently holds the record for discovering more than forty supernovae, just by using a telescope in his backyard, and with no formal training. But when it comes to figuring out which one to buy for beginners, it can be a bit tricky.
So, here are a few helpful hints to ensure your stargazing venture is a success.
1. Refractors are the long and skinny ones with the L-shaped eyepiece at the end. They use lenses. These are the most commonly sold telescopes and are the most portable for practical use. Most cheap telescopes are refractors, but not all refractors are cheap. The bigger the aperture (diameter) the more expensive they get.
2. Reflectors are a little fatter and have the eyepiece on the side rather than at the end. They use mirrors, rather than lenses, and can be more affordable than refractors when the apertures begin to increase. Reflectors can be very nice, but they are also a little finicky, which means spending more time adjusting the alignment. They are also generally bigger and require more effort to transport.
3. Compound telescopes use both lenses and mirrors. They are usually a bit slimmer, weigh a little less, and give you the biggest bang for your buck. These telescopes are a marriage of reflectors and refractors.
4. Go-to telescopes are mounts that can be programmed to track celestial objects on their own, which means less time tracking and more time observing.
5. Mounts are just as important as the telescope. After all, what good is a telescope if it won’t stay in place when you want it to? Do your research and invest in a good mount, it’s worth the money.
6. Binoculars are a wise investment for a few reasons. They give you a wide field of view, they allow to survey an area of the sky that you’d like to focus on, they’re inexpensive, and in areas with little light pollution they can offer amazing views.
7. Aperture is just the size of the telescope in terms of the diameter of the optical tube. Think of it like the size of a TV, that is, if the bigger the screen meant the more of the picture you could see.
8. Focal length can be tricky to describe, but it’s nearly as important as aperture. Essentially, it’s the length between the lens and its focus, which can mean the difference between a clear picture and a fuzzy one.
9. Cost is important for a first time buyer for many reasons. You don’t want to buy something that’s too expensive right away, but if you get one that’s too cheap then you may be have a less fulfilling experience. $200 to $400 is fair for decent new telescopes for novices, but looking for used ones that the previous owner barely touched is actually a great way to start out.