August 30, 2016

A good telescope for starting out in astronomy

Astronomy is an amazing hobby that can take you as far as you want to go, in all sorts of observing and scientific directions.  For people looking to get into astronomy, here is some great advice for buying a beginner telescope.  This is from Douglas George, Ottawa-based expert amateur astronomer and comet hunter, who was responding to a question from another friend of mine:
In the "few hundred dollar" range, telescopes vary from utter crap to quite decent.  Don't buy a telescope from anything but a specialty shop.  Don't buy anything that lists some huge magnification (800X !!!).  High magnification in a small aperture instrument is an attempt to violate the laws of physics.  Tip: physics win.  You'll only see a blur.

If you want a good telescope in that price range, it's going to be no-frills. That doesn't mean it won't be a very capable telescope; you just need to put your money into decent optics and a good solid mounting.  This means a "Dobsonian" style instrument.

Here is an example of a good beginner telescope:

Orion SkyQuest XT6 Classic Dobsonian Telescope | Orion Telescopes

This has a 6" diameter mirror, which means the telescope is actually quite capable.  At the same time, it is not too bulky.  The mount is a very stable design, being a simple up/down, left/right affair.  If you can't point the telescope at an object, you can't see it.  This is a far better design than a spindly tripod.

Another important factor is you need a good aiming device.  Telescopes have tunnel vision, so you need some help.  Many beginner telescopes are sold with really poor quality finder scopes, which are beyond difficult to use.  The telescope linked above has an "EZ Finder".  Another similar device is a "Telrad".  These devices don't magnify, they simply point - and are not just very easy to use, they are quite accurate.

If you can't afford a 6" telescope, go for a slightly smaller unit - say 4.5" diameter.  Don't go smaller than that.
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