Telescope Buying Tips

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• FAQ • Telescope Buying Tips • Binoculars Info •



Read:  Recommended magazines include Astronomy, an introductory-level publication, and Sky & Telescope. Both contain monthly star charts.

Study:  Find out more about the origins of the solar system or the distance between planets. "If that doesn't fire you up, you probably don't want a telescope," says Bob Tillotson of the Ogden Astronomical Society.

Identify:  Learn how to read a star chart and spot various objects in the sky. Sure, you know the Big and Little Dippers, but where's Vega or Antares? Visit. Hang out at a few star parties or visit astronomy club meetings. Both are good ways to increase knowledge of the sky and find out more about different types of telescopes. Some clubs even have telescope loan programs.

Look:  Start scanning the skies with a pair of binoculars, recommended by many experts as the best "first telescope."


Make a selection: If you're interested in stargazing, you need an astronomical telescope. Terrestrial or spotting scopes are designed for looking at Earth-bound objects.

Know the aperture: Get as wide an aperture, or opening, as you can afford. A 6- to 10-inch diameter is recommended. This measurement is the diameter of the primary mirror or lens, not the tube of the telescope.

Know the mount: Make sure the telescope connects solidly with the tripod -- no wiggles or vibrations. The scope should scan steadily and smoothly.

Know the type: Reflecting telescopes are good for beginners, particularly the simple Dobsonian style (named for inventor John Dobson, a monk). "Dobs" are easy to set up and provide quality optics and sturdy mounts.

Watch the magnification: Steer clear of telescopes touting excessive magnification, such as 600 power. Astronomy buffs rarely use such high powers. The magnification of any scope can be changed by adding eyepieces.

Consider the price. Expect to spend $400-$500 for a quality telescope. Most cheaper scopes don't give a budding Carl Sagan -- or an ordinary adult or child -- much to look at.

Keep learning. Once you have a telescope, take it along and visit more star parties. Folks there can show you how to set up the scope and how to use it.

Revised: October 13, 2007.

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