Wednesday, February 16, 2011

So You Want To Buy A Telescope.

Maybe you have been reading astronomy blogs and visiting various astronomy sites and checking out the latest Hubble pictures and have thought to yourself, 'Man, astronomy is awesome, space is awesome! I want a telescope, I want to see and learn more about the Universe I live in.' Great, and congratulations, the Universe is a very wonderful and beautiful place. A telescope is a wonderful tool for looking at the wonders of space.

That said, the best initial advice is: Do NOT Buy A Telescope!

Not yet at least. First, like all good purchases, you need to do some homework. You shouldn't just walk into your local department store and throw down less then $100 on a crappy refractor. You can, but it will probably just break after a couple uses and have poor visual quality and ultimately leave you with a disappointed experience. You probably want to get the best experience that you can out of your telescope, so you have to determine what you are going to use it for and learn a bit about the night sky. (More after my first attempt at using a jump break.)



Your first piece of homework, go outside and look up. That might seem like obvious advice, but its true and helpful. Examining the sky on a clear night will help to build a relationship with the sky. You can learn a lot from just looking at the patterns of stars, how they relate to each other, what phase the moon is, and maybe even point out a planet or two. The point is to familiarize yourself with the night sky, so that way, when you get a telescope, you can determine where you want to point it. Supposedly, taking notes while you observe, or even sketches, will help you bring more detail. I can't really say, I never really did much of that. Then again, in college, when I observed, I more often had to do a write up on it, so maybe that is true.

Now, keep observing, no need to rush to by a telescope after one day, or even a month. See if it's something you will stick with. I usually use my telescope once or twice a month now, but usage varies, and I also look through other telescopes from the astronomical society I am a member of. In fact, I would say the next best step is to get in touch with your local astronomical society/club/group. The Night Sky Network can help you with that. The NSN is a network of astronomy clubs across the Unites States, and has connections to other countries. There are hundreds of groups, and all would be excited and willing to help you out, they are all amateurs themselves. Attending a public observing session would help you to learn a little bit more about stars and space and astronomy in general. Looking through their telescopes will give you an idea of what you can look forward to.

By now, you should realize, looking through a telescope is nothing like the pictures you see online. You probably won't see grand vistas of stellar dust, the immense images of swirling galaxies, and so forth. If that's what you want to see, stay inside and wait for the round of Hubble images. Heck, if you want to contribute to science and look at those wonderful images too, I suggest helping with any of the Zooniverse projects, an excellent way to be a citizen scientist.

OK, so you're familiar with the sky and you know what to expect when you look through a telescope. So, what kind of scope do you get? Well, that all depends on how, where, when, and what you want to observe. If you just want to start light, looking at the Moon, star clusters, and some planets, binoculars are super efficient. They are also very mobile, so if you live in a city, traveling with them to a dark spot will be easy, and you will probably see more stars in one glance then ever possible in city lights. They can also be useful in the suburbs as an easy way to get into astronomy. Another added bonus with binoculars is that they are eye oriented, meaning they will follow where you look. With a telescope, there are mental gymnastics with determining left/right and up/down as the image in the eyepiece is usually flipped.

If you decide binoculars aren't for you and you really want to go the telescope route, then there are a few suggestions. Be wary of anything advertised that anything that advertises magnification. Good telescopes are sold by their aperture size. Telescopes are based on light gathering ability, to make dim distant objects look brighter. The larger the diameter of the lens or mirror, the brighter objects appear. Magnification can be handled by eyepieces. Having a couple eyepieces is good too, but make sure they are within reason for your telescope. There is no sense in having a big view of a planet if you cannot make out any details.

So, what you are left with are not the department store cheapos, which honestly only exist to appease kids of unknowing parents. Rather, you end up with a pretty decent beginners telescope, and perhaps one of the more advanced ones might suit you if you are convinced and committed. There are a whole host of vendors out there and at this point you should be able to get some good tips from your local club. Some of the scopes I suggest are the Edmunds Scientific Astroscan (a fellow member of my club showed this off not to long ago), a Meade ETX (I have an 80mm, another person I know has a 60mm), or an entry level Celestron. But there are plenty of scopes and you need to find what is right for you.

Some additional sites I recommend are Telescopes.com, Universe Today's Guide, and the telescope guide my club links to. I hope you have a better idea of telescopes now, and if you really are interested, you stick through it and begin to explore the beauty of our Universe with your own eye.


22 comments:

Scott said...

I was really into getting a telescope some time ago and started doing some research. I quickly realised it wasn't going to be as simple as I expected! Wish I had this blog post back then, it would have saved me some major time. FYI, I never ended up buying one because the quality I want is far too expensive at the moment.

Leviuqse said...

i got this 1000x telescope like 2 years ago...wish i had read this before

Astronomy Pirate said...

Yeah, I know what you're saying, for my high quality stuff, I rely on my astronomy club, which is attached to a community college that has its own observatory and a $5000 telescope and a mount that costs twice that. The stuff gets real expensive real fast, that's why it is better to get with a club. Through dues and donations, it's possible to pool your money for better equipment.

Bring_Napkins said...

Awesome advice dude, I've always wanted a telescope but I always thought that its a bit too pricy. I'll build a rapport with the sky first, once I find a nice elevated cliff to do so, too much light pollution around here.

PiratesLoveVikings said...

Good advice, man. Telescopes are way too expensive for me to spring for alone. :P

LegendaryLiNX said...

Telescopes will always suck because of the atmosphere. Lets just rely on hubble or get something new up there.

Salman A said...

I've always been interested in looking at the stars myself, but I realized the lucrative market for telescopes requires good insight.

But still, it's so tempting. I have a great interest in astrophysics so it would be spectacular to see the planets with my own eyes.

Perhaps one day I'll get one!

Astronomy Pirate said...

Yeah, LiNX, weather is probably an astronomer's worst enemy. But, now there is adaptive optics which is making it easier. Some of the planned newer telescopes are going to just as good as Hubble. But the next generation of space telescopes are going to be even better, such as the James Webb scope.

BlowingInTheWind said...

Iv always wanted one, Id love to look up and see some planets :(

Smog Town Leaf said...

Got a telescope when I was really young from my grandparents, ever since then I've loved SPACE.

Awesome blog, bro. Something I'm interested in, will definitely come back for more.

Luke Parker said...

I'm thinking of getting a telecope to hook up to my camera and do some astrophotography.

Daan said...

I'll just follow the advice of not buying one

Tracerz said...

Great advice! =D I've been thinking of getting a telescope, but it's a pretty big investment and I'm afraid the excitement will wear off after about a month. Getting involved with a group is a GREAT idea.

obi said...

yeah i think ill save up and get a quality one, thx. following ;)

mmmpieohyeah said...

cool post man, it's somehow deep

thatguy said...

My friend is quite intrested in astronomy. Apparently theres a local astronomy club he's allowed to rent good telescopes from for free. So he's pumped. :D

Venus said...

I want a telescope so bad... this post has been very informative. this is now one of my favorite blogs now

Charles said...

that would be cool to have

seankenny08 said...

Good advice. I'm sure most casual customers wouldn't think of this.

seankenny08 said...

Followed btw

Stuff that matters, stuff that don't said...

Maybe I don't want to buy a telescope already?
I'm looking forward to possibly seeing the Northern Lights in England this week though.

HiFi said...

Wow, I didn't know that you had to know this much about telescopes in order to know what telescopes are all about. Good info here. Nice blog btw!

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