Astronomy, the study of celestial objects, space, and the universe, is a pretty awesome subject. You can learn a lot about space from books and the internet. However, you can also go outside and take a look up at the sky. Since we can only see so much with our eyes alone, we need telescopes to help us see the things that are really far away. While they can get pretty expensive, even a budget model can help you see some really cool things. In today’s post, we’re going to talk you through what to look for when you buy one for yourself.
There are three basic classes of telescope:
- A Reflector uses a mirror to direct light toward the eyepiece. These tend to be the cheapest models. They show no excess colors; bright objects won’t have a colored fringe around them like they can with other scopes.
- Catadioptric (compound) telescopes use mirrors and lenses to send images to the eyepiece. This does not require a large tube so they are small and compact.
- Refractors gather light with a lens at one end and focus the light at the eyepiece at the other end. These are often the largest and most expensive telescopes. They also typically have the best image contrast.
Regardless of the magnification, the best indicator of a good telescope is going to be the aperture. Telescopes work by gathering light, so the larger the aperture (the hole allowing the light through), the better.
Once you know which type of telescope is right for you, you need to buy a mount. This is just as important as the telescope itself. A good mount will be easily transportable, sturdy, and allow the telescope to move easily when you want it to. A bad mount will wobble in the even the lightest breeze, causing images on even the best of telescopes to shake or even cause the lenses/mirrors to fall out of alignment. There are several types of mounts—some motorized and some manual. Reflector telescopes are almost always paired with a Dobsonian mount that allows you to move the telescope up and down (altitude) and side to side (azimuth). There are also Equatorial mounts, which are typically motorized to compensate for the Earth’s movements. A much newer development are Go-to mounts. These mounts are motorized and work with a computer to find and track any celestial object you choose.
If there is an astronomy club in your area, go along on an observation. This is the best way to try out a variety of equipment. You can ask questions and get a practical feel for what telescopes work best for you.
Keep in mind that no matter the quality of the telescope you buy, you’re not going to get the same quality as someone would using observatory instruments or fancy cameras. You’ll still be able to see some amazing sights, though!