Tip & How-To about Optics
You cannot buy a usable telescope for less than about $200. Sorry but that's just the way it is! Virtually everyday I am answering FixYa questions in the Telescope section from people that just purchased their first telescope for $89 off of Craigslist, or Wal Mart, or CostCo or WORST of all TOYS R US!
They just bought a JUNK "toy", that will soon be posted back onto Craigslist (for sale) or relegated to a closet or attic at home. These small "toy" telescopes do more to HURT the Astronomy hobby than just about anything I can think of.
Don't fall for the pretty color photos on the outside of the box, or the CLAIM that it is 550 power magnification! Walk away from any telescope or telescope advertisement that says this on the outside of the box!
Think about buying a nice pair of 10x50mm binoculars. This is about the same aperture as that 60mm worthless refractor telescope on a shaky EQ mount you are thinking about buying; and good binoculars and a star chart can be used to find many deep sky objects, including most of the Messier objects from a dark sky observing site. You can even get an Astronomical League award using just binoculars!
By buying one of these cheap telescopes you will frustrate yourself and or your child. Some of them are virtually impossible to use, cannot come to focus, or break very easily. The optical elements also may be plastic instead of glass. The focus mechanism and the eyepieces might also be made of cheap plastic.
You promised your child a telescope and now you MUST buy one? Ok, buy one of the ones listed below:
You really need at least 4.5 inches of aperture to begin to see the dimmer objects in the sky. Six inches of aperture would be even better. The scopes listed above are all, what we call, Dobsonian mounted telescopes. Very easy to operate- up, down, left-right motion. They can be pointed easily to the moon and planets, and the brighter sky objects; IF you learn EXACTLY where to point them. This is the biggest problem for beginners, finding those very small and dim sky objects.
Remember a telescope has a very small field of view. LESS THAN the tip of your finger held at arm's length! You can be right next to a sky object and NOT see it in the eyepiece! The scope must be pointed DIRECTLY at it! This is the biggest problem for a beginner, and leads to those questions here on Fixya like, " I cannot see anything in my new XYZ telescope".
I would also encourage you to locate your local Astronomy club and attend their meetings and star parties. The members will help you learn how to operate the scope, and also help you learn the sky.
A free monthly star chart can be downloaded at: www.skymaps.com . You can also install the free planetarium software Stellarium, put in your location and it will show what is up in the sky for any date or time.
Remember, MAGNIFICATION is the least important telescope quality. Aperture (the size of the lens in mm, or the size of the mirror in inches) , and quality optics is much more important than magnification. Usually I use no more than about 150 power in my 8 inch LX90 telescope. My usual magnification is somewhere around 100 power.
Again DO NOT buy those toy telescopes! It's a big waste of your hard earned money! Now go and read my Frequently Asked Questions TIP.
PS-- read these before you buy a telescope-
Posted by Joe... on
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