Before making an investment in your first telescope, we recommend learning a little about astronomy and getting feedback from TAAA members. By attending a club star party, you can observe through member scopes to get an idea of what to expect. You do not need to own a telescope to come! As a TAAA member, you may also attend our Astronomy Fundamentals Special Interest Group meetings held each month. These meetings provide an opportunity to network with other amateur astronomers, learn more about telescopes, as well as the basics of astronomy.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much should I expect to spend on my first telescope?
An investment of $500 is typical for an adequate first telescope. A cheaper mass market scope typically causes more frustration than it is worth.
Which is better… a reflector or a refractor?
General rule, refractors are EXPENSIVE to get good ones, reflectors are less expensive and work very well, most amateur and almost all professional scopes are reflectors for this very reason. Good performance at lower cost.
How much power do I need? 200, 300, 500x?
If it (the telescope) advertises power, walk away from it!!!!! Magnification is not what you look at, it is aperture that counts. Aperture is diameter of the main lens or mirror. measured in inches or millimeters for small scopes. I typically use between 60 and 150x for most of my observing, with higher magnification (more than 250x) being only rarely usable, no matter how good the telescope is. 150-250x is ideal for most planet viewing, anything more is probably useless.
I was told that the problem with the refractor telescopes is that the image is inverted, and the reflectors not. Is that a good reason to choose the reflector telescope?
Whoever told you that an inverted image is a problem doesn’t know much about telescopes, don’t listen to them. All astronomical telescopes (including mine) invert or reverse the image some way and it really doesn’t matter. There are accessories that will fix this but we don’t use them unless you also want to use the scope for daylight objects (bird spotting or such) where a right-side-up image matters.
I was thinking of getting an <XYZ> scope with the computer that will find things for me.
Recently, many more telescopes are being equipped with computer “GOTO” drives that allow the scope to automatically point to many objects in the sky. Most of these work well, but they do take some knowledge and patience to learn to use and I would not highly recommend them to the beginner. These scopes are also very expensive, often many thousands of dollars. If you are looking for a first scope you should probably start simpler than this, maybe step-up if you want to later.
Things To Look For In An Entry Level Scope
- A solid mount. If the mount is not stable your image will jump about, particularly at high power. You should be able to move from one point in the sky to another quickly and smoothly. Fine motion controls are not necessary in most small scopes.
- Do not take any notice of magnification claims; it is aperture that counts. Aperture is the diameter of the main mirror or lens of the scope. All scopes are referred to by their aperture, from the smallest amateur scope to the largest professional scopes on mountaintops.
- Six inches or more in aperture. With a six inch it is possible to see any of the Messier objects and beyond. This includes star clusters, nebulas, and dozens of galaxies. A scope of this size should also give good views of the planets.
- A solid mount. This is the failing point in most small scopes I see, if the mount is not good, the scope will result in hours of frustration and little observing.
- At least an 1-1/4 inch focuser, this focuser accepts the standard eyepieces that most amateurs use. Remember that your eyepieces may represent a substantial investment over time, and the 1-1/4 inch will be usable with any scope you buy in the future. Cheap scopes use 0.956″ eyepieces.
For a first scope, a reflector is recommended with a minimum of a six inch mirror. DO NOT get smaller than six inch with a reflector, the smaller scopes are usually department store scopes and are usually very cheap and nearly unusable. The Dobsonian telescope is a design that has become popular amongst amateur astronomers because it results in an extremely simple and rugged large-aperture instrument at low cost.The term “Dobsonian” or “Dob” refers to any telescope with an alt-azimuth mount and a Newtonian telescope tube assembly that feature several innovations made popular by John Dobson. The telescope is a favorite among amateur telescope makers who pioneered many of its original features and has been made increasingly popular by commercial telescope makers. If you upgrade to a larger scope, or find out you just don’t use it, a good Dobsonian can be sold for most of what you paid for it as they keep their value over time.
A six inch should cost about $350 new while an eight inch will be closer to $500. Consider budget for accessories and books. A Telrad (about $40) is an indispensable accessory for a Dobsonian.I would suggest you buy your telescope at a local astronomy shop. You may pay a little more (retail price plus sales tax) but a good store will offer assistance with your new scope, showing you how to set it up and use it. A good store will often have evening hours to allow just this sort of activity, often allowing you use of a showroom model so you really know what you are getting and if it will work for you. Here in Tucson, Starizona and Stellar Vision Astronomy offer excellent customer service and evening “Try-It-Out” opportunities.