New to Astronomy? Purchasing a Telescope?
If you are just getting into astronomy and don’t know your way around the night sky that well or at all then I would highly recommend getting a pair of good binoculars ($75 – $150) and a planisphere ($15 at your local book store) and then spend some time learning your way around the night sky. Binoculars will show you a ton of stuff in the sky at a fraction of the cost of buying a telescope. However, if you have your heart set on a telescope then, again if your just starting out, I would recommend a 6″ or 8″ Newtonian telescope utilizing Dobsonian characteristics or more simply put a “Dobsonian telescope.” You are probably saying “so what does that mean?” Well, Dobsonian telescopes like the one pictured below are very easy to setup and use, cost less than more complicated designs and computerized models and are perfectly suited for showing all types of objects in the night sky if you are just starting out in the hobby.
The Dobsonian’s draw backs include their bulkier size and the scopes have no clock drive to track an object (no motor drive). While Dobsonians are usually bulkier in size the 6″ and 8″ scopes are very portable and you certainly don’t have to have a motor driven telescope to enjoy the night sky. To track objects you simply manually nudge the scope every minute or so to keep the object in the center of the eyepiece. In my opinion a Dobsonian telescope give you the biggest bang for your buck allowing for larger aperture for the least amount of money, and as I mentioned above are perfect for newcomers to the hobby.
Purchasing a telescope or a pair of binoculars is easy! The hard part is choosing one that’s right for you. Take your time and look through other peoples telescopes and talk to them about their experiences with their telescope. You can do this by attending star parties or seeking out your local astronomy club. This way you’ll get a good idea of what to expect from a variety of telescopes. Think about what you want to do with the scope and how you’ll use it (visual observations, astrophotography, CCD imaging) because this will help determine the type of scope that is right for you. Finally, resist the temptation to rush out and buy a telescope from an outdoors store, discount super store or electronics warehouse. Take your time, learn the night sky and about telescopes in general before you make your purchase. When you are ready to buy a telescope, seek out reputable manufactures such as Celestron, Meade or Orion.
If you are looking to buy your first telescope and would like more information before making your purchase then check out the Choosing your first telescope article on Sky & Telescope’s web site. This article discusses the different types of scopes and the common pitfalls to avoid when you are making your first purchase.
Good luck and clear skies!