There are lots of options when it comes to finding the right telescope to enhance your stargazing potential. Different telescopes offer different sets of strengths, hence why active stargazers end up with a collection of telescopes.
But first… do you need a telescope? Experts recommend holding off on purchasing a telescope until you become somewhat familiar with the night sky using just your naked eyes or binoculars. Since telescopes can be cumbersome to handle they often get in the way of a good experience for beginners. Once you develop a greater understanding of the night sky and its countless landmarks it becomes much easier to rely on a telescope.
Best Binoculars For Stargazing
A basic pair of binoculars can offer the perfect assistant to beginner stargazers. Binoculars are easier to use but still provide a clearer picture of the night sky. Experts advise relying on binoculars for as long as a year before promoting to a telescope. A basic pair of 7×50 binoculars allows you to see as much as 7 times what the naked eye can, opening up a whole new world without the need to splurge on a telescope.
Ready For A Telescope? Here Are Your Options
Telescopes come in different sizes, strengths, and models—which vary wildly! Here is a closer look at some of the terms used to define different telescopes in order to help you make the best decision based upon your needs and budget.
Compact Vs. Computerized
A compact non-computerized telescope offers the perfect opportunity to gaze at the moon, stars and bright planets found in your own backyard. There are larger computer-controlled telescopes as well, which are heavier and made to break down into multiple pieces for transportation.
If you’re willing to spend the extra money and deal with a bulkier, more complex device you have the chance to see otherwise faint or invisible wonders hiding out in the night sky. Yet, compact non-computerized telescopes are a better starting point for first-time buyers.
Does Magnification Matter?
Always avoid a telescope that advertises its magnification on the box. It’s a gimmicky trick used by manufactures to sell cheap and far from powerful telescopes at higher price points than they’re worth.
Telescope Designs: Refractor, Reflector & Catadioptric
Refractor telescopes are fairly common. They are made of modern glass to increase overall durability. They offer the greatest potential for clear images thanks to their lack of light path obstruction. But they are not cheap. In fact, they are on the higher end of the price scale.
Sir Isaac Newtown invented reflector telescopes, which use a parabolic mirror to focus light. This type of telescope serves as the most affordable option of the three deigns listed here. Unfortunately, the overall design can cause some loss of contrast and may require occasional alignment of optics.
Catadioptric telescopes come in a number of designs, all of which rely on the use of mirrors and lenses that fold inwards for a compact design. The most common is the Schmidt-Cassegrain, also known as SCT. This type of telescope offers the most compact design but as a result you loss out on image quality.
The larger aperture a telescope has the more light it lets in and the dimmer objects you can make out. A larger aperture will result in a larger and heavier telescope, as well as more costly.
When trying to decipher the aperture size you want to look at the “f/number,” the smaller the f/number the wider the field of view. Focal ratios of f/4 to f/6 are best for low power wide field views. Focal ratios of f/10 to f/15 are best for high power lunar, binary star and planetary observation. Focal ratios of f/7 to f/f9 provide a solid middle ground between these two options, granting a good amount of both wide field views with slightly higher power.
Eyepieces can be added to a telescope in order to enhance the image. These range in price from as low as $25 to well over $800. Eyepieces that offer a wider range of view are going to cost more, even if they offer the same magnification.
Don’t worry about high magnification, as higher magnification can result in a worse/dimmer view. In most cases, you’ll want a low power, wider field eyepiece.
There are two main types of telescope mounts: Alt-azimuth and Equatorial. The Alt-azimuth relies on constant repositioning of the telescope in order to keep up with Earth’s movements. A popular example is the Dobsonian, which is a great and easy to use option for beginners.
The Equatorial mount keeps track of Earth’s rotation so that tracking is easier for the user.
GoTo mounts generally make things more complicated and are only recommended for more advanced telescope users.