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If you're thinking about becoming an amateur astronomer, be wary about buying a discount telescope. Rather than buying a discount telescope, purchase the best piece of equipment you can find for your money. You can find decent beginner telescopes for a price tag ranging from $100 to $300. According to online reports, the following manufacturers produce quality beginner telescopes: National Geographic, Celestron, Meade, and Bushnell.
Select the more affordable National Geographic 70mm Land & Space telescope, a refractor telescope complete with a 6mm, 15mm, 18mm, and 25mm eyepiece, and rotating eyepiece turret, which retails for $170. Or try the Meade ETX-70AT telescope, which retails for $240 and can take you on an automated tour of the planets and stars with the push of a button.
Before you make a telescope purchase, it's a good idea to be weary of any model that touts magnification power as its strong suit. Why? You could end up with a low quality telescope with high magnification power. In order to increase telescopic magnification power, all you have to do is change the eyepiece out. The objects you are able to see with a telescope depend more on aperture and the amount of light a telescope can gather than the magnification power. When making your telescope purchase decision, also keep in mind that most stargazers often end up using a lower powered magnification more often than a higher powered one.
If you want to figure out the maximum magnification of a model of telescope, take the size in inches of the lens and multiply by 50. For example, an eight inch lens would have a magnification of 400x.
If you're not sure where to find a telescope buying guide to get you started, an all inclusive buying guide book such as Star Ware, by Philip Harrington, will give comprehensive information you need to make your purchase. For those of you who prefer to do your research via the World Wide Web, check out the Web sites of astronomy publications such as Sky & Telescope at www.skypub.com or Astronomy magazine at www.astronomy.com for their basic telescope buying guide. You'll find information explaining telescope basics, what to look for in your purchase, reviews of telescope models, and how to get started in astronomy.
Got your sights set on the stars? Before you put down any cash to buy a telescope, put in the time to research what's out there. This telescope buying guide will help you get started in figuring out what piece of stargazing equipment might be best for your needs.
• Read as much material on telescopes as you can, including product reviews, manufacturer marketing material, and telescope buying guide books.
• Learn what the basic inner workings of a telescope are to determine what product will meet your needs. Do you know what an aperture is or the focal length is on a telescope? Finding out how a telescope works will determine the specifications you need when you buy a telescope.
• Take some time to test out a telescope before you make the actual purchase. The best place to get a good grasp of a range of models is by contacting your local astronomy club and finding out when the next public observation date is. You'll have plenty of opportunities to ask questions and observe telescopes in use.
• Find a reputable telescope dealer to get a knowledgeable resource to make your purchase from. A reputable telescope dealer will ask about your interests and level of expertise in astronomy.
If you're looking to buy a new model of telescope, but you want to try out the equipment first, try contacting your local astronomy club to see if they have a loaner program. For instance, the Los Angeles Astronomical Society has a well-known loaner program among local amateur astronomy enthusiasts and professional astronomers, which allows members to check out a model for their use and learn about the night sky. You can pay for a yearly membership and the education you receive from members and resources make it well worth the cost. If you don't live near Los Angeles, an excellent resource to check for a local astronomy club in your area is Sea & Sky's list of resources at www.seasky.org/links/skylink10.html.
It's helpful to know the types of telescopes available on the market for consumer purchase when you're making a decision on astronomy equipment. There are three main types: the refractor telescope, the reflector telescope, and the catadioptric telescopes.
Refractor - The refractor telescope consists of a long tube with a lens at the front and an eyepiece on the opposite side. Refractor telescopes are favored for their simple design, ease of use, and suitability for long distance terrestrial viewing. However, compared to reflector telescopes or catadioptric telescopes with a similar aperture, the refractor is a costlier purchase. The refractor is also less suited for viewing and photographing faint astronomical bodies due to the constraints of the aperture size and the design limitations of the telescope body.
Reflector Telescope – This model of telescope has a greater dimensional girth than the refractor telescope. Rather than using a lens, the reflector telescope employs a concave mirror at the back of the tube and a primary mirror at the front. The reflector is useful for a number of stargazing opportunities, including viewing planets, the moon, and faint objects deep in space. The reflector is also compact enough to be easily transported from location to location. The downside to using reflector telescopes lies in a distortion of images and lack of suitability for usage in terrestrial viewing due to the inversion of the viewed image.
Catadioptric - This type of telescope is based an evolved design of the reflector telescopes. By adding a corrector lens in addition to the use of mirrors in the telescope, the catadioptric telescope delivers improved performance. The advantages include top notch focus capability, increased durability, and ease of use for photography, terrestrial viewing, and deep space viewing. The main disadvantage of a catadioptric telescope compared with the other types of telescopes is the high cost associated with its refined components.
If the price tag of even an entry-level beginner telescope is enough to keep you wary of buying a telescope, consider making a binocular purchase first. When most people think of stargazing, the first thing that comes to mind is viewing the night sky through a telescope. However, all you need to start your venture into the world of astronomy is a set of binoculars. Binoculars are actually a set of parallel refractor telescopes mounted together as one unit. Astronomers recommend beginning stargazers start out with a binocular purchase before buying a telescope. You won't have the same amount of magnification you get with a telescope, but your field of view will be greater so you'll be able to see more of the sky at once. You can find a quality pair of binoculars from Konica, Meade, Olympus, and Bushnell from between $70 to $140.
If you want the very latest telescope product review, check out an astronomy periodical to find out what's new, what telescope products are good, and which ones aren't. For instance, Sky & Telescope magazine puts out a section every month on the latest in telescope products. Their 2006 January issue has a list of the best in telescopic equipment from the $5,000 Meade RCX400, built for the astrophotography enthusiast, to the more affordable $300 ZenithStar 66 Petval ED Semi-APO, a small, high quality refractor telescope.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|