Its…. Telescope Time!

This is it, the moment we’ve all been waiting for… telescope time!  Every amateur astronomer dreams of having one of their own, and so here’s a handy little guide to getting your first.

But before we get there, I want to tell you about binoculars.

As a backyard astronomer, a pair of binoculars will be your new best friend.  It’s not something many people think of, but binoculars are an invaluable tool for stargazing- sometimes more useful than a telescope.

There are a couple reasons you should get a pair:

  1. They’re basically 2 mini-telescopes you can put on your face.  Depending on the power, you can see as much as you could with a (small) telescope
  2. You can see so much with them- They gather more light than your eyes do on your own, and they magnify.  Binoculars make stargazing possible in places where naked-eye astronomy is hard to do.
  3. Binoculars are a lot cheaper than a telescope.  While some of them can cost quite a lot, most of the best binoculars price at $300 and below- this is the starting price for decent telescopes, which can get in the range of the thousands.  If $300 (or $200 or $100) seems like a lot of money, worry not!  Celestron sells their good-quality 7×50 Cometron Binoculars for only $34.69.  (These are the binoculars I have!!)
  4. Binoculars are super portable! Telescopes can be hard to lug around and a pain to set up.  Binoculars just hang on your neck, and while tripods are sometimes helpful, they aren’t necessary.  
  5. They’re also very easy to use.  There’s no aligning, adjusting, or anything- just put ‘em on your face and you’re set!


Hopefully I’ve convinced you that binoculars are the way to go (at least initially).  If you plan on getting a pair, make sure they are around 7×50.  (magnification of 7, lens of 50).  It’s tempting to get a more powerful set (like a 25×100) but the higher the power, the more difficult to use.  8×30 or 8×40 is fine, too.


Now, finally, on to telescopes.


There are 3 types of telescopes to familiarize yourself with- reflectors, refractors, and schmidt cassegrain.  

Refractors: the “original telescope”, magnify and gather light with a series of curved lenses.  

Reflectors: Magnify and gather light with mirrors

Schmidt-Cassegrain: A mix between a reflector and refractor- uses curved mirrors.  


There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

Example Pros Cons Best use Price

– high contrast

– very low maintenance

– chromatic aberration

– larger than other telescopes

– expensive at larger sizes

– moon and planets $-$$$$$


good quality scopes in $300-$1,000 range.

Reflector – no chromatic aberration

– collects lots of light

– light and easy to use

– requires regular maintenance

– slight loss of light due to optics

– deep sky objects

– galaxies and nebulae



good quality scopes in $300-$1,000 range.



  – small and compact

– computerized

– best focus ability

– comfortable viewing

– more expensive

– slight light loss

– narrow field of view

– good for everything

(the “best of both worlds”)




Things to consider when buying a telescope:

  1. Never buy a telescope from a department store- you know the type.  Cheap, colorful, and tempting.  They are, without fail, always trash.  As a rule of thumb, steer clear of telescopes under $200, they aren’t worth the money- spend it on a nice pair of binoculars.
  2. Aperture and focal length are more important than magnification, by a lot.  
  3. Bigger is not always better- while you can see more, you wont use your telescope if it’s a pain to set up and haul around.



The general consensus in the backyard astronomy community is that an 8-inch Dobsonian mounted reflector is the best beginner telescope in terms of price, ease of use, and quality of stargazing.

I hope this helped you out, and happy stargazing!