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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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!!)
- 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.
- 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.
Things to consider when buying a telescope:
- 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.
- Aperture and focal length are more important than magnification, by a lot.
- 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!