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How to Buy a Good Telescope

Updated on April 7, 2011
Schmidt Cassegrain telescope
Schmidt Cassegrain telescope | Source

Finding just the right telescope to encourage a your own or a child's budding love of astronomy is the next big step in exploring a passion for stargazing. It is quite a big leap to go from doing a little stargazing to getting serious about the science of astronomy. There is much thought that must go into the purchase of a telescope, including the understanding of how to use it and get the most out of it.

Three Types of Telescopes

When looking for the right telescope it is very important to make sure it is the right fit for where ever a person is in his star studies, and what his stargazing preferences are. Generally, there are three major types of telescopes and a few basic concepts to know that will increase the chances of making a purchase that satisfies.

An amateur astronomer will be interested in buying one of three primary telescope types. They are the reflector, the refractor and the Schmidt Cassegrain. The name for the first two telescopes come from the type of lens used. The quality of the lens is at the heart of a good telescope, so the choice of lens can make a big difference in the success and usefulness of the telescope.

A telescope with a refractor lens is the most basic one, using a convex lens to focus light on the eyepiece; the lens will curve outwards to achieve this. The refractor telescope is best used for viewing planets. Its strength is in viewing objects that are further away, and the lens is the opposite of the refractor in the sense that it is concave, curving inward. This telescope will use mirrors to focus the image for the viewer to see. The Schmidt Cassegrain is the most complex telescope, and has the capability of both the refractor and reflector telescopes and uses a complex mirror system to deliver clear images to the eyepiece.

How Will the Telescope Be Used?

To make the right selection, it helps to understand the objectives of the user. A few types of research can help answer many questions before making a telescope purchase for a child, or anyone for that matter. Understanding the telescope designs, lenses, performance in various stargazing situations as well as overall strength and weaknesses of each type of telescope will ultimately help make the right purchase.

Find the Right Place to Shop

When beginning to shop for a telescope, find a reputable shop where employees are knowledgeable, and establish a relationship with them. Buying a telescope from a large discount store leaves much to be desired when there is no one who can answer any technical questions about the product.

Find an Astronomy Club

If the telescope-seeker is not already involved in any kind of astronomy club or society, the personnel at the telescope store will be able to recommend active groups in the area. Making connections with others who have purchased telescopes can provide a wealth of knowledge and resources about pricing, what to avoid and what to look for. This type of first-hand experience will be much more useful than any information from Internet research or big-box store salespeople.

Do Field Research

Try to attend some field trips with an astronomy club. This is a chance to spend some quality time with other people who are familiar with telescopes. It provides an opportunity to see other peoples' setups, examine their equipment, understand important technical aspects and hopefully try out a few telescopes before making a final purchase.

A few other factors to consider before purchasing have to do with how and where the telescope will be used. If the telescope must be mobile, the tripod and other accessories will be quite different from those for a telescope that will take up residence on the backyard deck. If the telescope needs to be mobile, it should be easy to set up and take down. Also, note the complexity of the telescope and what kind of maintenance it will need. Networking with other experienced telescope owners can answer just about any questions a buyer may have, and guarantee the making of a happy and proud owner of just the right telescope for his needs and desires.


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