All About Beginner Telescopes For Kids Astronomy And How To Find The Best Telescope For The Young Star Gazer
Beginner telescopes for kids - what are the options?
New to telescopes and don’t know where to start? This
article can help you make the right choice when buying a beginner telescope for kids - helping them to start a journey of exploration and wonder through our Solar system, Galaxy and Universe!
Helping Kids To Unlock The Beauty of the Night Sky With A Telescope...
What are the choices?
Okay, although a pair of binoculars with a star chart will be an excellent start for the budding young astronomer (a large aperture 10 x 50 pair would be best), it just doesn’t have that… telescope magic, right?
So, let’s have a look at beginner telescopes for kids. There are two main families of optical telescopes - refracting scopes, which use glass lenses, and reflecting scopes, which use curved mirrors.
Kids will get the most out of a telescope if it is simple to use, easy to set up, portable and of course, robust and low maintenance. However, quite a few astronomers will tell you that buying a cheap beginner telescope from your local department store or toyshop is usually not recommended! There is a lot of cheap toy ‘junk’ out there which will only frustrate the child and turn them off the fantastic world of astronomy (these scopes are usually long and skinny with wobbly mounts…).
Refracting or Reflecting?
Between the two types, most astronomers would recommend a small refracting scope as an ideal beginner telescope for kids. Why is that? Well, this type of scope is generally maintenance free and a more robust than a reflective scope (as long as it doesn’t get dropped!) Refracting scopes are a little more expensive than reflecting telescopes, but their better durability and usability for children is a major factor to consider. Some of the best home telescopes are refractors and they are especially good for viewing planets.
A small refracting telescope would have the normal big objective lens that gathers the light, and at the other end, the eyepiece (ocular) that magnifies the light. With a ‘star diagonal’ eyepiece design, you won’t need to strain your neck when viewing the sky (this type of eyepiece mounting sticks out at right angles from the main body of the scope – it looks a bit weird, but it’s much more comfortable).
With a small refracting telescope a young astronomer should be able to see bright objects such as Moon craters, Jupiter’s moons and even Saturn’s rings (if it’s close enough to Earth) – more than enough night sky objects to impart the wonder and excitement of looking out into space!
Having said that, there are some good robust and simple reflecting scopes out there – some of them very good value for money. It’s worth checking the reviews.
Telescopes for children - the good, the bad... and the ugly?
Recommended telescope specifications for young astronomers
Typically, here are some recommended specs for a child’s (age 7 – 11) telescope:
- Eyepiece. Most good beginner telescopes use a 25-32mm (1’’ – 1.25’’) eyepiece. The Smaller the number the higher the magnification, however, higher magnification means that the telescope must gather more light so the object will appear dimmer. Also, a higher magnification will mean it’s harder to keep the object in view… so keep it simple for kids – a lower/standard power eyepiece (25mm) will do the trick.
- Objective (Primary) Lens/aperture diameter. Forget the ‘Magnification Power x500’ advertising gimmicks… Objective lens diameter is the most important, as it’s the size of the lens which determines how much light is gathered, and therefore how clear the images will be. Typically a 2.4’’ – 3.1’’ (60mm – 80mm) objective lens for a refracting telescope should be fine, or a 3’’ – 4.5’’ (75mm – 115mm) for a reflecting scope.
- Mount. It is very difficult to keep distant objects steady, so a mount is a good idea. Some simple beginners telescopes are designed for table-top use and that’s fine (As long as you’ve got a sturdy table!). Other mounts are altazimuth, which is like a camera tripod stand, and equatorial, which is designed to follow the movement of heavenly objects. Either way, the mounting should be sturdy and stable – see the link at the end of this article to a review comparison site, so you can avoid the wobbly mounts…
- Portability and ‘grab and go-ness’ is important. Imagine your child suddenly realizes it’s a beautiful clear moonlit night and they are so excited about seeing the moon close-up. A big bulky telescope that needs adult supervision and takes 10 minutes to set up will somehow lose its appeal… You may find that the wonderful telescope present becomes a house ornament rather than your child’s favourite hobby. On a safety note, telescopes should not be used by children in daylight due to the risk of sunlight damage to their eyes.
- Finder scope. Mounted alongside the main collimator tube (the main body), a finder scope is a low power viewer that helps to see the ‘big picture’ so you can zero-in on the intended object. It’s quite a useful accessory to include with the main telescope. Some feature a little ‘red dot’ so you can target the main telescope easily.
- A star chart such as a planesphere (a plastic one is best) is also an essential addition to make sense of the gazillions of stars out there.
For further advice and information, check out the various review
comparisons for the best beginner telescopes for kids that are available on the web.