Telescope Buying Guide

To see the craters on the Moon up close and the rings of Saturn is the dream of any skywatcher. It can be a daunting task however when it comes time to choosing that first telescope. How can you make sure that your telescope ends up collecting starlight and not dust in the closet? Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when searching for the perfect scope for that special stargazer.

The Scoop on Scopes
  • Shop at optical specialty stores, and try to avoid purchasing a telescope
    at department stores
  • Stray away from telescopes advertised based on power of magnification (ie 250x or 400 power). Most observing magnification with a beginner scope is between 50-125 power (50X-125X). This is more than enough to let you see great views of craters on the Moon, the rings of Saturn, and the moons of Jupiter. Magnification can be changed by changing eyepieces.

  • Quality manufacturing! Avoid plastic and look for metal and wood construction.

  • Know the mount: Make sure the telescope connects solidly with the tripod — no wiggles or vibrations. The scope should scan steadily and smoothly.
  • Pay attention to the diameter or aperture of the main (primary) lens or mirror which collects the incoming starlight. The bigger the mirror (or lens), the more light is collected. The more light collected means fainter objects can be seen. A point to keep in mind however is, the larger the mirror, the larger the telescope, which can make it difficult to move out to the driveway, or drag out to the backyard. It may not even fit easily inside your car to transport to a dark sky location or star party.

  • Reflecting telescopes are good for beginners, particularly the simple Dobsonian style “Dobs” are easy to set up and provide quality optics and sturdy mounts. A 6- to 10-inch diameter is recommended. This measurement is the diameter of the primary mirror or lens, not the tube of the telescope.