What’s on the top of your Christmas list this year? Maybe a telescope?
It’s like buying a car, a lot of people get confused about the best one to buy. The short answer is, buy the dearest telescope you can afford.
Modern telescopes are a compromise between price and quality and any telescope in Australia under $300 is not going to do any serious work for you.
Don’t buy from a department store, they generally don’t have the experience to advise you. Buy from a dealer who knows about telescopes, a camera shop for instance, or a telescope retailer.
The best way to get into astronomy is to first learn the constellations and then use a pair of binoculars to find your first ‘deep sky’ objects, such as planets.
Binoculars can really show quite a number of interesting sights in the night sky. I still use mine every session.
One target that will show tremendous detail when viewed through a telescope is the Moon. Even a small telescope will reveal a wealth of detail. You’ll be able to see craters, mountains, ‘seas’, and a number of other fine details.
Remember, the quality of the view you will have through your telescope depends to a very large degree on how much light pollution you have in your area.
As far as beginner telescopes are concerned, there are many junk telescopes out there, but decent starter scopes are not too expensive. Expect to pay at least $250 for a quality beginner telescope in Australia.
You can find scopes for around $100 or less — but beware, they’re usually of very poor mechanical and optical quality.
Perhaps the second most important part of a telescope is its mount. Make sure it’s smooth, stable and solid. If you can pick up the entire scope and mount with one hand it will wobble in the slightest breeze and you’ll invent words never heard before. Better to avoid them.
Really, the best telescope for you is the one you will use the most.
Around $500 is probably a good amount to spend to get a truly decent starter scope and the necessary accessories you’ll need to round out the package.
The website www.davidreneke.com has free e-books on buying and using a telescope, plus heaps more tips and suggestions.
It is important to keep in mind that most telescopes will not provide huge colour images like those seen in books and magazines, so don’t let that glossy box impress you too much.
Galileo himself began as an amateur astronomer, pointing the recently invented telescope towards the night sky out of sheer curiosity.
So, a Christmas telescope makes sense. Go on, let your head go.
David Reneke is a feature writer for Australasian Science magazine and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Get David’s free astronomy newsletter at www.davidreneke.com