Tips for Selecting a Telescope That’s Right For You

Do you enjoy gazing at the stars? If your answer is affirmative, you should consider purchasing a telescope if you haven’t already done so. If you need some help selecting which one to buy, check out these top 20 telescopes.

It’s a fantastic moment to be an amateur astronomer right now. Never before have newcomers to astronomy been given such a diverse selection of telescopes and equipment with which to explore their pastime.

Naturally, this comes with the burden of choice: the confusing variety makes it difficult for an uninformed customer to make an informed judgment about which telescope to purchase. Here are some tips to keep in mind whether you’re considering buying a telescope that’s right for you or just thinking about it:

Choosing a Type

silhouette of a man looking up, telescope on a mount

While telescopes are available in various shapes and sizes, there are three basic types to consider. There are three types of telescopes:

  • Refractors, which use lenses to collect light.
  • Reflectors, which utilize mirrors.
  • Compound telescopes that are a combination of the two.

Refractors

Refractors have a lens in front of the telescope’s tube. They are simple to maintain, but as the lens size grows larger, they become more expensive. Achromats and apochromats are the two basic categories of refractors. Apochromats should be used because, despite their higher cost, they provide more excellent optical quality.

Reflectors

Reflectors are less expensive than refractors, though they require more upkeep since their optics can get misaligned. Reflectors employ a curved mirror at the rear part of the telescope’s main tube to collect light.

Cassegrain or Compound

Compound telescopes collect light using both lenses and mirrors, and they’re pretty portable thanks to their smaller and lighter tubes. Maksutov-Cassegrains and  Schmidt-Cassegrains are the most popular designs.

To select the ideal telescope for you, decide how and where you’ll use it, whether it’ll be in a dark-sky area or at home. All three alternatives come in basic or completely computerized versions, including built-in wi-fi for smartphone operation.

You might want a basic grab-and-go arrangement, or you might like more complicated equipment that operates independently to display more night sky wonders. Whether it’s a refractor, reflector, or Cassegrain, it’s better to acquire a telescope from a professional astronomy dealer who knows all there is to know about the telescopes they offer and can answer all of your questions.

When making your purchase, consider optical quality and a solid mount that will allow you to maneuver the scope over the sky quickly. It’s advisable to try various telescopes before purchasing them, perhaps at an astronomy club near you. If possible, buy new (so you know what you’re getting) and buy online only if the return policy is good.

Telescope Features

telescope on a mount

There is some jargon to learn when buying a telescope, but here are some definitions for its most basic terminology.

Aperture

In a telescope, the diameter of the mirror, or primary lens, is referred to as aperture. It’s necessary for gathering light and for perceiving fine details. Larger apertures catch more light, allowing you to see fainter objects (like galaxies) or minor features on solid bodies (such as moon craters).

Focal Length

The distance between the mirror/primary lens and the point in which the object is put into focus is focal length. The focal length of a telescope is significant because it influences how well it magnifies objects.

Divide the telescope’s focal length by the eyepiece’s focal length to find the magnification: If you possess a 25-millimeter eyepiece and a 900-millimeter refractor, the magnification is 36x (or 900 / 25 = 36). To eliminate fuzziness, set your telescope’s magnification to no more than twice its aperture in millimeters (or 50 times its aperture in inches).

Finder

A finder is a piece of equipment that sits on top of the telescope. It’s helpful to have one since it makes it easier to locate objects in the sky; it can be challenging to see through a telescope at high magnifications. Many modern telescopes include “red dot” finders that project a centering pattern or red dot on the horizon without magnifying it.

Before looking through a telescope at high magnification, skywatchers use a finderscope to locate objects in the sky. Traditional finderscopes depend on the user spotting crosshairs against a starry background, whereas ‘1-power’ or ‘red dot’ finders employ a red LED to designate the field of view.

Mount

Make sure you’ve got a telescope mount. When watching an object move across the sky, you can move an altazimuth mount side to side and up and down, and it frequently requires manual corrections.

An equatorial mount, having one axis oriented parallel to the Earth’s rotational axis, maybe a superior option. In the Northern Hemisphere, an equatorial is introduced by pointing at Polaris, the North Star.

Computerized telescopes that can automatically move in the appropriate direction to monitor objects in the sky may be preferred by more advanced users (once the telescope is aligned). Before you begin, you must usually provide the time, date, and location of your session.

Some systems need you to point it at two or three bright objects to calibrate your telescope. The lower-priced telescopes in this series tend to have tiny apertures; therefore, it’s suited for experienced users and those with a large budget.