Buying A Telescope

By Robert Bone

There’s a whole range of features to different benefits, and people always have their own personal opinions of what they think is "best”. As someone that’s owned a few different types of telescope over the years the best telescope is generally one that gets used. No point having some fancy telescope that links up to your computer if it takes over an hour to set up and is too heavy to lug around!

Here’s my thoughts:
  • Avoid buying telescopes from places like Argos (they are more toys than telescopes)
  • Avoid buying a telescope that boasts how much magnification it has. Ironically with telescopes you often want less magnification, but a larger aperture (ie, hole that the starlight goes in)
  • Most reputable brands (for beginner scopes) are Skywatcher, Celestron and Meade
  • Motorised/computerised telescoped are good in theory, but take extra setting up and you already need a knowledge of the night sky to align it before the computer can take over
  • Avoid telescopes on an Equatorial (also known as EQ) Mount for a first scope. These are good for tracking objects (like when doing long exposure astro-photography) but are complicated to start with and require aligning to the celestial north pole before they can be used – quite a hassle if you just want to look at the moon and Saturn! You can recognise them as they have a large counter-weight on a bar sticking out that needs to be balanced.
The most simple – and which also give the most aperture for money – are reflecting telescopes on a Dobsonian mount. An example is the Sky-Watcher Skyliner-150P telescope which has a 6 inch mirror. You can literally pick it up, plonk it down and within a minute be exploring the universe.

Next would be a traditional refractor on regular manual Alt-Az (meaning up/down/left/right) mount. The Skywatcher Evostar-90 AZ-3 telescope has a 3.5 inch lens which should still gather enough light to see planets, galaxies and nebula, but not as many as a larger telescope. The benefit is these are much more smaller, portable and takes up less space. They still only take about 10 minutes to set up.

They way to change magnification on a telescope is by changing the eyepiece, and both of the scopes listed above accept standard 1.25 inch eyepieces. In fact, I highly recommend buying some new eye-pieces in the future – not only will this increase the range of application of the telescope (some are better for planets, some for galaxies, etc) but are likely to be of a better quality than those that came with the original telescope.

Of course, there’s no point having a telescope if you don’t know what to look at. First thing I recommend is looking at the moon (it’s bright and easy to find), then looking at the planets. The planets do move around the sky so you may want to buy one of the monthly magazines or look online to find out where to look. Galaxies and nebulas won’t look anything like you see in the photos from the Hubble Space Telescope though.

I highly recommend:
  • Getting "Astronomy Now” or "Sky at Night” magazines each month – both have a monthly sky chart and reports on what to look at each month.
  • As the stars move around the sky a Philip's Planisphere is a great way to start learning your way about and start recognising constellations.
  • Turn Left at Orion I would say is the Bible of the night sky for the beginner. A bit pricey but really good charts and lay-out. Well worth it.
  • And a book by Patrick Moore always goes down well too.
Hope this helps!