Telescopes have been a great way to gaze at the night sky for centuries, and generations of eager astronomers have enjoyed the ability to see the heavenly bodies up closer.
But if you’re new to astronomy, choosing a telescope from among the many options can be overwhelming. There are so many beginner telescopes, it’s hard to pick just one, but what should you look for? Here are some factors that play into the best telescope for beginners to get you started.
Type of Scope
There are three primary types of telescopes: reflector, refractor, and catadioptric. Each offers some advantages and disadvantages, but much of the difference is in the way their optics work. Without getting too technical, here are some aspects to consider with this type of scope.
Catadioptric scopes can be more expensive and are great for astrophotography. If you’re not interested in this, you may be better off looking at a great beginner reflector or refractor telescope.
A refractor telescope uses lenses that enable it to better see deep space objects. These include galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters. For many beginners, the focus is more on things in our own solar system, such as the moon, planets, and comets.
A reflector telescope is better designed for bright, close objects like the moon and planets, making it a great choice for beginners. Also, a reflector telescope will typically be cheaper than its equivalent refractor counterpart, which is great for getting started with astronomy!
Overall, although you certainly have the choice of any type of telescope you want, the best telescope for adults or kids just starting out is probably a reflector telescope. It’s cheaper, and typically the best telescope to see planets and other “easy” nighttime objects.
This is basically the length of your telescope. A telescope with a longer focal length will require a longer case to hold the lenses and mirrors.
Longer focal lengths let you see a smaller part of the sky but greatly enlarge the view. Shorter focal lengths give you a wider field of view, but the magnification is not as great.
A long focal length is great for looking at things like the moon and planets, and may be the best amateur telescope to start out with. One big downside is, it’ll take a little more work to find things in your scope! You’ll also have to be careful with your weight and size; the best home telescope is one that can actually fit in your home or car!
This is often the most important part of a telescope. The aperture is the diameter of the main mirror or lens, and dictates how much light the telescope catches.
A typical aperture for beginners and hobbyists can be anywhere from 80 to 300 mm (or about 3 inches to a foot). In comparison, the Hubble telescope has an aperture of 10 feet! You’ll typically want a bigger aperture if you go for a reflector telescope.
You’re going to want a bigger aperture if you want to collect more light, but you have to be careful. The bigger the aperture, the heavier and more expensive the telescope!
Controls and Mount
Some telescopes don’t come with mounts of their own and will require you to buy your own mount and tripod. As a beginner, this will be more costs upfront and will add some complexity to the start of your foray into astronomy.
It’s typically a good idea to buy a telescope that includes a mount and a tripod, at least while you’re a beginner. This lessens the amount of work you have to do, letting you focus on getting used to your new telescope.
Also, different types of scopes have different controls. A typical mount on top of a tripod is called an altazimuth mount, and this will allow you to move the telescope up, down, left, and right. Many basic telescopes have a manual altazimuth mount, allowing you to manually move the telescope to see your view.
Equatorial mounts come with counterweights and are made to move in an arc, tracking the movement of stars. Both equatorial and altazimuth mounts can be manual or computerized and have a wide range of additions and features that can improve their working and tracking capabilities.
With a manual mount, you’ll be able to unlock your scope and swing it, then adjust it with small dials or knobs. If you have a computerized mount, particularly one that allows you to “go to” a pre-programmed object, you’ll have to input the controls and object you want, and the scope should move to track it.
For beginners, a simple altazimuth mount is probably the best bet. It’s not very expensive, and it lets you move easily to view things, without a lot of extra bells and whistles thrown in. You can always splurge if you want, but for beginners, keeping things simple and cheap is probably for the best.
As a beginner, you might be tempted to splurge and buy the most expensive telescope out there. This isn’t a very good idea!
There are a lot of things to learn about astronomy if you’re just getting into it. One of those things is: do you even enjoy astronomy? Putting a lot of money into a brand new hobby risks the chance that you’ll realize you don’t enjoy it, and you don’t want to waste cash if that ends up happening.
As such, you’ll want to at least consider getting a cheaper telescope to start out. Some beginner telescopes sell for less than $100, and you can get some better ones for less than $500. A good telescope for a beginner will probably be on this lower end of the price range, so keep an eye on that price tag when shopping for telescopes!
Learn More About the Best Telescope for Beginners!
Although it’s hard to narrow down the single best telescope for beginners from the many that are out there, you don’t have to make all the decisions yourself! We’d love to help you pick one that works for you, based on the parameters you want.
So feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns, and we’ll do our best to help you get started on your astronomy journey.