Help the newbie buy a telescope.

My girlfriend just bought me this for V-Day.

Im pretty stoked to be able to see planets and what not, but I want to make sure I have a scope that has a little staying power.

From reading on the net it appears that 60mm refractors are not very desireable and can’t see very far. I was looking at a 114mm reflector scope for $150 but am unsure if that is a good beginner scope.

Anyone have some insight here? Should I return this one and get a better/bigger scope? She got this for $99 and it has a computer on board which sounds cool.

I think this one calls for Opinions, so I’m moving it from GQ to IMHO.

Its only Orion’s products, but they are very good for starting astronomers.

The facts: A 60mm is perfect for a newbie, and don’t count on that computer. The 115mm reflector for $150 has just about as poor quality optics as the $99 refractor. Also, from my experience, the refractor is easier to manipulate. Also, you want to note the focal length of the scope. Your viewing power (magnification) is the focal length (mm) /eyepiece marking (mm).

As for the computer, it could work in theory but not in practice. You see, the night sky is always moving. Hence, you have to calibrate the telescope by locking onto the North Star (Polaris) and telling the PC. OK, that’s easy enough, but! Ultimately, you need a clock drive - a motor and gear system mounted on the scope to keep the telescope turning in synch with the earth so the stars’ relative positions don’t change. Otherwise, the stars keep moving and your scope stays still…and you’ll be out of synch in a blink! As you view, you’ll notice you have to keep adjusting the scope to keep your target within view. Also, always use low power (the largest eyepiece) lens to start. Those higher power lenses for cheaper scopes have poor resolution (due to $$$) and a small scope of field (by nature of the beast). I’ve never found those higher power lenses to be of much use, really. If you have a sun filter -TOSS IT - if it screws into the eyepiece, it has the potential to crack when heated and zing! Your eyes can be fried! Cheap scopes promote this feature, and I’m amazed they haven’t been sued yet.

The scope is great for looking at the moon. Get acquainted with how to spot the moon in the spotter scope and then adjust to find it in the eyepiece. It’s a pain, but you need the experience before going for other things. Also, learn the night sky as best you can using bright stars as landmarks. Get to know which constellations are visible during each the season around 8-9pm when you’ll be viewing, most likely. Also, get to know the zodiac constellations - the books will also give tips on planet spotting in this section, typically.

Nothing comes easy. Most scopes end up in basements unused. It’s a labor of love on a cold night to explore the gems of the (northern) winter sky, for example. If you have the time, patience, and determination…it’s a cool hobby.

By the way, I have a 60mm refractor with a solid, stable mount and tripod. This is critical. Cheap scopes often have cheap mounts whch shake…it’ll drive you nuts when trying to view anything more than the moon. I’ve been into amateur astronomy for decades now, but never bought a bigger scope for practical reasons: ideal dark skies are hard to find by me, weakening eyesight makes it harder to function…unless you wear contacts which I don’t, and the weight of the scope to drag to a better location. Still, I’ve spotted interesting objects like Andromeda’s Galaxy, or Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s four main moons, Pleides, etc…

Enjoy, but don’t think bigger is always better. The optics and viewing power are equal in that price range…

  • Jinx

60mm is small. In scopes, bigger IS better up to a point. With your scope you will be able to see some things, but it will never ever be enough. As the aperture goes up, the light gathering ability (light boost sort of) increases and the resolution improves. Don’t pay any attention to claims of x123456789 magnification. Don’t pay attention to claims that Brand X sees further. Pay close attention to the mount - many are inadequate. If in doubt, go for the larger more massive mount. You can’t see, if the vibration problems are bad.

Refractors are rugged. But, the good ones and the large ones are expensive. The aperture is the diameter of the primary lens.
Reflectors are simple and give good “bang for the buck” but are less rugged and need to be adjusted (collimated) occasionally. The aperture is the diameter of the main mirror.

A decent beginner reflector would be anything in about the 4.5 to 6 inch range.

The upper limit of size is decided by

  1. What can you afford
  2. Will it be too darn big to take out and use

Stick to known brands - Meade, Orion, Konus, Takahashi, Hardin etc.

      • My take: refractors are nice because they can be used as terrestrial spotting scopes, but good astronomical refractors are very expensive. If you only want it for astronomy, a Newtonian dob-mount is the cheapest per-inch-of-aperature. The ones that sit on the ground are the most-stable; once again–a tripod-mounted one sounds nicest, but cheap tripods are flimsy. Non-flimsy tripods are expensive. Orion and Meade have some cheaper stuff, most other places are more expen$$$ive.
  • That said, do note first: how attractive the hobby of astronomy is has a lot to do with what kind of weather and noctournal biting insects occur in the area where you are located.

I think it’s pretty decent for $99.

I’d avoid the 114mm “reflector” if I were you. Those are not true Newtonian reflectors. Instead of a parabolic mirror, they use cheaper spherical mirrors combined with a corrector lens. Not a very good design, and results in very long focal length (difficult to get low powers).

If you’re looking to spend slightly more, I’d use the extra money to buy a pair of binoculars. And/or gas money for driving to a dark sky location. Or perhaps better yet, dues for a local astronomy club, where you can look through other people’s fancy equipment and possibly have access to the club-owned equipment.

I was checking out the website mentioned above and it says that you can see Saturn, its rings, and jupiter this month.

Can I see these with my scope?

Can anyone recommend a scope for under $200-$250 that would give me a substantially better view than my current scope?

Thanks for the help gang!

You can definitely ses Saturn and its ring with a 60mm refractor. Not sure about rings - it may just look like a single ring. Jupiter’s 4 major satellites would be easy to see, as well as the two major bands on Jupiter itself.

For $250 I’d suggest the Orion XT6. Actually it’d be slighty over $250 with shipping - if $250 is a firm limit, they also have a 4.5" version for $199. Thes don’t have electronic controls so you’ll have to find and track objects yourself, but that’s part of the fun. Optical performance will be noticeably better. (Assuming you let it cool down properly, and align the mirrors correctly. Reflectors are more finicky than refractors in these respects.)

Whats that mean “cool down”? Ive been reading up on scopes the last few days and have never heard of that.

If I can see other planets, especially Saturn, with this scope then Ill keep it and buy a nicer one down the road if I stick it out.

$200 would get you a decent pair of 10 x 50 or 10 x 60 binoculars, which I think would be a lot more fun. They’re also easy to haul around and use, provide spectacular views of the Moon and Milky way, and have plenty of non-astronomical uses.

All telescopes tend to trap warm air from the indoors when they are brought to the cooler outdoors. This change of temperature can distort light (think heat waves from a radiator). Also warm mirrors should also have a chance to cool down.

They can all see Saturn…its just a question how well you see Saturn. A weak telescope will show Saturn as a sort of deformed football. A better one will let you see the nature of the ring a bit better. Its hard to describe in words.

But you can’t see planets with binoculars.

Have you found Cloudy Nights yet? Very useful web site with a great message board.

      • No–you can, somewhat. The main problem with regular binoculars is that they are horribly, horribly, horribly uncomfortable to use for astronomy for any length of time. ANY telescope that lets you keep your head in a fairly-level position while looking at the sky above is a HUGE step in comfort over a regular pair of binoculars, and if you aren’t comfortable you will most-certainly lose interest fast.
  • The other problem with binoculars is that since they are hand-held, you can’t find anything by its coordinates. Eventually you will want to be able to look in particular areas for things (such as passing comets) and so you will want a -something- with at least a graduated equatorial mount, so that after you polar-align the mount, you can turn it to a certain coordinate position in the sky. With binoculars–aside from being able to identify the few brightest starts, star-groups and the andromeda pair, you are just looking at dots in the sky.

Of course you can see planets with binocs, you can see most of them with your naked eye :wink:

I was able to find Hale-Bopp before it was naked eye with a dobsonian, so you don’t ness need polar mount to find things. Dobs aren’t good for photography or portability tho.


Let’s try to correct a few things, and simplify a few.

You can get a true Newtonian reflector in the 114mm (4.5 inch) size. I personally use one. These do not have any corrector lens. All mine has is one main mirror and one secondary mirror – no lenses.
These can range in size from about 3 inches to “Oh my Og what is that beast”.
You don’t have to agonize about how long the focal length is, since you will soon start “collecting” eyepieces anyway. Once you know the focal length, simply divide it by the focal length of the eyepiece in question. That gives you the amount of magnification.
If you go for a f/8 Newtonian or Dobsonian (both are reflectors, the name changes is all about the mount), then you will have a reasonable “speed”. You will be able to use most sorts of eyepieces - Plossls are the type I use, a good general purpose design. A scope that is shorter (meaning “faster” with a lower f/stop) will be more demanding on your eyepieces. You will get more distortion around the edges. You may get some “cut-off” or vignetting. It will also be more critical to focus. Some eyepieces that are fine on a slower scope will be horrible on a fast scope.
I would recommend binoculars if you were just starting out learning the sky, but they are limited. They are hard as hell to hold steady, and are very tiring to hold up for any length of time.
You can see planets with scopes and binoculars. You can also see them with the naked eye. Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, are all naked eye visible. They will just be tiny bright dots without some help. The difference is the amount of light being captured, and the resolution. Magnification is secondary.

Let’s use the example of my scope, a fairly normal and generic small scope. It is a 4.5 inch (114mm) reflector. It has a focal length of 900 mm (about 35 inch). This yields a focal ration of f/8.
The theoretical magnification limit is about 270x. The theoretical resolution is about 1 arcsecond.
The magnitude limit is about 12, the aperture gain (like light amplification) is 283.

In short, get a scope big enough to “collect” the light you need for what you want to look at. Pay attention to size, size is what determines the resolution and “light gain”. Forget claims about magnification.

You’ll be able, once you find it, to see the rings of Saturn as two rings, and the Cassini Division. You’ll be able to see the Gallilean moons of Jupiter, and you may be able to spot Titan. Mars will be visible, and Venus. Don’t expect to see Mercury - that’s terribly hard to spot just because it’s so close to the sun. And Neptune and Uranus are a real challenge - you may be able to spot them, but that’s an expert target.

As a beginning scope either will be good - You just have to accept that you’re testing out the whole hobby. If you do get into things you’ll want something better, but by then you’ll know more of what you want and expect.