My son has become enchanted with the heavens of late, so we are going out tomorrow to purchase a telescope. The problem is: I don’t know squat about ‘em and I don’t want to rely on some weekend clerks’ uninformed opinion.

I’ve visited a few manufacturers’ web sites (Meade, Orion) but they all claim theirs are the best. Go figger. Anyway, I’m thinking 250-300 bucks (maybe a tad more), I live in a suburban area, though darker than most (I think that matters) and I’m a newcomer, so give it to me in laymans’ terms, ok?

I’ve only been heavy into celestial viewing for a couple of years now, but I’ll try to give you the best advise I can.

First, don’t make the same mistake my family did when they were kind enough to buy me my first telescope…its not the length, its the width that matters. I have a 2.4" scope, and you can’t see squat with it (other than the moon). Planets just look like wide dots, stars even more so.

Second, get a scope with a steady base on it. Nothing irks me more than pushing my eye up to the scope and it moves off of the target.

Third: go here: Sky and Telescope Magazine Online. If you click on the “Tips” button on the right, there will be a plethora (I love that word) of information for beginning astronomy. For telescopes in particular, click here: Sky and Telescope - Telescopes

Good luck, and don’t let the salesperson rip you off.


I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine - Kurt Vonnegut

(fixed url tags, I hope - Nick)
[Note: This message has been edited by Nickrz]

Man this UBB thing gets me every time…
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I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine - Kurt Vonnegut

I think you ought to look into a good pair of binoculars as well. I’ve owned both; a 76mm (3 inch) refracting telescope and a couple different sets of binocs - 9 X 55 and currently a pair of Swift 8.5 X 44 birding glasses.

I found the scope to be marginally satisfying, mainly because of the giant pain in the ass it was to set up and point correctly - this was in the days before the microchip and computerized equatorial mounts became available. Finagling with star charts and the polar and declination axes proved more than I could bear. I just wanted to look at Saturn, dammit. (I ended up giving it away). Nowadays you can just punch in the coordinates of any celestial object you’d like to view, and providing you’ve lined the scope up properly you can be reasonably assured you’re looking at what you think you’re looking at. (Although you’re not going to get that type of motorized equatorial mount for 2 or 300 bucks, let alone with a telescope).

On the other hand, binoculars are incredibly easy to set up and operate. I find the stereoscopic quality of the image to more than overcome the relative lack of magnifying power. After all, light-gathering is what we’re after, and telescopes of any variety ignore 50% of a human’s optical aparatus - that other good eye that’s hanging out there in the breeze.

Whatever you do, invest in a good tripod. People are constantly amazed at the image clarity that can be obtained via my birding glasses when mounted solidly. Most people are familiar with the shake induced when hand-holding binocs, and have never looked through a pair that were fixed in place. This becomes especially important the higher in magnification you go. The 9 X 55’s I owned were practically useless as a hand-held device, yet I could easily discern the rings of Saturn or count many of Jupiter’s moons by throwing them on my camera tripod.

I guess it’s a question of what you want to do with your image. Photography? Gaze at deep-space objects? A scope and mount that will do these activities justice will not be had for the amount you mentioned. Poke around the planets and moons, see mountaintops jutting into the sunlight from the dark side of our moon’s terminator? Binocs can easily satisfy those demands and also give you and your boy the ability to zoom in on more terrestrial delights such as the neighbor’s bedroom wind// oops I mean sporting events and the like.

Here’s a link that explains the choices much more comprehensively:

You might consider one of the compact telescopes that use a folded optical path (mirrors and lenses), such as the “Celestron” line. They are easy to use, very stable, and take camera adapters. “Edmund Scientific” carries a full line of scopes from small refractors to huge reflector types.


Hope this doesn’t come too late.

My boss handed me his credit card and a JC Penny’s magazine, and told me to order him a telescope below $500. Remembering little about them from my university astronomy course, I did a lot of research on the web, and found the following:

Your best bet is a Newtonian reflecter, just a tube with a curved mirror at one end and the lense on the side at the front. What Toymaker mentioned was a Cassegrainian Diopter (I believe), which uses a combination of lenses and mirrors to increase focal length. Mirrors are superior to lenses, though, until you hit the expensive lenses that are far out of your price range. The width of the mirror/lense determines how much light comes in to the telescope, and therefore, how much is visible. If you want to see anything interesting, at least 5" is necessary.

Buy a 6" (wide) Newtonian Reflecter with good quality lenses. This may go as high as $500, but the telescope will be usefully powerful for years of serious amateur astronomy. Don’t worry about the motorized mount yet, which will track the rotation of the earth; you won’t use it until you’re further along, if you do at all.

Sorry; in my last post, I said “buy a 6” Newtonian reflector [i.e., a mirror telescope] with good lenses". I meant to say get a 6" Newtonian reflector with good quality eyepieces, which handle the magnification for you. Magnification does little at the telescope level because, if you’re not getting the light in the front end, magnification merely distorts.

How old is your son?

A great beginner’s scope is the Edmund Scientific Astroscan. It’s a wide-field telescope that looks like a red beachball with a stem. You can sit on the ground, put it in your lap, and have fun. Rich-field telescopes are good for kids because they can see a lot of sky details without having to go through a lot of time-consuming setup, and they are great for looking at the moon and planets and stuff.

Meade has a new Cassegrain telescope out with a great computerized tracker if you want to spend a little more money. Once you’ve aligned it, you can find any sky object just by selecting it on the little handheld controller. This technology has been around for a while on more expensive scopes, but the new Meade scope is pretty affordable.

Notwithstanding your boy’s age, this is probably your best buy for any begginer, the Odissey newtonian from Coulter Optical. Get an 8 incher, a pair of binoculars, H. A. Rey’s book “The Stars”, and have a good time!

hint… always, always pic higher RESOLUTION (the image sharpness factor) over higher magnification… what good is an image that is 1000 times bigger if the resolution is such that the image is a big fuzz ball… concentrate on resolution… no matter how tempting a cheaper higher magnification telescope is. This goes for binoculars also by the way.

The wisest man I ever knew taught me something I never forgot. And although I never forgot it, I never quite memorized it either. So what I’m left with is the memory of having learned
something very wise that I can’t quite remember. -George Carlin


Check outSTA*R Discussion Board. They have forum just for your question :slight_smile:


Size is important, but so is the mounting. An equatorial mount for a Newtonian can cost twice as much as a simple Dobsonian mount.

For the money you mentioned ($300) you can get a 6" Dobsonian mount Newtonian with two less than quality eyepieces from both Meade and Orion. I did that three years ago and have enjoyed the sights seen tremendously. Of course, the Dobsonian mount forces you to move the scope by hand to follow the object, but it isn’t that hard to do. But DO get at least one additional eyepiece of really good quality, because it does make considerable difference.

find your local astronomy club. Check with your local planetarium or science museum. A local high school may have their own astronomy club and could hook you up with another local group. A science department at a local college might help. You can also find a club through the Web or listings at the aforementioned

When you find the astro club, go to their public star party. You’ll get lots of opinions and see lots of great scopes. You might also find deals on used scopes or people who have built their own.

Interestingly enough, I did attend a star party Saturday night. There is a “Discovery” store in the local mall and they had flyers advertising it. I figured I’d go and talk to a few owners before I shelled out any money.

What a wonderful evening. I took my son (he’s six, by the way) and we had a blast. People from all walks of life showed up (about 400, all told) for a crystal clear night in a secluded state park. We got home about 1am. The misses was not pleased.

Anyway, I spoke to at least two dozen 'scope owners and decided on a Meade 114-EC. It’s a 114mm reflector with two eyepieces and they offer a computer controller as an option. About $400 but it icludes electric control and a heavy duty tripod.

Thanks guys, for all your input.

Sly, I think your choice of telescope is a good one. One caveat, though.

After your star party in a secluded state park, your son will be disappointed when you set up in your back yard, even though you live in the suburbs.

I speak from experience. My son quickly got bored with the moon, so we have to travel about 30 miles to get some decent viewing in.

Great fun, though!


H. A. Rey? The guy who created Curious George?

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

To add to what everyone else said: The Nature Company sells telescopes from Meade which are of good quality for backyard observers. Meade recently made upgrades to their line which includes motor-driven mounts and improved focusers, so a lot of stores have the older models (which are otherwise identical) on clearance. You can get their 4.5" Newtonian, which comes with an aluminum tripod, equatorial mount, and a 25-mm eyepiece for around $350 now. It’s a good scope for planetary and stellar viewing (especially if you invest in a 9-mm eyepiece and a Barlow lens, which doubles the effective power of an eyepiece). It’s not so good for deep-sky objects like galaxies and nebulae; for that, as everyone else mentioned, you would be better off with a good set of binoculars.

Yeah, Wally, I considered that. I joined the club that sponsored the event. For twenty bucks per year, I get a monthly newsletter and (nearly) unlimited access to said state park (after hours). The park is about fifteen minutes away and my favorite pub is about half way between. I love it when things work out.

CMKeller: Yup. His book is considered among the best ever for beginners. He changes the “shapes” of the constelations into something more visually effective. He also has an astronomy book for kids. Both are excellent!

Check this out: TheStars