people ask me what kind of telescope they should buy and are often
disappointed to find that there are not good, cheap telescopes worth
owning. There simply is no "nickel cigar" when it comes
to telescopes (or cigars!).
models usually are a refractor with a main lens about two inches
in diameter. They provide eyepieces that will provide a couple of
different magnifications, usually one of them providing too high
a magnification to actually be useful.
What you really
want is the most diameter that you can afford--three or four inches
is a sort of minimum to consider. That will rule out refractors
(those with lenses as the main optical element), leaving us with
reflectors that use mirrors to collect and direct the light. The
reason you want a large mirror is that it will collect more light
(giving brighter images) and will provide more detail in the object
A big problem
that destines many cheap telescopes to the basement or closet is
that they are difficult to use to actually find anything faint in
the sky. You will be able to find the moon and bright planets and
stars but faint objects will elude your efforts and prove frustrating. This has been solved
with the newer generation of telescopes that have computer-controlled
pointing and tracking--so-called "GoTo" telescopes.
My current recommendation
is the Meade
ETX-90AT which has an aperture of 90mm (almost 4 inches) and computer
control. Yes, it's four hundred bucks but it will not disappoint
you. Beware their cheaper($230) ETX-80--this is little more than
half a large binocular with computer control. Spend the difference
to get the 90.
A similar telescope made by Meade's only real competitor, Celestron,
is the Nexstar
4 SE. We have used Celestrons at ASU for 25 years. Again, beware their cheaper
models without computer control.
These can be
purchased at some camera and hobby shops but the best deals are
found online, such as at Telescopes.com or Amazon.com, where you will find reviews. Shop around and you can save a couple of hundred dollars
off "street price." They are also sold at Discover stores
found in some large malls, but again beware the price. Ususally
these stores do not have qualified personnel that will be able to
provide any more help than you will get by buying online. If you
can find a local astronomy club you can get some help from fellow
If these prices
scare you or you are buying the scope for a child or spouse of uncertain
interest in the stars, consider starting with a good pair of binoculars--8
x 50 or larger. You can get a decent pair for about $100. If these get the stargazer hooked then you can move
on to a telescope later. If not, at least you have a pair of binoculars
you can use for other activities.