A starry night. In the natural world, there are rarely more awe-inspiring sights. Anyone can walk outside, look up at the stars, and see the beauty. But what if you had a telescope to assist in your search? Those small points of light will become new worlds for you to explore for years to come. A refractor telescope, a reflecting telescope, and a catadioptric telescope are your weapons of choice. This telescope guide will help you decide how to find the right telescope, where to buy it and how much to spend. Sure there are cheap telescopes as well as more expensive models that range all the way to a staggering $25,000, not to worry, this guide will give you the knowledge required to make the right choice.
Find The Right Telescope: Telescope Basics
First, a little simple on how a telescope works and what to look for when buying one.
Telescopes collect light and bring that to the point of focus for a person to view. It can then be magnified with an eyepiece for additional clarity. Now a new word of warning, cheap telescopes, will often use terms such as 400X, 500X, or 600X magnification as a way to impress the buyer. Unfortunately, this is just a simple, albeit useful marketing trick. While magnification can play an essential role in telescopes, the more important attribute is the aperture. Aperture is the light gathering ability of a telescope or, more specifically, the hole or opening that light travels through. Think of the gap in the human eye. Think about how small that is compared to a large telescope at your local planetarium. Now you can appreciate the importance of aperture in viewing stars, planets, comets, and other celestial bodies.
Types of Telescopes
A traditional telescope, more commonly know as a refractor telescope uses a lens to form an image. Light passes in a straight line down the objective, lens, and finally to the rear-mounted eyepiece. The most famous of all telescopes were initially designed by Galileo Galilei in the early 1600s and had a magnification of about 30X. He was able to see Venus, the craters of our moon, and four of the moons around Jupiter. In the 400 years since his invention, a refracting telescope is still used for similar viewing: lunar, planetary, and binary star viewing.
A reflector telescope is one that uses a parabolic mirror to gather and focus light onto a secondary mirror that in turn reflects light to a side opening on the tube where the eyepiece is attached. Because reflector telescopes have larger apertures, they are better used for nebulae and remote galaxy viewing. Isaac Newton is given credit for creating the reflecting telescope in the late 1600s. Even though the reflecting telescope has natural advantages over the refracting telescope, it wasn’t until the late 1700s that this type of telescope become more widely accepted.
A catadioptric telescope is considered a “hybrid” of the two previously mentioned telescopes and has become the most popular in the last 20 years. Catadioptric telescopes use a combination of lenses and mirrors and have larger apertures than their traditional competitors. Their advantages are excellent optics, a wide field, and lunar or deep space viewing. These telescopes were first introduced in the early 1800s and have steadily increased in popularity as technology advances have assisted in their overall quality.
Buying a Telescope Now
We have discussed how a telescope works and the types of telescopes available, we will focus on how and where to buy one. Like most consumer items, telescopes are sold at a variety of stores and on-line. Photography shops, Jessops, Amazon, department stores, and other specialty shops are just a few of the places you will find telescopes. Given the range of options and prices as well as your individual needs, the best place to buy a telescope is at your local telescope shop. Most of the major cities will have at least one, and for those of you who don’t live in a large suburban area, there is always the internet.
Before you go shopping, take some time to decide what you will primarily be using the telescope. You`ll be viewing the planets or peaking into your neighbor’s kitchen window (refracting telescope); in-depth space exploration (reflecting telescope); all-around viewing (catadioptric telescope).
Once you have decided the use, now its time to set a price range.
Refractors are generally the least expensive and can start around $30, with the average being between $60 – $120. Reflectors tend to be a little more expensive, mainly due to the dual mirrors being used. An entry-level reflector will start around $85, with the average being between $140-$230. Catadioptrics, while the most popular and most adaptable, are also the most expensive. These start in the $230 range and can go as high as $20,000. The average price for this type is the $600-$
Manufacturers of telescopes are just as varied as the types. Orion, Meade, and Bushnell are the most common names in the market. Meade is the most well known and specializes in refractor telescopes. Orion and Bushnell also specialize in refractors and reflectors. Both of these companies also are large players in the binocular market. Celestron and Zhumell are manufacturers that have a focus on more of the catadioptric markets. While they also sell other types, they have become known for their leadership in catadioptrics.
Do’s and Don’ts
As you now realize, the world of telescopes is as large and complex as the sights they will be used to view. Buying a telescope is not something that should be taken lightly. The potential for making an expensive and incorrect purchase is as great as buying a cheap telescope and it never coming out of the box. Do follow this telescope guide, do spend time outside at night, do decide on how you will use it, do determine your price range, and do visit a telescope retailer. Don’t be impressed with flashy marketing slogans, don’t settle for the first one you like and don’t stop researching. Follow these tips and your nights will be filled with enjoyment. Who knows, you may be naming the next comet or finding the next planet.