Stargazing: Prospective telescope purchase has a caveat

Stargazing: Prospective telescope purchase has a caveat

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Often when speaking to groups on stargazing, more often than not a question comes up regarding telescopic equipment and how the individual should go about getting some.

Usually I can hear a bit of disappointment in their voice when we start talking and I’m giving them some of the caveats to telescope purchases. I am a firm believer that it is best for them not to be blind-sided.

A contributing editor to one of the largest magazines devoted to amateur astronomy offers this information: “selecting a telescope — whether it’s the first or the fifth — is never easy.”

I like to give these tips to prospective buyers:

• Avoid any telescope advertised solely on its potential magnifying power.

Any claims of “powerful 600x model” are a sure sign of a poor telescope to be avoided unless you are prepared to spend over $1,000.

• Don’t make a fuss over refractor versus reflector.

One optical system is not better than the other; both can provide wonderful images. Make a choice based on aperture versus portability versus price.

• Make portability a priority.

In a first telescope, you’re best served by choosing one that can be carried outside in one of two pieces for quick and convenient setup. My personal telescope requires four trips: one for the legs, one for the clock drive, one for the telescope, and one for the eyepieces and accessories.

• Consider the observing site.

Will the instrument be used in fairly dark skies or are there offending street lights or other light sources to contend with. It the latter is true, portability becomes an issue again.

• Tailor the telescope to the owner.

Select a telescope with an eyepiece that is easily accessible to the prospective owner. The ideal telescope for a small child won’t fit someone who is too tall.

I have found that when hosting a star party, if I was unable to rotate my telescope’s tube in its saddle, a lot of the smaller kids would either have to be picked up or I’d have to carry along a small stepladder.

• Buy from a knowledgeable dealer.

In the metropolitan area, your choices for buying a telescope probably include Wal-Mart, Target, Deans or Rockbrook camera center. I also suggest you visit the library and look for “Sky & Telescope” or “Astronomy” magazines. There is an abundance of instruments in these publications. You might also want to try on-line at or

I can’t emphasize it enough but first of all — get to know the sky with your eye!

Unless the new owner plans to observe just the moon, no telescope, and that includes the most costly and most sophisticated on the market, will do much good unless they know where to point it.

On another subject, I’ve noticed it and maybe some of my readers have to, but on a couple of days recently there has been a strange color in the western sunset sky — purple.

This is a result of volcanic activity from the Raikoke volcano in the Kirul Islands and the Ulawun volcano in New Guinea. Both have recently erupted spewing sulfurous gases into the stratosphere, altering the palette of sunsets around the world. Makes for a very interesting sunset to say the least.

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