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Before you buy a Telescope

by: Simon Tang

I've now been around the hobby of astronomy for over a year. My interest started at very early age and I would spend any moment at night looking out the window in my suburban home. I never owned a telescope nor did I get a chance to even look through one until only a year and bit ago.

Now if someone had told me the amount of money spent and the amount of learning required, would I still have gone for it? Perhaps not. Does it change the way I view the stars? No!

I will say, if I know what I know now back then, what choices would I have made?

The most important part before starting any hobby is to learn more about it. The reason why astronomy clubs like this one exist, is to help guide newcomers into the world.

Instead of running out and spending hundreds of dollars on the cheapest telescope you can buy, check out someone who has one. The most frequent comment I hear from people, “Wow that’s really expensive” or “HOW MUCH???” when they see any of my telescopes.

Strangely enough, this alone can determine if you are even truly interested in spending hours sitting in a dark corner looking through a metal tube.

The problems of spending the minimal amount of money on consumer products is the misleading nature of it all. The expectation of what your $400 telescope is meant to be capable, far exceeds your expectations. In fact, I’ve experienced more disappoint people with small retail telescopes than those who spend a large amount of money. That’s not to say that the person has deep pockets. What I have noticed is there willingness to investigate before spending that money.

Prior to my first telescope, which was a 6” RC (Ritchey Chretien), I knew that I wanted to take pictures. I had zero experience with telescopes, nor did I understand anything about telescopes. After purchasing this scope, I soon discovered I had to but the telescope onto something. But what on earth can I use that would track the apparent movement of the skies? Fast forward a year, I now own 4 telescopes, 3 mounts and countless bits of metal tubes and screws, not including enough cabling to tie the telescope to a tree twice!

So where am I going with this?

Before you run out and buy a telescope, do some homework. Go out and check out star parties. Most importantly, learn the night sky. One huge factor on owning a telescope is you really need to know where everything is. I don’t mean memorize the entire 20,000+ objects found in the handset of that neat little telescope. All you need is to learn the major stars and the constellations. Learn how the earth moves and how various times of the year reveal different things.

Once armed with all this information, you can make an educated decision on what telescope you want to buy and what to expect from it. I will point out that just because a telescope is cheap, does not mean it doesn’t work. Don’t be fooled by the marketing hype. A small cheap telescope has its function. To an experienced observer, the smallest telescope tends to be the best choice when out and about.

To end this, bigger isn’t always better! Learn about the distinct types of telescopes and what they can do for you. Don’t always opt for the ones with lots of fancy gadgets. After all, Galileo Galilei didn’t have a fancy goto mount.


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