The 10 Best Telescopes For Beginners
This wiki has been updated 17 times since it was first published in April of 2017. Many aspiring astronomers gaze into the heavens and wonder how all that stuff got up there. While not necessarily answering that cosmic question, these telescopes for beginners can, at least, help identify what that "stuff" is and provide a closer view of it. From refractor to reflector, we've included a range of models to suit any budget. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best telescope for beginners on Amazon.
June 06, 2019:
After more carefully considering the needs and age of the average beginner, it was decided that the Orion SkyQuest 10014 was a bit too large, and required too much assembly upon arrival for anyone just getting started. We swapped it out with our previous number three pick, the Celestron Nextstar 130SLT, which most people can simply prop up on its included tripod and point at the night sky. Then, of course, as you grow into the hobby, it has more advanced capabilities like automated object tracking and a vast computer database. Our list's biggest loser might be the Celestron Powerseeker 70, which fell all the way to our tenth spot due to challenges presented in setup including counterbalance adjustments and laser collimation. It's a fine scope for a great price, but it's better if you've got someone with experience to help you put it together.
The Final Frontier
It doesn’t matter whether you’re investing in a telescope for a child in the family or whether you, as an adult, have decided it’s time to explore the heavens.
Space is one of those things that’s so enormous that you might have a hard time completely conceptualizing it. It’s kind of like the national debt or the afterlife, in that it’s so large and mysterious that we can’t wrap our hands or heads around it. But an understanding of the universe is central to the discovery of the self.
When you take the time to realize that every atom of matter that you're made of was born inside the furnace of distant and the long since dead stars, it should fill you with an undeniable sense of magic, while also humbling you to know your small place in such a large picture. It can be a little scary to come in contact with those kinds of truths, but increasing your perspective will only make you a stronger, more empathetic human being.
There are a number of ways to get at this truth. Some folks like to read books or watch documentaries on the topic. Others prefer a more hands-on approach, or in this case, a more eyes on approach. This is something that you can achieve with a telescope. As you gaze through the eyepiece and view in great detail distant celestial bodies like the moon with its seemingly endless craters, the bright red neighbor we call Mars, or even the magnificent rings of Saturn, you will undoubtedly feel deeply connected to the universe around you.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re investing in a telescope for a child in the family or whether you, as an adult, have decided it’s time to explore the heavens. Children of all ages will look up at the sky with wonder.
Of course, for those of you with more flexible ethics, you can also use your telescope to check in on your neighbors. And if one night you find yourself looking down the street through an unsuspecting parties window and you find them looking right back at you through a telescope of their own, simply wave and acknowledge the humorous coincidence. Then invest in some good window blinds.
To Refract Or To Reflect
In order to choose the best possible beginner’s telescope from the excellent selection we’ve put together, it would be helpful for you to know some of the key differences among the available models. The biggest dividing line between the two major groupings of telescopes on our list separates them into the refracting and reflecting categories. Refracting telescopes utilize lenses to bend incoming light toward an eyepiece. Reflecting telescopes, on the other hand, employ a set of mirrors that reflect light into your eyepiece.
At the end of the day, the choice between a refracting and a reflecting telescope will largely come down to the behavior of the beginning astronomer.
Quite possibly the biggest advantage of a refracting telescope is that it’s a closed system. The tube is completely sealed from the front lens element all the way to the back eyepiece. That means you don’t have to worry much about dust or other maintenance issues. Nothing will dampen a young astronomer’s excitement to explore the skies quite like a blurred image from a dusty telescope that requires cleaning.
On the negative side, lenses are more expensive to manufacture than mirrors, so the image quality and brightness produced by a refracting telescope in a beginner’s price range are often less than that of a reflecting telescope. The light path through a refracting telescope is a straight line, placing the eyepiece in the exact opposite direction of wherever the telescope is pointed. This can make for some more uncomfortable viewing angles that could require the use of a chair or some other method to see comfortably.
This is not to say a reflecting telescope is far and away the better option. It is true that the less expensive manufacturing process of mirrors will allow for a greater light collecting area resulting in better image quality. It’s also true that the redirection of light within the reflecting telescope will create a more comfortable viewing experience through a side-mounted eyepiece. But reflecting telescopes are not closed systems the way their refracting brothers are. The end that you point upward is open to the elements, which easily allows dust and other debris to settle on the mirrors whose cleanliness directly determines the quality of your image.
At the end of the day, the choice between a refracting and a reflecting telescope will largely come down to the behavior of the beginning astronomer. If you know that he or she will have a tendency to ignore cleaning and maintenance, then it’s probably smarter to go with a refracting model. And if, on the other hand, image quality is of such great importance to them that they’re willing to put forth that extra maintenance effort, then a reflecting model will surely be your best choice.
Other Stargazing Tools And Tricks
Heading out at night to observe the heavens seems like a pretty straightforward process. For the most part, you want to get far away from any source of light pollution, and then simply look up. But there are a few tools and tricks you can employ, in addition to your telescope, that will make your stargazing experience that much more fruitful.
Even more fun, however, is identifying patterns in the sky and then referencing your star chart to find out what they are.
One of the best things that you can have with you when stargazing is a star chart of some kind. This can help you locate any celestial bodies in which you're particularly interested. Even more fun, however, is identifying patterns in the sky and then referencing your star chart to find out what they are.
Because some telescopes require a little bit of effort to target a certain area of sky, it's helpful to bring along a good pair of binoculars. There are even binoculars specifically suited for astronomy that can help you spot a star or planet much more quickly than you can with your telescope. Then, you can point your telescope in that direction and get an even closer look.
Finally, it's important to remember that it takes time for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. The last thing you should be doing when you're out in the field enjoying the night sky is taking glances at your phone. Even at its lowest brightness settings, that blast of light to the eyes is going to cost you time better spent assessing your place in the universe.
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