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S K Y   I N F O R M A T I O N




Before getting a telescope, you must answer several very important questions to learn if you're ready for one or to assure you get the right kind. 

First, how well do you know the sky?  In other words, how many constellations can you identify without a star map?  Do you know where all the planets are?  Can you point to at least a dozen "deep-sky" objects without help?  Can you predict which stars, constellations and planets will be in the sky tomorrow morning at dawn?, etc.)    

Second, what are you interested in viewing―the planets, the moon, the stars, deep sky objects, the neighbors?  Different telescopes work best for different tasks and, while there are some "all-purpose" scopes, it's always best to know what interests you most. Do you live in a light-polluted location, or are you willing to drive to a "dark-sky" site to use the scope?  Are you interested in getting into sketching or photography of astronomical subjects in the future, or carrying out some basic research projects from your home? 

Third, do you want a computerized or manual telescope?  Computerized telescopes are all the rage, but unless you're willing to learn how they operate and to set them up properly (most people aren't!), I recommend against them―especially for beginners.   Manual scopes (such as Dobsonian designs) will give you much more bang for the buck since the entire cost goes for optics rather than electronics.  And they help you learn (and enjoy) the sky because you've got to aim the telescope yourself.

And finally, (and sometimes most critical) how much do you want to spend?  Telescopes are not toys (except those sold in toy and department stores!) and one cannot usually find a high quality instrument for less than about $250.-$300.  Anything less is often just a toy and, after the initial fascination wears off, will likely prove to be a waste of money.

While it would be easy to "sell" you on a telescope, the truth is that, if you can't answer the above questions satisfactorily (i.e.,  if you don't know where to aim a telescope or how the sky behaves), I can promise that it'll wind up in the closet collecting dust in no time.   (It's like using a piano―it's pretty useless unless you FIRST understand music.)

If you feel you're not quite ready yet, I'd recommend getting a couple of basic books, star maps, and possibly 7x50 binoculars along with a tripod (which are an excellent transition from naked eye astronomy to telescopic studiesthere are excellent books out on all that can be seen with binoculars.)  These also help teach about optics, light gathering power,  magnification, focus, fields of view, and moreall of which are needed for proper use of a telescope. 

Visit any bookstore, or a telescope store such as Oceanside Photo & Telescope, for a good selection of basic materials.  You can get to know your local amateur astronomy club, and participate in their "star parties" where you'll be able to explore a variety of telescopes before buying one.  Or, to learn more, you can register for some of my lectures or basic astronomy courses or enrichment tours.

Give these points some honest thought before rushing out to buy a telescope.  When you feel you are ready, please feel free to drop me a note and I'll try to help you further.

― Dennis Mammana






(c) Dennis L. Mammana.  All rights reserved.