Buying Your First Telescope
I started looking at the sky over 30 years ago. I got my first telescope, a cheap one as a gift, around 20 years ago. I researched telescopes for a few years and now I have an 8 inch Meade Schmidt Cassegrain telescope that I have had for 15 years.
Buying a telescope is a very personal thing. When you take the time to get the right telescope it will be your friend and magical spaceship for a very long time.
Image: Me and My telescope. Taken by me.
What to do before you buy a telescope.
Here are some things to consider:
- Learn as much as you can about the sky without a telescope. There is a surprising amount to learn. I have made a Naked Eye Checklist that might help.
- Look through telescopes. Join your local astronomy club. Visit telescope shops. Try them out.
- Learn about telescopes before you invest. Read and learn about the different telescope, mount and accessory technology.
- Discover the kind of astronomy you want to do. Double stars, deep sky objects, the Moon, the Sun, Planets, astrophotography etc. Different telescopes do different jobs. Mine does a lot well, but nothing perfectly. I love looking at anything in the sky.
- How will you use it? If you have a country property and you can leave it setup, this leads you to a different telescope than one you have to carry in a backpack on the subway.
- What kind of observing will you do? Do you spend time watching an object for hours, drawing or studying it? Do you like to see as many things in a night as you can? Do you observe only before midnight or can you get up early and setup your telescope in the hours before dawn?
- What are your limitations? You may be limited in storage space, capacity to carry it outside, places to observe from. Heat or cold may be an issue. These are all things that matter to your observing experience.
- How patient are you? A telescope without a “goto” will mean you have to find objects in the sky by following a trail of other objects. This can be a great skill to learn and lots of fun. “Goto” will get you looking through the eyepiece at an object faster and more often.
- What is your budget? Telescope equipment can cost you a lot if you aren’t careful. And it doesn’t stop with the tube itself. There are lots of accessories, lots of toys to purchase and attach.
Having said all that, remember that your astronomy journey is exactly that, a journey, and YOUR journey. You’ll learn new things about technology and equipment, you’ll gain skills at finding an observing, you’ll outgrow equipment and accessories.
In the end the decision is yours and depends on your astronomy aspirations, and your specific limitations. Like any important equipment, it is good advice to buy the best you can afford.
The most important piece of advice is this:
“The best telescope is the one you actually use”
Spend time finding that perfect telescope. Learn how to use it. And use it!
This article was first published on Quora. Some edits for clarity.