Telescopes allow us to see far beyond our natural eyesight by the simple act of magnifying the image of the object we are looking at. So you would think that it would be easy….just get a telescope with the largest magnification possible! That would be true except for a few issues of physics, complicated by the minor issue of “What can we afford?”.
So what is the bottom line…what kind of telescope should I get? Good question…answer….get a pair of binoculars. Seriously, if you are just starting out with an interest in Astronomy…no matter what your age…this is what you should do for the first few months: (1) learn the constellations, and, (2) get a good pair of binoculars.
The constellations are important, beyond the mere ancient folk lore they represent. The constellations identify regions of the night sky and as such they are often used as markers for identifying the location of a celestial object. Consider the constellations just as you would a continent here on earth. If someone says that they were born in Africa you immediately know the region of the earth they are from. Similarly, if someone says that a celestial object is in the Constellation of Orion you know immediately where to look. So learn the constellations and how to identify them.
Binoculars…..with the naked eye one can see about 2,000 stars in the night sky under good conditions. The visible stars are classified by how bright they are…the brightest are Magnitude 1 and the ones just visible to a person with good eye sight are Magnitude 6. This rating goes back thousands of years, before the telescope was invented. Today we have expanded that same scale to include stars discovered since the telescope was invented.
Let’s quickly mention the major considerations…we’ll discuss them a little more later….and then we’ll talk about the cost issue. Here are the major issues with telescope selection:
Light gathering. The bigger the scope, the more light it gathers….and the more expensive it is.
Magnification. The eyepiece. To change magnification, or power, change the eyepiece.
Portability. The telescope should be small enough to take to the mountain or desert where the skies are darker and observing is better.