One of the most common questions we get at club meetings centers around what kind of telescope a person or family should buy.
To help people make the best choice, we ask them to consider several issues.
If you are just interested in looking at planets and the really bright objects, your selection will be much different from someone who wants to chase down faint galaxies. We suggest that people make a realistic budget and stick with it. It is very easy to get caught up in aperture envy, wanting the biggest telescope possible, but then not using it because it is too big or you live in an area that is severely light-polluted.
Your selection will also be guided by where you will be doing most your observations. In the middle of town, it will be difficult to see the real faint stuff. However, planets and star clusters look great. If you can get out of town or spend time on Marys Peak, lots more of the universe will become visible.
If you don’t know much about the sky (cannot identify constellations and don’t want to spend time learning), you might want a computer-controlled telescope. They work great and make it easy to see lots of objects, but are costlier and require power.
Don’t fall for the colorful ads and telescope boxes that claim 700 or 1,000 power. Those numbers are meaningless. Most of the time you will never use more than a magnification of 200.
With these considerations in mind, the next thing we recommend is to attend one of our star parties. The club has numerous telescopes and will happily explain how each one works and the best way to use it.
Having understood everything above, we help make the decision that best suits people’s needs. Typically, we narrow down to three possibilities:
• Binoculars. For about $100 you can get a nice pair of 7-by-35 binoculars that will show many deep sky objects and wonderful views of the Milky Way. They are easy to use. You can grab them, run outside and enjoy the Universe from your favorite lawn chair.
If you decide astronomy is the best hobby in the world, you can step up to a telescope, if not, your investment has been relatively small.
• An 8-inch reflecting telescope, usually one called a Dobsonion. These are available new for under $400 and will show the planets, galaxies, nebula and star clusters. They are not too large and can be set up in just a few minutes. They are also a great tool for helping you learn the night sky. If you are certain that astronomy is for you, a 12-inch telescope shows much, much more, but costs closer to $1,000.
• Keep attending club star parties and take advantage of the club to see the universe!
Whichever path you choose, the Heart of the Valley Astronomers club will help you learn how to use and maintain your optics. We set aside time at every meeting to help anyone with their equipment.
Here to help
The Heart of the Valley Astronomers is the local club dedicated to promoting astronomy and is providing many educational opportunities for the eclipse. If you want to know more, visit us on Facebook, check out our website, or attend our next club meeting. You can ask questions via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or post them on our Facebook page.
Question of the Month
What planet comes closest to Earth?
Last Month: When is the Earth closest to the sun?
In 2018, the Earth is closest to the sun on January 3. The reason it is cold in the northern hemisphere is the Earth is tilted on its axis. The Sun’s rays are spread over a larger area compared to the southern hemisphere at the same time.