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Selecting a Telescope--For Astronomy, Nature, and More

Yehudah Posnick

With the launching and deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope, there’s almost not a day without newspapers and social media reporting new discoveries in astronomy. The JWST is able to see objects that are 1/100th of the brightness of the Hubble space telescope. And since it can detect objects that are farther away, it can essentially see further back in time than ever before! These exciting discoveries have triggered people’s enthusiasm for learning more about astronomy. Buying your own telescope is a big step in doing some hands-on astronomy yourself!

Ever since Isaac Newton invented the first reflecting telescope, there are essentially two or three main types: telescopes that rely on lenses for magnification, those that employ mainly magnifying mirrors, and those that combine both lenses and mirrors. Nowadays, even amateurs can benefit from exceptional magnification and resolution that Newton could only dream of. There are also smartphone apps that can help you navigate your way around the heavens. Some will even help you point your telescope in precisely the right spot, whether you want to see Jupiter and its moons, the rings of Saturn, or even galaxies and nebulae!

We’ll take a quick survey of the Best Reviews Guide list of the best amateur telescopes. They can provide amazing views, for an equally amazing price!

Types of Telescopes

Looking at the Best Reviews Guide list of telescopes, you’ll notice that they fall into three major categories:

  • Refracting Telescopes: “Refraction” is the bending of light passing through a medium, such as glass. A refracting telescope relies principally on lenses to magnify an image. There is the objective lens at the far end of the barrel of the telescope, and the eyepiece at the narrow end, where you place your eye. A larger objective will let in more light, and thus make it easier to see objects that would otherwise be too dim to be visible. The Celestron PowerSeeker 70EQ Telescope. The “70EQ” means that the objective lens is 70 mm in diameter, and it has an equatorial mount, meaning that can swivel from east to west on the polar axis, following an object in the sky as the Earth rotates.

Celestron PowerSeeker 70EQ Telescope

  • Reflecting Telescopes: These use concave mirrors to magnify objects. It’s easier and cheaper to make larger mirrors than large lenses, so a reflecting telescope can get you equivalent magnification to a refracting telescope, in s a smaller unit. An example is the Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ Newtonian Telescope. The eyepiece on this model has an “erect image corrector”, using a mirror to invert the image. That way, the object you’re looking at appears in the telescope as it does in space, only bigger!

Celestron AstroMaster 114EQ Newtonian Telescope

There are also Dobsonian reflector telescopes, with a special altazimuth mount that can swivel horizontally (along the azimuth) and vertically (changing altitude) while also being very compact. An example is the Celestron StarSense Explorer 8” Dobsonian Telescope.

Celestron StarSense Explorer 8” Dobsonian Telescope

Sky-Watcher Skyman 127-mm Compound Style Reflector Telescope

What reviewers say

We went over some customers’ impressions of the telescope that they chose:

  • Portability: If you want to take your telescope with you when camping, there are portable models that are suited just for that. The Celestron PowerSeeker 70EQ Refractor Telescope weighs 13.9 pounds and has a compact design.

  • Importance of a good mount: You might think that most of the concerns about a telescope should be the optics, including the magnification, the resolution, and the coatings on the lenses to maximize the amount of light captured. But customers say that the mount is no less important. A telescope with superb optics will not be of much use if the mount is wobbly. Some customers felt that the Orion SpaceProbe II was heavier towards the eyepiece, which made it very sensitive to any movement. Others preferred the Celestron PowerSeeker. One user succeeded in tightening the mounting hardware so that the telescope moved smoothly, even when fine adjusting.

Important Features

Here are some features that are worth looking for when selecting a telescope:

  • Eyepieces: Many telescopes will come with interchangeable eyepieces. (The Gskyer Telescope has three eyepieces: multiplying 24x, 60x, and 120x.) It’s advised to start out on the low magnification until you locate the object you’re looking for and get it centered. Then you can switch to the higher magnification. There are also telescopes that come with a Barlow lens which you insert between the eyepiece and objective lens. The Barlow lens will give you an additional 2x or 3x magnification.

  • Smartphone apps: Many manufacturers have smartphone apps that will help you navigate when outdoors. For instance, Celestron has the StarSense Explorer app, which employs your smartphone to calculate the telescope’s position and the objects in its field of view. It presents you with a list of objects in the sky at present, such as planets or Messier objects, and tells you the rising and setting times. And Celestron Astro Fi’s SkyPortal app allows you to click on an object on your smartphone or tablet, and it moves your telescope to focus on it automatically! Many telescopes include a smartphone mount so that you have your phone on hand while stargazing!

  • Slew speed: Some telescopes will move by means of a motorized mount. The slewing speed refers to the speed that it takes to move the telescope from one point to another using the motorized drive. A fast speed will allow you to focus on your next point of interest more quickly.

  • Finderscopes: You’ll notice that it can be very frustrating if you try to locate a celestial object manually. You’ll see that a small movement of the telescope at high magnification can knock the object totally out of your field of view. A finderscope is a miniature telescope on top of your main telescope, to allow you to find an object more easily. There are two types of finderscopes:

    • Straight-through finderscopes: These allow you to see an object with a reticle superimposed on it, along with a red dot to allow you to see. You might have to crouch to get behind the finderscope in order to get a good view. The Orion SpaceProbe II Reflector Telescope has a straight-through reflex finderscope. Some telescopes will include a “star diagonal”, which will convert a straight-through scope to a right-angle scope.

Orion SpaceProbe II Reflector Telescope 

    • Right-angle finderscopes: These have the eyepiece at a 90-degree angle to the telescope’s tube. It may be easier to view objects this way, than having to get behind the finderscope, as in a straight-through version. An example is the Astromania 9X50 Angled Finder Scope. (The scope magnifies 9x, and has a 50 mm wide objective lens.)

Astromania 9X50 Angled Finder Scope

Final Verdict

We went through some features and varieties of the best telescopes around nowadays. As we’ve seen, there are some very affordable beginner scopes, as well as telescopes that allow for astrophotography. The important thing is to buy a telescope that will provide you with breathtaking views, without the frustration of a wobbly mount, or difficulty in focusing properly. Look over the Best Reviews Guide list of telescopes, and start your stargazing adventures!

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