Hi all, I figured this forum would be the most appropriate to ask this question.
Please tell me what you think about our astronomy club's new outreach article on Holiday gifts for newbies. Thanks
Gifts for Aspiring Astronomers
We are approaching the holiday gift-giving season. There is a good chance that
someone close to you has an interest in stargazing. If that is the case, read on.
This article aims to help astronomy newcomers and well-meaning gift-givers to
avoid the mistakes that others (ourselves included) have made. We want
people to buy good, usable telescopes because, with care, good equipment will
provide a lifetime of service and enjoyment. Conversely, bad telescopes
frustrate users and quickly sap their initial enthusiasm for astronomy. Bad
scopes are difficult to use and quickly end up in a corner or closet gathering
Before we begin our discussion of telescopes, however, consider that one of the
best gifts for anyone interested in the night sky is a membership in an active,
local astronomy club. Membership provides an opportunity to try out a variety
of equipment and to get lots of valuable, personalized advice before a dime is
spent. Books and online sources can provide the basic know-how of astronomy,
but much more can be learned at club meetings, observing sessions, and star
Our club goes a step further: it conducts “scope clinics” through which
experienced members assist newcomers and people in the community who are
having difficulty with telescopes they either purchased or received as gifts. And
we’ve seen all types–the good, the not-so-good, and the downright ugly.
A club membership is pretty presumptuous. I realize you are trying to promote the club but not everyone is a club person and club meetings may be at inconvenient times or distances. You are obligating someone to attend a club meeting who may not want to go.
Including joining a club as a suggestion with a new telescope is a good idea. Even offering to add that to the gift is a great idea.
Which is the Right Scope?
Okay, so what telescope should you buy for yourself or for that person on your
shopping list? Our club members differ on what constitutes the ideal telescope,
but all agree on two essential points. First, the best telescope is the one that
you will use the most often. A giant telescope is great, but if it takes too long to
transport and set up in the field, it won’t show you as much as a high quality but
smaller “grab and go” instrument. Second, we all agree on which telescopes to
• Any telescope sold in a department store, toy store, nature store, etc.
Few of these are serious, quality instruments. Good equipment can
sometimes be found on eBay or Craig’s List, but be careful. See the
scope in person first, if possible, and/or seek the advice of an
experienced amateur astronomer.
• Any telescope advertised by magnification (i.e., power, or “X”). “500
power!” These are scams. Any telescope can be pushed to any
magnification, but most super-high-powers are unusable and show
• Any telescope that uses substandard 0.965-inch eyepieces. You want
one that uses standard 1.25-inch eyepieces. Scopes that also take 2-
inches are even better still.
This department store advice may no longer apply. Sears sells the Celestron NexStar series as well as other Meade and Celestron models. The same is true of Macy's. Remember that most stores now have web stores too and in many you can walk up to a terminal and place an order for anything.
Seeking help on used equipment is very good advice.
What About “Go-To” Scopes?
Computerized, “go-to” and tracking telescopes are very popular, but don’t buy
one unless you’re willing to spend at least $1,500. The problem with
inexpensive go-to scopes is that too much of the price goes into the computer
and drives, and not enough into quality optics and a stable mount. This doesn’t
apply to “push-to” Dobsonian reflectors whose simple electronics help you
point to the desired object, leaving the user to do the rest. We like these
scopes; some can be purchased for less than $500.
Which "under $500" push to scope does the article reference? The only one I know of is the Orion Starblast 6 Intelliscope at $480. In fact the Intelliscope is the only commercially available ready to go PushTo I know of. So if you are recommending this one, why not just call it out? And, again you have the challenges of dealing with a 25 pound tabletop Dob.
This comment about computerized GoTo scopes is WAY out of line. I have a wonderful ETX 80 that cost $299 which got me involved in astronomy which is going strong after 4 years. I also have the ETX 125. An ETX 125 is $600 with a razor sharp F15 Mak OTA. A Celestron Nexstar 6SE is $700 and one of the most popular telescope series on the market. Even the 8SE is only $1200.
In some cases, today's GoTo scopes cost little more than the manual scopes. And the optics are the same on the computerized scope as the manual, just the mount changes.
Celestron Omni XLT 102mm AltAz refractor - all up around 14 pounds - $289
Includes a 25 mm eyepiece, Red dot finder, slow motion controls, correct image focuser for day or night use
You would want to add a second eyepiece, perhaps a 10 mm, and a 2X barlow
Celestron NexStar 102 SLT GoTo Refractor – 16 pounds – $425
Includes finder, 2 eyepieces,
Basically the same OTA. If you adjust for the extra eyepiece in the SLT model, the GoTo mount only adds about $100.
Whoever wrote the comments about GoTo has very little understanding of the current market and products that are available today. I would classify this section as bad information and bad advice.
In fact, if you reside in a very light polluted area, as I do, with very few stars in the sky, a GoTo scope may be your best path to quick success. Star hopping when you can't see the stars in a Telrad can be the height of frustration.
What’s Your Budget?
My opinion (though some disagree) is that if you have less than $200 to spend,
you shouldn’t buy a telescope at all. The recipient will be much better off with a
good quality pair of 7×50 binoculars, a subscription to one or both of the leading
astronomy magazines (“Sky & Telescope,” “Astronomy”), and the superb book,
Turn Left at Orion. These are great for beginners and very useful for advanced
stargazers as well. Then start saving for a real telescope.
If you have $200 to spend, a great choice is the “One Sky” offered through
Astronomers Without Borders. This compact instrument was reviewed favorably
by Sky & Telescope Magazine and found to be one of the top beginner’s
telescopes of all time. The One Sky has a 5-inch mirror, two good eyepieces, a
red dot finder to help with aiming, and a simple, steady tabletop mount. If
there’s more money in your budget (e.g., $500-$800), a Dobsonian scope, either
manual or push-to, with an 8- or 10-inch mirror can be a lifetime scope. If your
spending limit is even higher, come to a club meeting for personalized advice, or
join one or more of the online forums on Cloudynights.com.
Clear skies and happy holidays to all!
Past President and current Vice President
There are several worthwhile tripod and table top telescopes under $200 that would serve as a reasonable first scope for a lot of people on a tight budget. However, remember that tabletops need a stable table or other stand to be useful. And they can be very inconvenient to use and aim. I own one.
In addition to the One Sky, here are a variety of scopes in the $75 to $200 range that can be good starters for people on a tight budget. I often recommend these. (prices will vary depending on where you look and are subject to change)
Meade Instruments 209003 Infinity 70 AZ Refractor Telescope - About 13 pounds – $80
70 mm Includes finder scope, 2 eyepieces and a barlow lens that doubles the mag of each eyepiece.
http://www.amazon.co...cope under $200
Discussion about what can be seen with a 70 mm refractor. Remember that light pollution has a significant influence on what can be seen.
Explore Scientific FirstLight 70 mm refractor on AZ Mount – $85
Review and discussion
Orion SkyScanner 100mm TableTop Reflector Telescope - 6.2 pounds – $100
Optimized for under 100X wide view but can be nudged up to 150X in my opinion
Includes 2 eyepieces and a finder scope.
Can also be mounted on a camera tripod or any mount with a dovetail.
Consider adding a Celestron 8-24 zoom or a 14-16 mm Plossl and 3X barlow in the future.
Product reviews - SkyScanner 100
Meade Lightbridege Mini 130 – $175 – 14 pounds
Tabletop solid tube Dobsonian includes finder scope and 2 eyepieces.
Consider adding a 2X barlow in the future
Zhumell 130 tabletop reflector – $199
Includes red dot finder and two eyepieces. Consider adding a barlow lens for higher magnifications
https://www.amazon.c...l 130 telescope
Meade Infinity 90mm Altazimuth Refractor Telescope - 600 mm FL - About 12 pounds $189
Received Sky and Telescope Innovative Astronomy Gear in Jan 2016.
Includes slow motion controls, finder scope, 3 eyepieces and a 2X barlow for 6 magnifications.
In my opinion, any of the above scope packages would make good first scopes. I recommend them often for people on a tight budget.
Floor mounted Dobs are great, but for some they are too big and too heavy to use. After hauling them in and out of the house 3 times they may become dust collectors.
Consider this article.
How Much Does a First Telescope Cost?
Edited by aeajr, 21 December 2019 - 02:55 PM.