Telescopes for Beginners and Kids
While there are a lot of amazing things to see in the world of astronomy, it’s easy to forget not every new astronomer knows exactly where to start. At the same time, every veteran astronomer had a first telescope. You could even say the right first telescope gives you access to the universe.
So, what makes a good first telescope? In this video, we’ll walk you through what to look for when buying one.
While there are a lot of choices out there, not every telescope will fit the needs of every beginner. However, whether you’re looking to buy the first telescope for yourself as an adult or to buy one for a child, the advice in this video should help you make the best possible choice for just about any new astronomer.
The Best Telescope is the One You Use
The focus of this video is on buying the right telescope that will get consistent use. We strongly advise against buying just a cheap telescope without doing any research.
We’ll discuss how suitable various telescopes are for beginners of various levels based on a few key factors. For the purposes of this video, we will break these categories down into "Children/Casual," "Intermediate," and "Advanced" beginners. Our goal is to help you choose a telescope that is a great fit for the beginner you have in mind.
The Telescope Types
There are three basic types of telescopes. Refractors use lenses, reflectors use mirrors, and compound or catadioptric telescopes use both. For more detailed information on what makes these telescopes tick, you can check out our previous video on "The Basic Telescope Types."
For young children, and those who just want to see various solar system objects, it’s hard to go wrong with a small refractor of 3-4 inches or less in diameter. Since the lenses for this type are locked in place, they are very durable and require little maintenance. Smaller models tend to be inexpensive, and while the price of refractors can grow pretty quickly as you get into the larger models, most casual beginners will do just fine with a smaller one.
While a reflector of similar size can work equally well, make sure that it is properly collimated on a regular basis. Collimation is the alignment of the internal mirrors.
For an adult or child who is more serious about astronomy, a mid-sized reflector of 6-10 inches could be a great fit.
However, the view seen through the eyepiece will appear upside-down. While some beginners can be confused by this, wondering if their telescope has a problem, this is just a byproduct of how reflectors work and is perfectly normal.
If the inverted image and maintenance isn’t a problem, it’s hard to find a better value for mid-to-large-aperture telescopes, making them a great place for beginners who want to see a lot to jump into the hobby.
For the dedicated starting astronomer, it might be worth looking into a compound scope of around 4-8 inches in diameter. These compact designs pack a lot of power into a very small package. On top of their optical quality, they tend to be durable, easy to store, and easy to transport. However, this type of telescope represents a bit more of a financial investment.
Advanced: Goto and Tracking
Many scopes have variants with goto and tracking options. Goto allows a telescope to automatically move to objects in the sky with the press of a button, while tracking lets a telescope follow along with an object in the sky as the earth rotates. These represent the most advanced options for beginners which while incredibly useful, can add to the price and learning curve, and may not be necessary for those who just want to get out there and observe the more basic night sky objects.
With everything we’ve laid out, we hope we’ve made your decision easier. We believe there is a telescope for everyone.
If you have any questions about purchasing a telescope or need to know more, feel free to contact us. The OPT staff will be glad to steer you towards the best possible telescope for the beginner in your life.
Check out OPT's Beginner Telescopes page.
Happy first-time observing!