Are you looking for a telescope for your child or the best telescope for beginners? You came to the right place. Trust me. Invest 5 minutes of your time to read this and you will not regret it!
My name is Chris Kotsiopoulos. For the last few years I have a vivid interest in astronomy and astrophotography.
I have purchased in the past many telescopes and astronomical equipment only to discover later that there wasn’t what I really needed. This doesn’t need to happen to you as well. I’m here to help you choose the best childrens telescope. The same applies when considering telescopes for beginners regardless of age.
This article is basically about choosing the best telescope for kids. There are a few fancy colored telescopes for kids only, but I wouldn’t choose a telescope solely on the looks or the attractive packaging. I would rather prefer a beginner telescope with a potential to use it effectively for many years.
I don’t want to waste your time with a lengthy article about the history of telescopes or excessive descriptions filled with jargon. So let’s get to the point. You want to find a good telescope. You need a useful astronomy instrument and you don’t want to pay for something that will eventually end up being a coat rack.
These are my uncensored advices that will hopefully help you provide to your child an exciting and educational tool.
What to expect from your telescope:
Most frequently, telescope packaging illustrates impressive planet and nebula images. They do so because they want to sell. Even with a decent telescope, only Moon and the brightest planets can be seen bright and clear. All the other celestial objects – nebulas, galaxies and star clusters – are visible but quite dim. The bright color nebulas and the other eye catching celestial objects you see on magazines and illustrations are the result of photographic long exposure. See for example the famous Orion nebula as it seen through a telescope eyepiece and the corresponding photographic result. For more examples click here.
Now, you may wonder if it worth it to spend a considerable amount of money just to see some dim colorless, cloud like objects. The answer is yes! It worth every penny because you get to see live, in front of your eyes a view from the distant past, celestial objects even out of our own galaxy, that span across thousands of light years in diameter!
- Don’t do it! Don’t rush to a telescope shop and buy a telescope yet! Not unless you first examine the advantages and disadvantages of each telescope type.
- Don’t get that cheap, ‘special offer’ telescope, found on some super markets during the holidays. These telescopes are often very low standard instruments that will only ruin your children’s interest and excitement.
- Don’t pay attention to the magnification advertisements found on the packaging of some telescopes. Magnification is not a measure of a telescope’s capabilities when considering buying a telescope. Most of the time, star gazing is done with low magnification.
- Many telescopes have a motor build in. You don’t necessarily need it to drive the telescope. After a bit of playing with it, you will be able to guide the scope by hand to where you want to look. Motor is a necessity only if you are trying out astrophotography. The same applies for the goto telescope, that takes you automatically to the desired target. In my opinion, especially for a kid, it is best to start without these devices in order to learn the sky better. On the other hand, if you don’t have much time available and you can afford a more expensive instrument then you may consider a motor and a GoTo system.
- DO NOT EVER LOOK AT THE SUN WITH A TELESCOPE without using a special filter found only on astronomy stores. This can cause permanent eye damage and possible blindness. Even with a filter you must ensure that it doesn’t have even a small opening and it is firmly placed on its place.
- Get one or two quality ‘astronomy for kids’ books like this one or this one. It is important to know what he/she is looking at and most importantly, why not combine fun with education?
- Get an introductory book for you. I highly recommend Nightwatch from Terence Dickinson. It has a wealth of practical information for the novice and intermediate-level amateur astronomer. All you need to know about telescopes for beginners, telescope types, telescope optics, telescope accessories, sky charts, popular observing targets and many more.
- Dig up these old pair of binoculars you have in your attic. Binoculars are easy to carry and provide a nice wide angle view of the sky. They will also reveal dozens of lunar craters and the Jupiter’s moons. Comets have been discovered by people using them. In fact, did you know that your binoculars are more powerful than Galileo’s first telescope? It is surprising how many people have binoculars and never use them on the night sky.
- Make a wise decision for choosing the best telescope for you based on the following key factors:
- Price. Prices start from a few tenths of $ for a small telescope up to some thousands of $ for a big very high quality computerized telescope. Motor and GoTo system make objerving easier but prepare to pay two times the price of the same optics without these gadgets.
- Aperture is the amount of light your telescope gathers. More aperture means more light gathered and this results to brighter and more detailed views.
- Size. This is very important. Some times the physical size of a telescope is underestimated. The best telescope is the one that you can easily use and enjoy. Especially if it is a gift for a child it must be robust and light weight.
- It is a good idea to join an astronomy club and/or an online astronomy forum that will help you through your beginning at this exciting hobby.
Types of telescopes:
1) Refracting telescopes are the ones that are most common. They are usually made out of a long tube that has a piece of glass at one end and the eyepiece at the other. These were what the pirates used when looking out into the distance. A refracting telescope can be either: a) achromatic (cheap, overall good performance) or b) apochromatic (expensive, excellent performance).
2) A reflecting telescope use a mirror to capture light that is placed in the very back of the telescope. These scopes offer a bigger view and bright wide view of comets and star clusters. There are two types of reflecting telescopes: a) The dobsonian telescope. (Large, easy to use, simplified design). b) Cassegrain telescope. (More compact – lighter than dobsonian, but also more complex and expensive).
Kids telescope – Factors to consider when purchasing a telescope
When you go to purchase your first telescope, there are many things you should consider before buying it. Apart from the telescope price you have to think of portability, maintenance and storage space. The goal is to get the most viewing ability for what you can afford.
If you live in the city and long for some clear skies at night to view, you may have to move the telescope to a better seeing area. Usually in the country or rural area, you can get a beautiful expanse of sky in which to use to view your objects. Make sure your telescope is easy to carry and will fit in your car. Another good rule is to make sure you know how to assemble it in the dark.
Observing in dark sky areas is ideal. You can see literally hundreds of objects with a medium range telescope if your observation site is away from the city lights.
Maintenance is upkeep of the telescope and its pieces. Probably the most common maintenance will be keeping the mirrors or lenses aligned properly. Reflector telescopes require more maintenance than refractors. Also, the open ended telescopes are famous for collecting dust and debris. You may have to clean the mirrors and then realign them.
When you are not using your telescope, find a safe place for it to stay. You need a space that is dust and moisture free as possible. Cover your telescope, when not in use, to prevent dirt and dust from getting into it.
Choosing a telescope:
If your observation site is a light polluted city then I would suggest a small to medium achromatic refractor. These scopes are ideal for observing the Moon, planets, double stars and bright star clusters. They are durable and essentially don’t need maintenance. They don’t perform well at faint nebulas and galaxies but these objects are lost in light pollution anyway.
If you intend to use the telescope from a dark site, then you have more choices. Small achromatic refractors are fine but you are limited to a few dozen of bright targets. Big achromatic refractors are better but they are big and heavy. Apochromatic refractors are a special breed of telescopes. They have a sophisticated lens system that provide a nearly perfect view of any celestial object. The problem is that they are too expensive. A medium range reflector is my suggestion for observing under dark skies. They are relatively easy portable, fairly priced and can offer you a nice view of many galaxies, nebulas and star clusters.
If you choose a telescope with a GoTo system be prepared to pay for some extras (Typically a power tank and an AC adapter).
For easier observing you may consider a telescope with a motor that tracks the targets. Especially in high magnifications the target is visible inside the field of view for only a few seconds. For astrophotography you also need a motor among many other things (Moon is the exception as it can be captured easily through the eyepiece even with a point and shoot camera).