Travel to the
Join the astronauts and unmanned space travelers as they explore the
stars. Now that you have had a look at a part of Mars, why not see the
rest of it? How many times have you walked outside on a starry night and
looked up at the skies overhead? Remember when you were a kid lying on
your back in the grass, watching the stars wheel through the night
skies? Everyone, at one time or another, has been captivated by the
heavens. Remember that poem by Walt Whitman, "When I Heard the Learned
Astronomer," when he says how
he, "in the mystical moist night air...looked up in perfect silence at
the stars." From Galileo to Carl Sagan, from H.G. Wells to Gene
Roddenberry, we have always been intrigued by life on other planets,
space travel, trekking through the stars. Consider the enormous
popularity of such movies as ET:The Extraterrestial, Close Encounters of
the Third Kind, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Contact.
Remember the first time you looked at the moon through a telescope or a
set of binoculars? Shopping for a real telescope can be at times a bit
intimidating. After all, a state of the art telescope looks pretty
complicated. But it really isn't. Let us introduce you to the one-stop
telescope shopping website, where you will find out everything you ever
wanted to know about telescopes as we guide you through the many
varieties of viewing instruments.
Before you decide on which telescope to purchase, you should ask
1. What is
the most important thing about buying a telescope? The best place to
buy a telescope is a telescope store, and not a department store. Stores
that do not specialize in telescopes will attempt to sell you a
telescope based on its "maximum magnification".
The reason is that as far as telescopes go, how much you can magnify is
a function of the amount of light the telescope receives, which is
almost entirely determined by the telescope's aperture (the size of the
lens or mirror that points at the sky). As far as magnification
goes, you can expect 50x per inch of aperture on a normal night, up to
62.5x on an exceptionally clear night (this is the number Meade uses
in calculating their magnifications). Department stores always show
little 2 1/4 inch refractors for up to 100+ dollars and say that the
refractor can get up to a whopping 600x or so. Strictly speaking, this
is true. However, applying the 50x rule, it is easy to see that 125x
would be pushing the optics, and that is assuming that they were high
quality ones. With the quality of the parts they usually give you are
lucky to get 100x with reasonable resolution. Stores that do not
specialize in telescopes will sell you a telescope based on its "maximum
magnification". A scope may be advertised as a 500 power instrument, but
what they forget to mention is that the image is completely blurry
at that power because it far exceeds the limit of the instrument. The
best analogy we can think of is when you're buying a computer. At a good
computer store, the employees are trained to answer all your questions.
So are we.
2. What will I be able to see with my telescope? The best way to
find out is to go out observing with someone who already has a
telescope. Look for a local astronomy club via the internet, or check
with your local library. In general, you will be able to see all the
planets, except Pluto as white disks. You will be able to see the bands
and the red spot on Jupiter and the rings around Saturn. You may be able
to see the ice caps on Mars. Venus and Mercury will show in phases, but
not much else. You will be able to see four of Jupiter's moons as points
of light, as well as Saturn's moon Titan. Of course, you will be able to
track and photograph comets. Your images will not be
as sharp and clear as the ones shown by the Voyager spacecraft. After
all, if a $2,000 telescope could see such things, why spend billions of
dollars to send a spacecraft to get them? As far as deep sky objects,
you will be able to see the Messier objects in almost any state of the
art telescope. Galaxies will tend to appear as shining blobs of light;
however, look a while longer and you may find spiral arms or dust lanes.
Galaxies look nothing like their pictures-you do not see the arms
anywhere nearly as clear.
through a 60mm refractor you will see:
a)The moon in fantastic detail.
b)Jupiter including at least 2 major cloud belts across its surface plus
c)Saturn and its rings are easily visible at 60X.
d)Deep space Nebulas such as the Orion Nebula are gas clouds which are
easily visible throughout the year.
f)Galaxies such as Andromeda galaxy. 40 to 50 galaxies are visible.
Through an 8" telescope
a)Moon becomes incredibly complex in fine detail with millions of
b)Jupiter's cloud belts take on a more structural character rather than
straight lines. Disturbances become visible.
c)Saturn's Rings are much more defined in structure and color.
d)Nebulas are brighter and in wider expanse.
e)Star clusters, galaxies and multiple star systems are much greater in
and detail. A cluster is a fuzzy spot in a 60mm refractor. In an 8"
scope it is a radiant ball of starpoints.
3. Do I want to take photographs through my telescope? If you are
a photo enthusiast, you will want to take pictures of stellar events
like the Hale-Bopp. You will need the following: a stable mount or
tripod to avoid out-of focus pictures. Also, you should stay away from
inexpensive 60mm alt-az refractors, which have mounts that are not
stable enough. You may also want to avoid the Dobsonian-style
telescopes, which may be fine for visual use, but the mount does not
lock down. Later in this text we will tell you the best telescopes for
4. Do I want to use my telescope during the day, or night, or both?
Not all telescopes fit all applications. For example, a telescope that
is just right for a safari in Africa may not be appropriate for night
photography. If you're going on a whale watch, you don't want a
reflector, which gives an upside down or sideways view of the world. A
refractor or Cassegrain
telescope will give a normal picture.
5. Do I want to travel with my telescope? Portability can be an
important issue, especially if you want to travel from place to place,
by car or jeep or horseback. The most portable telescopes are
Cassegrains and those with short focal length refractors.
6. Will the telescope be integrated with a computer system for
Five years ago, CCD cameras were used primarily by professionals and
observatories. Today, they take up a substantial portion of advertising
space in astronomy magazines, and many are used by amateur astronomers.
This type of equipment is a bit expensive still, but within the reach of
many amateurs. The chances are that if you can afford a computer, you
could afford this kind of system.
7. This leads to the next question: How much do you want to spend?
Telescopes are available in a wide price range, from about $50 for a
60mm alt/az refractor with tripod (telescopes can be assumed to come
complete with tripod, unless otherwise stated) to a whopping $15,000 and
more for Meade Instrument's sixteen-inch, computerized LX200 with all
the bells and whistles. Fortunately, just like buying a car, there are a
lot of choices in between, which brings us to our last question.
8. Who is the telescope for, an adult or a youngster or both?
Obviously, if the telescope is for an adult, your expectations would be
a bit higher. You would expect the telescope to move smoothly, to
present excellent images, and allow for the viewing of a variety of
stars. On the other hand, a youngster might very well be happy with a
telescope that will show the moon and the rings of Saturn. The older a
child is, the more he or she will expect.
9. Where do I buy my telescope? There are three basic sources: a
store that does not specialize in telescopes, that sells many different
products; buying from other people; and mail order. The advantage of
buying a telescope in a store is that you have someplace to return the
instrument if you have problems with it. The disadvantage of a store is
that you generally pay more for the telescope, and do not get any
knowledgeable technical support. When you buy from other people, the
disadvantage is that you are buying something as is. Also, both Meade
and Celestron offer limited lifetime warranties on their optics which
are NOT transferable to a second owner. There are two kinds of mail
order: the outfits that sell all sorts of items only through the mail,
and telescope stores that sell through the mail (or internet) in
addition to selling from their store.
Three considerations in dealing with an internet only business:
you can send the merchandise back easily if something goes wrong
the store has a liberal return/exchange policy.
(3) Be sure
the store is willing to take the time to help you with your purchase
after you have your new scope.
ONE LAST PIECE OF ADVICE.....
If you want to learn more about astronomy, I suggest that you join an
astronomy club in your area. The great thing about astronomy clubs is
that you can get lots of "hands-on" experience at their monthly
(sometimes even twice monthly) meetings. Most amateur astronomers who
attend meetings are more than willing to allow you to look through their
telescopes and ask questions. If you have a new telescope, bring it!
There is bound to be someone there who can help you polar-align and set
up, and maybe even point the way to your first deep-sky object! Sky and
Telescope and Astronomy magazine publishes a list of astronomy clubs by
state at least once a year. You can also get more help by subscribing to
astronomy-related magazines like Sky and Telescope and Astronomy. These
are monthly publications full of up to date articles on everything from
the Shuttle to the existence of Black Holes. They also have a
"centerfold"... a star map for that month that will help you to get
around the sky AND information on where the planets are currently
PLUS... I am
only a phone call away. If I can be of any help, just give me a call
Mon-Friday from 9am -6pm at 516-475-1118. Ask for Jeff and mention our