There’s something about telescopes that have made them the awe of man for centuries. Ever since they were first invented in the early 1600s, telescopes have captured the imagination and wonder of the universe at large. Luckily, modern production methods have made simple telescopes more and more inexpensive and easier to use. Some more advanced models have incredible technological features, like interchangeable lenses, improved eyepieces, stabilizing mounts, and even photographic capabilities.
However, if you’re looking to stare at the stars on a budget, here are some good places to learn more.
- Best Beginner Telescopes: This guide will give you more details about specific models within the categories discussed above. They focus on good beginner telescopes for all budgets up to $1000.
- Choosing Your First Telescope: Sky Magazine gives a great 7-page introduction here with tips and warnings about shopping for your first telescope. They also cover the various accessories you may wish to budget more, like star charts and viewfinders.
- What You Must Know Before You Buy a Telescope: This website has great reminders to keep your expectations in check. For instance, while having a personal telescope can open up entirely new worlds, don’t expect NASA-quality images.
- Best Telescope For Beginners: Here is another breakdown of the categories of telescopes. This resource uses a slightly different categorization and gives great detailed reviews.
- Advice For New Astronomers – Education is the key, according to this source. Study the sky by yourself, with magazine subscriptions, and in your community’s clubs and organizations.
- Telescope Frequently Asked questions: If you have a specific question, chances are this source can answer it. This is 9-part guide of beginner amateur astronomers’ most frequently asked questions.
- History of The Telescope: Although Galileo is often credited as the inventor of the telescope, this isn’t quite the case. Gain an appreciation for the long history of inventors’ improvements on early telescopes.
- Telescopes Timeline — If you’re a visual learner or just enjoy seeing pictures of historical artifacts, check out this digital timeline of the history of telescopes from National Geographic.
- Galileo: the Telescope & the Laws of Dynamics: Learn more about the man we know as the father of astronomy and modern physics. Galileo lived from 1564-1642 and is responsible for an incredible amount of discovery.
- Impact of The Invention of The Telescope: If you’re doing the math, you’ll know that the telescope has been around for over 400 years. Learn what impacts the telescope has had on the course of history.
- Telescope Glossary: This is an easy-to-use, alphabetical glossary of telescope-related terms. Bookmark this one as you begin your journey as an astronomer.
- Astronomy Glossary: Here’s another A-to-Z glossary of astronomy terms. This one has great interlinking within the definitions to make comprehensive learning even easier.
Telescopes For Kids
- Kids Buying Guide: Not sure how to pick an age-appropriate telescope? This site’s got you covered with specific models within defined age brackets.
- Edwin Hubble Facts – Science for Kids: You’ve probably seen some of the photographs from the Hubble telescope. Learn more about Ediwn Hubble, the astronomer after whom this wonderful technology was named.
- Telescope Introduction For Kids: This aptly named Astronomy for Kids website gives basic, kid-friendly information with colorful photographs and engaging videos.
- Reflecting Telescope: Learn more about the physics of the reflecting telescope. The information hosted here is sponsored by the University of Oregon.
- Refracting Telescopes: This is yet another University of Oregon website, this time on the physics of refracting telescopes. This is intermediate level information.
- Dobsonian telescope: The Dobsonian telescope was born in the amateur astronomer community. This is a great resource to learn more about the development of this telescope.
- Complete List of Telescope Types: We’ve only just begun! There are dozens of types of telescopes, each with its own history and improvements. See a list of them here.
- A Brief History of The Hubble Space Telescope: There’s no more trusted source on astronomy than NASA. Learn more about the Hubble Space telescope here.
- The Hubble Story | NASA: This is another NASA resource that includes fun facts and figures about the Hubble Space telescope.
- Nasa Huble Telescope Facts: For teachers, this is a great lesson plan about the Hubble Space telescope developed in part by NASA for students in grades 6 through 9.
- International Space Station: If there’s such a thing as too many resources, this is it. Learn everything you ever wanted to know about the International Space Station and then some!
- Hubble Telescope Images: By far the most beautiful resource we’ve ever indexed. This is a gallery of images from the Hubble Space telescope.
- Telescopes for Astrophotography: Interested in astrophotography? Check out this one for information on how to get started and what models to consider.
Ready to get started with your budget-friendly astronomy hobby?
First, know that there are three basic types of telescopes. In general, the three categories increase in aperture size (affecting the amount of light it lets in) and, of course, price. The type you pick will depend on what you want to view, as well as your budget.
Refractors: Refractor telescopes are typically the least expensive, coming in somewhere between $100-400. They are great for children, because they are a lighter weight and do not require maintenance. Their slender size also makes them great for portability. Take one of these with you to a broad, open field far away from city lights for a truly spectacular view. Refractors use a multi-element lens that can provide sharp, high contrast images. However, their functionality is typically limited to observing the moon and planets like Jupiter and Saturn.
Reflectors: These telescopes, often associated with Isaac Newton, are best known for their introduction of mirrors. The curved mirrors help transmit sharp images from objects at an incredible distance. However, these are a bit bulkier than the refractor telescopes, and while they’re portable, they can be quite heavy. Starting at around $350 and requiring more careful maintenance, these telescopes are best suited to intermediate amateur astronomers.
Catadioptrics: This is a fancy name for a compound telescope that uses mirrors and lenses. These are best for the true hobbyist, because even the most basic models start at $1000. However, these are the telescopes that will blow you away. You can focus in on distant galaxies, colorful nebulas, large clusters and even moving comets. These catadioptrics can often be hooked up to a computer for astrophotography. They are incredibly heavy and need a strong, stable mount in order to be manipulated. Some can be programmed to move and focus based on a computer program’s controls.
Though these might seem way out of your budget, consider looking for a used catadioptric telescope. Ask around your local astronomy community and see if you can find one.
Once you’ve established your budget and what you’re hoping to accomplish with your telescope, make sure to look for reviews from reputable sources, like the ones we’ve linked above. Not all models are created equal, and certainly not all brands perform the same.
Consider your long-term expenses if your telescope will require maintenance. Also make sure you have a suitable place to use your telescope. If you’re in the city, you might find you suffer from “light pollution” at night. All of the city lights make it hard to see astronomical objects. If there is nowhere near you with reduced light pollution, consider viewing the night sky at very late hours (between midnight and 5 a.m.) when most people have their lights turned off. Otherwise, factor in the gas, blankets and water you’ll need to travel to a darker area.
Also make sure you factor in enough money to cover any accessories you may want. These can include books, magazines, star charts, computer programs, extra lenses and eyepieces, a sturdy tripod, polishing cloth, etc.
It can seem daunting at first, but your investment in a good telescope will be well worth it when you’re able to see the astounding beauty in the universe.
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