How to buy a telescope

December 07, 2009|By JIM EDWARDS / Special to The Herald-Mail

It's Christmas season again. Perhaps you are considering buying a telescope for someone on your shopping list.

TriState Astronomers wants to help make stargazing a fun and exciting adventure into the night sky. Following Christmas, TriState Astronomers will conduct telescope clinics to help telescope owners set up their new telescopes and learn how to use them.

If you are buying your first telescope and if you are not knowledgeable about them, there are many factors you should consider before you go shopping. At our clinics, we often see low-quality telescopes that are little more than toys. These give dim, fuzzy, shaky images that are frustrating to the budding, young stargazer.

This is a recipe for a new telescope ending up in a closet collecting dust.

Low-quality telescopes typically come from big-box stores or nature-themed stores or are touted on TV commercials for their high magnification. Avoid these telescopes like H1N1 flu.


So where can you go to get help in choosing a good beginners telescope? One resource is the Web site of TriState Astronomers -- . We have two articles on buying telescopes in the Events/Resources section -- "Choosing a Telescope" and "Telescope Basics."

These articles explain the types of telescopes and their operation. We try to match different telescopes with the user's age and budget.

  • Age -- Young astronomers really need a telescope that gives good views, is small enough for kids to handle and see through and has a stable mount.

  • Budget -- Top-of-the-line telescopes can cost thousands of dollars, but good-quality, beginner telescopes need not be expensive. Companies such as Celestron, Orion, Meade and Edmund Scientific sell good telescopes for $100 to $300. Buy from manufacturers' Web sites or at stores specializing in telescopes and astronomy products. Many members of TriState Astronomers purchase equipment at Hands On Optics in Damascus, Md.

    Once in a blue moon

    One thing to look at with your new telescope is the blue moon on New Year's Eve.

    No, the moon doesn't change color. When there are two full moons in a single calendar month, traditions says the second full moon is called a blue moon. This happens once approximately every 2 1/2 years. A blue moon on Dec. 31 won't happen again for 19 years.

    Looking at the moon is a wonderful way to begin exploring the night sky with a new telescope.

    Clinic scheduled for new telescope owners

    TriState Astronomers will host an introduction to telescopes for first-time stargazers from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, at Discovery Station, 101 W. Washington St., in downtown Hagerstown.

    Admission to the clinic is free with paid museum admission.

    To contact Discovery Station, call 301-790-0076. For more information about the clinic, see the calendar at our Web site,

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