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Are you ready to buy that first telescope

Stellarium screen shot example for July 9 2014
Stellarium screen shot example for July 9 2014

There are a lot of things to consider before buying that first telescope. The obvious first target is the Moon, but what after the Moon? True that many telescopes sold today have the ability to go to any object you select, but you still need a basic understanding of the sky: Perhaps more so with a computerized setup.

Some things you may want to be able to do before buying your first telescope:

  • Know how to use a star map
  • Find Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Venus
  • Find the North Star
  • Identify the six brightest stars in the sky for each season
  • Find the Big Dipper, the Summer Triangle, the Great Square, the Northern Cross
  • Locate the ecliptic in the sky
  • Find the Andromeda galaxy in dark skies
  • Know what an M object is

The above are not difficult and a telescope is not required. Learning a little lunar geography wouldn’t hurt either.

There are many books available to help you get started. My recommendation is to start with a book you like and a planetarium program before buying a telescope. There are many programs available, and one of the best, Stellarium, is free! The basics of the program are easy to master. You can look at the sky from any location at any time. You can observe the sky from month to month, day to day, hour by hour or minute by minute. You can “zoom in” and get a telescopic view if you like. Not only is it a great learning tool, it is an indispensable planning tool as well.

Deciding what type of telescope to buy is your next challenge. Most local astronomical societies have free public viewing sessions. It’s a great opportunity look through a variety of different telescopes so you can get good idea of what you want. If you can’t wait think about starting with a pair of 7 X 50 binoculars, probably the most useful telescope one can own. I purchased my 7 X 50’s in 1973 and still use them every observing session.

Most amateurs consider their first telescope a treasure even though most of them were over powered (600X) pieces of junk. They were soon replaced with telescopes that could be used. You want to start with a telescope that works. That means it does not shake, is easy to point, is easy to use and comes with eyepieces for optimal viewing.

Wishing you clear skies

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