Buying a telescope

01 February, 2009

A York Explorer telescope
A York Explorer telescope
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: I have always wanted to learn more about the night sky. As 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, I have decided to purchase a telescope. Can you provide me with advice about what sort of telescope to buy? Where can I get more information about the night sky?

Answer: 2009, the International Year of Astronomy, marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo turning a telescope to the sky. The International Year of Astronomy aims to reconnect people with the night sky and to highlight the contributions astronomy has made to our society and culture. Buying and learning to use a telescope is a great way to be a part of this!

If you are new to astronomy the best initial purchase for examining the night sky is a good pair of binoculars. Binoculars are far more portable and comfortable than telescopes; you are therefore much more likely to use them and have them with you. Many astronomical objects actually look better through the wider field of view of binoculars.
If you want to go beyond binoculars and buy a telescope, there are many issues to consider:  how often you will use it, ease of use, portability, price and the quality of the telescope and its mounting. What sort of astronomical objects you’re most interested in viewing may also affect your choice of telescope.
Perhaps the most important feature of a telescope is the diameter of the lens; the highest magnification achievable by the eyepiece is not as important. This is because larger telescopes allow you to collect more light and hence resolve small detail in the image. However, a fuzzy image remains fuzzy no matter how much it is magnified.
The best advice we can give you is to buy a telescope from a specialty shop that is staffed by people who use telescopes themselves for astronomy. We would also encourage you to attend star gazing nights organized by groups such as the Astronomical Society of Victoria. You can then talk to the society members about different kinds of telescopes available and decide which one would most suit your requirements.

If you want to know about the night sky above Melbourne, the best place to start is the Melbourne Planetarium’s monthly newsletter, Skynotes. Skynotes will tell you where to look to find the planets, constellations and meteor showers that are visible each month. It also highlights recent astronomical discoveries and upcoming events at the Melbourne Planetarium. Information sheets about sky watching are also available on the Melbourne Planetarium website.

You may also be interested in the Discover the Night Sky evenings run by the Melbourne Planetarium each year.

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