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How To Buy A Telescope

Choosing the right telescope depends entirely on how serious you are about using it. There is a great difference between a backyard hobby telescope and a serious astronomy telescope.

Things to Consider About a Telescope

Buying a telescope can be a somewhat pricey purchase. Therefore, it is important to take a look at all the different features in order to determine which ones are really important to you.


  • Magnifying power is not the most important consideration when choosing a telescope. More important is the scope's light gathering capability, or aperture, which determines how much you will be able to see.
  • The brightest, sharpest images are obtained at the lower powers of 25 to 50x

Types of Telescopes

  • Refractors
    • Generally, starter telescopes offer a small achromatic refractor of 60 mm to 80 mm aperture. This is fine for observing the moon and major planets. These small apertures, however, are not ideal for faint deep-sky objects. More advanced stargazers should consider moving up to a 90 mm or 100 mm refractor.
    • The higher the refractor, the better the performance.
    • Refractor telescopes are a good choice if you are doing most of your star gazing in the city or suburbs or other relatively high light areas. A larger scope will amplify the significant existing light and make it difficult to see anything.
  • Reflectors
    • Newtonian reflectors are generally good all-around scopes for both planetary and deep-sky viewing. Smaller, 3-4.5 inch Newtonian reflectors are a significant step above refractor versions, and 6-8 inch versions offer even increased range. The size and weight of these versions limits their portability, so be sure you have a dedicated space for them
    • Schmidt-Cassegrains are more portable than Newtonian models. An 8-inch version provides excellent versions of the moon, planets and deep-sky objects. These are expensive models for more advanced astronomers and are not recommended for backyard hobby viewing.


Telescopes come in three basic mounts: altazimuth, dobsonian, and equatorial.

  • Altazimuth
    • Altazimuth is the simplest and is recommended for casual stargazing and planetary observing
  • Dobsonian
    • Dobsonian mounts are boxy, altaz-type mounts designed for easy maneuvering of the larger Newtonian tubes of 6 inch aperture and larger
  • Equatorial
    • Equatorial mounts are more complicated and expansive but allow the user to follow the motion of celestial objects with a single manual control

Telescope Buying Tips

  • Get as much aperture as you can reasonably handle, but not more
  • Big aperture is generally better, but you don't want to buy a telescope that is too big or complicated to conveniently set up and use
  • If you are buying your first telescope, a basic refractor model with 90 mm aperture or smaller is acceptable
  • For a slight step up from the basic model, a Newtonian reflector of 6-inch aperture or less is recommended
  • You can always trade up once you've mastered your first scope

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