Thinking about buying a telescope as a gift this holiday season? Consider these three easy guidelines:
1) Start simple; a telescope that is easy to use will get used more often.
2) Don’t buy a telescope based on the supposed magnification. Instead, go for the largest aperture you can afford, while also considering portability. You may want to transport your telescope to an area with darker skies. How big and heavy a telescope are you willing to carry?
3) Consider a refractor versus a reflector: One uses lenses, the other uses mirrors to gather light from dim objects and create an image that is then magnified by the eyepiece. Typically, you can get a ‘bigger’ reflector scope (larger aperture) than a refractor scope for the same price. Refractors are better for “low surface brightness” objects such as nebulae, galaxies, and comets and refractors are better for pinpoint light sources such as stars, planets, or the moon.
For more details, check out Derrick Pitts’s tips for purchasing a telescope. And if you already have a telescope, check the evening sky this week between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m., where Saturn and Venus cavort low in the West. In the Eastern morning sky, Mercury and Mars are visible between 6:30 and 6:45 a.m.