For your benefit, we compiled a list of “frequently asked questions” to cover some common concerns.
Q: What should I consider when buying a telescope?
A: First and foremost, do not buy a telescope from large department store because what they sell is crap. Second, don’t buy a telescope based on its magnification as this can be very misleading. Magnification is actually not that important since observing is typically done at 250x or less. What matters the most of the aperture size of a telescope. Learn more about all of these factors on the best telescope page.
Q: What do you recommend for a first telescope.
A: That really depends on what you want to use it for and what your budget is. There’s three types of telescopes that are common for backyard astronomers, each having some pros and cons. As a general rule, we always recommend a 6″ or 8″ Dobsonian reflector telescope to start with because they are reasonably priced and are great all around performers for observing all kinds of celestial objects. You can learn more about this on the types of telescopes page.
Q: I want to do astrophotography. What should I get?
A: If you have some experience in astronomy already, then astrophotography can become a lifetime passion. Quality equipment can be expensive. You can pay over $20,000 for a telescope! Of course, you don’t have too. A good option for experienced astronomers is the Celestron Advanced VX 11 Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope . If you want to pay less, look at the Celestron Advanced VX 9.25 Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope. If that’s still to expensive, stay in the Schmidt-Cassegrain family and pick a telescope with smaller aperture.
If you have no astronomy experience at all, astrophotography is likely going to be very frustrating. We strongly recommend that you start out with a simple quality beginner scope and learn the basics of astronomy, find out how to use sky charts and locate objects before getting into astrophotography. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t take pictures of what you see. You can pick up a camera adapter and connect any digital camera or even your smartphone to virtually any telescope.
Q: How can I find my way around the sky?
A: You have several options.
- Use software! Not only can you locate where thousands of celestial objects are at any time, you can also plan your viewing sessions ahead of time. Starry Night Enthusiast 7 Astronomy Software is a good investment.
- Get yourself some guides and maps. Here’s a basic stargazer toolkit to get you started. We also recommend that you purchase the book “Nightwatch – A Practical Guide to viewing the Universe” since it has a lot of detailed charts with locations of star clusters, galaxies, nebulas and other objects.
- Download an app on your cell phone or tablet. Here’s info about a great free astronomy sky map app we recommend.
Q: The planets are not on a sky chart. How do I know where to look for them?
A: The easiest and hassle free way is to use software or apps as per the previous answer. Because planets change locations constantly, they are excluded from “paper” sky charts and star finders.
Q: How powerful is a telescope?
A: “Powerful” is subjective. In fact it is such a misunderstood concept that we create a whole page just to talk about it. See our telescope power page.
Q: Can I look at the sun with a telescope?
A: Yes, but only when using a proper solar filter. NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN WITHOUT THE PROPER EQUIPEMENT. If you look at the sun directly, it will be the last thing you see. Make sure you are knowledgeable in using a solar filter properly because just a small hole can allow direct sunlight in, and this is enough to cause permanent eye damage. The sun is a beautiful sight, but you must follow all precautions prior to looking at it. If there’s an astronomy club in your area, it would be a good idea to seek guidance from more experienced astronomers. Some telescopes are specifically designed to look at the sun. Here’s some solar telescopes from Orion.