If, like me, you have always been fascinated with astronomy, but you never got around to making it a hobby, then you are reading the right blog. For years, I have been fascinated with astronomy, and I have always thought about buying a telescope and viewing celestial objects for myself. Well, I finally did it. Just a few weeks ago, I purchased an Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ telescope. However, before doing so, my obsessive mind read dozens of telescope buying guides and watched countless YouTube videos. The Internet is a blessing but also a curse, if like me, you can get analysis paralysis. I do recommend that you read and watch videos to make an informed decision, but don’t let it prevent you from making a decision. Based on my experience, I recommend you keep three things in mind: 1. your budget, 2. portability, and 3. your viewing goals.
First – Budget
There are so many options when buying a telescope, and the prices can range from $20 or so to thousands of dollars. If you’re a beginner like me, you probably don’t have a budget of thousands of dollars, but you may want to consider if you are willing to spend $100 or less or maybe $200 to $300, for example. At first, I was looking at telescopes ranging in price from about $100 to $1,000, and this left me with too many choices. Eventually, I decided on a budget of $300 or less, and that really helped me narrow down my choices.
Second – Portability
There are many different telescope designs, sizes, and mounts. Some may want a telescope to just use in their backyard, while others may want to take a trek far away from light pollution. Whichever you prefer, keep in mind that the telescope you choose may enable or hinder your ability to use it in different locations. For me, I initially was going to buy the Orion 8944 SkyQuest XT6 Classic Dobsonian. This telescope is approximately $299 on Amazon.com. Based on the research I have done it is a great telescope for viewing deep-sky objects, and it has a mounting system that is easy to operate. However, I wanted a telescope that I cold pack up and take with me to remote locations away from light pollution, and the SkyQuest is not that portable. I finally decided on the Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ because it came with a tripod mount which could breakdown and the telescope itself was much smaller with still a decent aperture size. In my case, I chose a more portable option, but a more static telescope may be right for you.
Third – Viewing Goals
Different telescopes use different technologies, but there are basically two types of telescopes–refractors and reflectors. A refractor telescope uses a lens as its objective to form an image. It is the same kind of technology used in spy glasses and camera lenses. It is my understanding that refractors are easy to use and maintain, and they are particularly good for viewing solar system objects. However, at higher magnification, they can suffer chromatic aberration, and they are not great for observing deep-sky objects like nebulae and galaxies.
On the other hand, a reflector uses a single or a combination of curved mirrors that reflect light and form an image. The reflector technology was invented by Isaac Newton, and it allows for large diameter objectives. Reflectors typically have larger apertures, which can collect more light and allow the user to better see deep sky objects. However, because the apertures tend to be larger, the telescopes tend to be larger and less portable. Additionally, reflector telescopes require more maintenance, particularly aligning the mirrors (known as collimation).
As I mentioned earlier, I ultimately chose the Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ, which is a smaller reflector telescope. I wanted something portable, but I also wanted to be able to view deep sky objects. On my first night of observation, I was able to see amazing detail of the surface of the moon, Jupiter and the Galilean moons, and the rings of Saturn. Anyone can see pictures of these objects online or in magazines, but when you look through your own telescope and see them for yourself, it is quite a different and amazing experience. As I have used the telescope more, I have been able to view star clusters, nebulae, and just last night, I saw the Andromeda Galaxy for the first time. If stargazing and astronomy are of interest to you, I highly recommend making it a hobby and investing in a good starter telescope. Once you start, you will probably be hooked like me.