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Thread: Telescopes

  1. #1
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    Telescopes

    I need some advice on getting a decent telescope, somewhere in the <$500 range. All-purpose: planets, galaxies, the neighbors . Unfortunately, there are no retailers around here where you can see in person more than the low-end models. Any input appreciated especially on useful features.
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  2. #2
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    For the night sky, diameter is most important. I know nothing of the current market. I built them from mirror blanks when I was a teenager, and my best friends just built one called the JWST.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Stan Calow View Post
    I need some advice on getting a decent telescope, somewhere in the <$500 range. …
    Look at Celestron. They have options in a fairly wide price range, so something should fit.

    We recently gifted my son a 6e or 8e (forgot) after he completed a Astronomy class :: lots of fun with him aiming & pointing stuff out. (Get a green laser pointer to go with it!)
    Last edited by Malcolm McLeod; 11-15-2022 at 7:02 PM. Reason: Might be ‘se’, not ‘e’?

  4. #4
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    Celestron has been around in the consumer market for a long time. As has Meade.

    Orion Telescope (https://www.telescope.com/) used to have a retail store close to me, but has cut back. They are still in business and their store brand seemed to offer the best value in the low to mid range of scopes back when I last looked.

    Also, check the big (mostly NYC) camera stores, e.g. B&H and Adorama, they've expanded beyond cameras and, if they have what you want, may save you some money.

    You should think about how you're going to use this the most. What works best for bright planets, (or the neighbors, wildlife, etc.), is different than what works best for "faint fuzzies". Do you have an astronomy club, or a JC with an intro astronomy program? Usually they'll hold viewing parties where you can see different options and meet more experienced folks for local advice! This is the time of year Sky & Telescope magazine does their introduction issue, check to see if it's out yet. (Advice and current ads!) Also don't discount good binoculars. Many things an amateur astronomer looks at can be seen, sometimes better, with good binoculars

    As you gear up you'll spend your money on basically three things. First the scope, then the mount, and then eyepieces. (OK, also on accessories, but you can usually get adequate items bundled or minimize purchases to a much smaller bucket.)

    Resolution and light gathering is always limited by diameter. Unless quality is really missing, bigger will show you more. For dim stuff you also need dark skies and good "seeing". There's a reason professional astronomers fight over the really big boys, that they've put on really remote tall, mostly desert, mountains. Reflectors (mirror) telescopes will give you more bang for your buck, but they'll be bigger and less convenient.

    Mounts are another expense you need to consider. If you go too cheap and your scope is bouncing around you really can't see much. Most economical performance will be a Dobsonian mount (invented by John Dobson IIRC). It can be very stable for very little money and work well with big reflecting telescopes. It is very simple mechanically and operation is easy, but you are 100% in charge of knowing where to look and countering the earths rotation etc, so you need to learn the night sky. At the other end would be a computer driven, probably equatorial, mount where, after you get it aligned, you just tell it what you want to look at.

    Eye pieces are the last big category. Too cheap and crummy you waste the quality of your scope and mount. OTOH- very specialized and high quality you've blown your whole budget. What you need / want depends on the scope you have. The combination of the scope and the eyepiece's focal lengths gives you the magnification. (You want higher for bright detailed things, e.g. the moon or planets, and lower for fainter fuzzier things, either broad sections of the night sky or some of the closer nebulas etc.) Other things to consider do you wear glasses? If so, you can focus out your spherical correction, but no one else can see without refocusing. If you have an astigmatism or want to share views you'll want extra eye relief so you can wear your glasses.

    OK, I've said a lot hoping to give you ideas to help make the best choice for you. All that said the usual advice, back when I was looking, is to start with a 8" Dobsonian reflector and a couple mid-range Plossl eyepieces.

  5. #5
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    Thanks guys for your comments and suggestions. I did find a local club with great info on their website, but they have no viewing parties in the near future. And I will look beyond the Amazon and BestBuy options that I was seeing. I am hoping to learn enough to interest the grandkids in the future.
    Hobbyist

  6. #6
    Don't rule out amazon or best buy. At less than $500 you are still in beginner category and you can often find the best price on something like amazon though by all means look around. Get a good sized reflector scope and enjoy the best bang for your buck. the optics will all be fairly similiar among larger brands. If you want the easy button you can get either motor driven scopes that find things for you or at least smartphone enabled mounts that will let you use your phone to help find things. I think celestron either comes with a mount for phones or it is an option, you download the app..load your phone into the mount and can then align the scope with a map. you dont need either of those, you can certainly use your mark1 eyeball and a printed map. If you like stargazing you can step up to something better. I dont remember dobsonian scopes being particularly cheap but if you see a value that is a solid scope. Good luck and enjoy. Its a lot of fun

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alex LaZella View Post
    ... I dont remember dobsonian scopes being particularly cheap ....
    Of course it depends on the size and quality of the scopes, some of the Dobsonians are (relatively) huge and cost plenty. (The biggest Orion lists is 16" for $4.5K. I'd swear I've seen 30+" Dobs though.)

    The Dobsonian is however pretty much as cheap as a adequate mount can be. For example, using an 8" optic (at Orion) a basic 8" Newtonian scope in a Dobsonian mount is $650, very similar 8" scope with encoders and a computer to aid pointing is $900. The 8" Cassegrain (which most people mean when saying Celestron or Meade) is $1300 w/o mount and the Meade brand w/a mount & tripod run from $3K to $4.5K.

    I should add, a Dobsonian mount should be trivial for a woodworker to build. The only challenge is matching the "bearing" sizes to the size of the scope and designing the upper pivot point to properly balance the scope to be used. Plenty of tutorials around.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stan Calow View Post
    Thanks guys for your comments and suggestions. I did find a local club with great info on their website, but they have no viewing parties in the near future. And I will look beyond the Amazon and BestBuy options that I was seeing. I am hoping to learn enough to interest the grandkids in the future.
    Good luck!

    You are in the same boat I was way back when I was trying to help my kids as they covered astronomy in their science classes. I remember how frustrated I was trying to find relevant information. (Most sources seemed to be either, "Oh look at the stars" or "here is how you get set up to do real science at a dark sky site hours & hours from town." All I wanted was solid basic info.) E.g. example most sources I found recommended "Sky Altas" as the preferred star charts (maps). I'm sorry, it had way too much detail for the level of observing we were trying to do. I can highly recommend Wil Tirion & Brian Skiff's "Bright Star Atlas" though. It shows a few more stars than we can see from a dark urban backyard, but not so many of the even fainter stars, as Sky Atlas does, that we can't match it to what we see even on things like camping trips.

    So, I recommend you checkout some books & aids we found useful:

    Guides:

    - Find the Constellations, by H.A. Rey (the Curious George author)

    - The Stars, by H.A. Rey

    we had one, the other, or both. I remember them being really accessible to the kids but still useful to me.

    - Turn Left at Orion, by Guy Consolmagno & Dan M. Davis

    I don't remember details, but remember it being my go to as I tried to plan stuff for the kids.

    - Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe, by Terence Dickinson

    - The Backyard Astronomer's Guide, by Terence Dickinson & Alan Dyer

    again I only remember thinking highly of them, not too many of the details have stuck with me. The annual guides that Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazines used to put out always had helpful info (not that everything they had was relevant to us.)

    Star Charts:

    - a Planisphere (we had several, I don't remember any preference. Now, 20+ years later,
    I can say I can't read the "compact" 6" model anymore!)

    - Bright Star Atlas, by Wil Tirion & Brian Skiff (already mentioned.)

    - Orion DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart (different folding-map format,
    instead of an atlas format. Good for getting oriented sometimes.)

    I can't remember and won't even try to list the many many more that were either way too serious or complete fluff (or occasionally just wrong), that really didn't help us with what we were trying to do.

    Honestly, of all of what we tried, I think the really cheap rubber star shaped red LED "astronomical" flashlights I made into necklaces for my daughters might have been the high point to them. But we did manage to help them see a lot of what was covered in their (basic) science classes.

    Oh, one more thing, not really relevant to you observing, I picked up:

    - The Last Stargazers: the Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers, by Emily Levesque

    recently. I really enjoyed it. it's part autobiographical, part history, mostly funny, and a completely delightful riff on observational astronomy from an astronomer.

    Again, good luck!
    Last edited by David Bassett; 11-16-2022 at 2:36 AM. Reason: Typo. Always miss a typo in preview.

  8. #8
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    Sorry, I guess I'm bored. Another another thought:

    Malcolm mentioned a green laser pointer. +1 !!! (Or more, if you'll allow it.)

    It really helps when pointing at things as it can be seen far enough in the sky it minimizes the parallax you get just pointing with a finger. (Red sometimes works, but is less visible and depends more on how much moisture is in the air. Go green, unless you already have one or you are really prone to dropping things. Green is more fragile, not that I've ever broken mine.)

    With a Planisphere, a green laser pointer, (and a little prep work,) you could lead naked eye tours of constellations, bright stars, and planets (as bright dots). Add binoculars for each observer you can start getting into more interesting things like moon detail and (faint) views of close bright nebulas.

    Our local club has many experienced people, but one, "a strictly amateur visual astronomer" (as his PhD was in X-Ray astronomy as I recall), taught a class in binocular observing. He made the point basic 7x35 binocular technology was really well understood and it was hard to make a bad pair, so the cheap imports were fine. (Broken is a different story, but usually obvious at first glance.) With them you open a world of options compared to unaided observing at relatively little cost. E.g. 7x35 is more than capable of completing a Messier survey from a dark site with well honed skills. Not that I'm capable of doing that. I'm neither skilled nor knowledgeable enough. (Note an 8" scope will make seeing Messier's bright "faint fuzzies" both easier and show more detail. If you're ever at a star party and someone has a 30"-er... you'll be wowed!)

    Somewhat better are 7x50, (for young eyes,) and 10x50 binoculars, but they are somewhat harder to make well and he recommends a reputable brand, but it still wasn't necessary to go premium. Also the 10x are harder to hold steady. (Note the tiny compact bird watcher models tended to add complexity and sacrifice diameter for portability, so need higher quality and are dimmer. Not recommended for observing, but use what you got.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom M King View Post
    ... and my best friends just built one called the JWST.
    Tom, the acronym just clicked. If he gets you some observing time, I'm ready to take up astronomy again and fly out to help.

  9. #9
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    For $600, this one looks pretty good. https://www.telescope.com/Orion/Orio...0/p/137817.uts

    For that price, the choices are a manual finder like this one, or a smaller computerized one. You will be more things with the smaller computerized one, but see better with the larger one. I much prefer an equatorial mount to a Dobsonian mount, although you get a larger objective for your money with the Dobsonian.

    The little computerized ones are a lot of fun.

    https://telescopes.net/31145-nexstar-130-slt.html
    Last edited by Tom M King; 11-16-2022 at 10:01 AM.

  10. #10
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    Not quite on topic - but, I never cease to be amazed at the number of different questions you can ask on this Off Topic forum, and in a gaggle of mostly amateur woodworkers, find a couple of people who have real depth of knowledge in the subject matter, and provide good answers. This thread is an excellent case in point.

  11. #11
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    Amateur astronomer here.
    If you are on Facebook, look in the marketplace for some. I found a 13.1" dobson for $260 there. Also look at the classified ads on Cloudy nights forum.
    Aperture is king which makes the dob the best bang for the buck. I have an 8" Orion that I really like. Easy to carry and set up. It will fit in the back seat of a vehicle. The 13.1", not so easy. It's 5' long and gets moved in my PU bed.
    I like refractors for planets. Anything under a 90mm objective will be a disappointment.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stan Calow View Post
    I need some advice on getting a decent telescope, somewhere in the <$500 range. All-purpose: planets, galaxies, the neighbors . Unfortunately, there are no retailers around here where you can see in person more than the low-end models. Any input appreciated especially on useful features.
    Stan,

    I've been sky gazing and photographing for decades, primarily using an 8" Meade, a smaller scope, and binoculars. Unfortunately, you won't get much for $500 but what you do find will let you know if you are really interested enough to invest more. But I haven't followed pricing for years and don't know what's available now. Buying used might get you more for the buck.

    There are amazing things to look at but there are a few downsides to consider that can dampen enthusiasm. For example:

    The obvious, this is a hobby you have to do in the middle of the night, preferably well after dark and before the beginnings of dawn and with a cloudless sky, of course. Also, the best viewing can be when there is no moonlight. Waiting fo A night-time hobby can interfere with sleep, work, family.

    The best time of the year is in the winter - on a cloudless night the sky can be clearer than in the summer and the nights are longer. Unfortunately it can be freezing cold too!

    Besides a cloudless sky, a very dark sky is important for much viewing, not so much for planets as for galaxies, nebulas, etc. Unfortunately, the lights of civilization can be a real problem. Even from my farm out in a rural area I get sky glow from miles away. The worst here are automobile sales miles away lots which beam bright on there lots all night, every night (for security). When I want to look at the sky I have to drive a significant distance such as 2 hrs one way to the mountains.

    A cheap scope can have many disadvantages, including a wobbly mount and distortion in the optics. Unfortunately, a quality scope can be big bucks.

    A computerized or at least a motorized drive can be a huge help. With the earth moving, without a motorized drive an object will move out of view quickly, in just a few seconds with higher magnification.

    Don't be fooled by the high mag claims on some cheaper scopes. Yes, the magnification may be available but it might be practically useless with poor optics and a dimmer view.

    Viewing planets is easier than deep space objects like galaxies and nebulas since they are so bright - viewing can be great even in the warm, hazy summer. Jupiter and it's moons, Saturn, Mars, moon, and even the sun are good targets especially with good optics and higher magnification for some. Eclipses of the sun and moon are great, especially total eclipses of the sun and sunspots. (Special objective filtering is needed to prevent destroying your vision.) The best you can usually do with some of the other planets is find them. Viewing stars is not so interesting since regardless of magnification a star it still a dot unless it's a double star, then you might see two dots.

    The consumer telescopes are generally refracters or schmidt–cassegrain reflectors, the former more compact and perhaps better for planetary viewing, the latter with larger objectives and good for both planets and deeper space viewing, much bulkier and heavier.

    All that said, there are some great things about sky viewing. My favorite was to set up a telescope and introduce kids to the sky. I would often set up at churches and point the scope at a planet - Saturn was a favorite. I remember one kid looking through the scope and then looking at the front, convinced I had taped a picture of Saturn with the rings there!

    Another favorite thing was to set up the scopes at schools for a Solar eclipse. At a big school teachers wouid bring classes out to line up for a look. In addition to having the big scope tracking the sun, I usually brought a smaller scope and projected the sun image onto a white piece of paper in the bottom of a cardboard box. This can show the progress of the eclipse to a small group at once, perfectly safe to view with unprotected eyes. A few times I got there early and did a classroom demonstration with balls representing the sun, moon, and earth and chalkboard diagrams so the kids might understand better what was about to happen!

    For most viewing, I prefer binoculars. They are highly portable, require no setup, and can be grabbed on a whim. Higher powered binocs are better but hard to hold steady. A reclining lawn chair is helpful. There are also wearable supports that will help with a steady view. These days I usually use image stabilzing binoculars but good ones are likely more than twice your $500 budget.

    Are you interested in taking pictures of the sky? That's a whole new game. High magnification pictures through the scope are tricky and the equipment can be very expensive. A less expensive and arguably more useful option is to piggyback a camera with a telephoto lens on a motorized or scope. The scope does the tracking to prevent motion-blurred pictures. I've done this numerous times, especially with comets and eclipses. A piggybacked camera with a wide angle lens is great for catching meteor trails (but requires a lot of patience and luck!)

    This is my 8" Meade scope set up for the 2015 solar eclipse (at turner John Lucas's house in TN):
    eclipse_IMG_6607.jpg

    A picture taken with cell phone camera held up to the eyepiece (the scope has a good full-aperture solar filter on the front):
    eclipse_IMG_6633.jpg

    This picture taken with a small Canon pocket camera held up to the scope eyepiece. It shows some sunspots:
    eclipse_IMG_6613.jpg

    A smaller scope with the eclipse image projected onto a piece of paper:
    eclipse_IMG_6651.jpg

    Comet Hale-Bopp (1997), shot with Nikon SLR piggybacked to motorized scope:
    comet_hale_bopp01_c.jpg

    Haley's comet (1986). I took two shots from the Great Smoky Mountains, one day apart and combined them in the darkroom. This was while the comet was approaching the earth - I also drove to the Florida keys at the closest approach on it's way out after the comet came around the sun but it was a bust - by then the comet had lost it's tail and was just a fuzz ball at any magnification! I have several good stories about the double-comet photo but this is way too long already!
    comet_haley_1986.jpg

    If you haven't used a telescope much, I'd recommend getting an inexpensive one and play with it a while and see if the sky-watching culture appeals to you. Then research and save up for the big gun! Check out amateur astronomy clubs - they often have star parties, sometimes associated with area universities or observatories. There is a goldmine of information there.

    JKJ
    Last edited by John K Jordan; 11-16-2022 at 11:44 AM.

  13. #13
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    Never used it there are phone apps with star charts so you can look in the right direction and know what to look for. Probably a good free test so you know how much more you need on a real chart.
    Bill D

  14. #14
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    Thanks everyone. I'm so glad I asked. It's been an education. I am struggling with wanting something good, but also affordable. Much like tool shopping.

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Demuth View Post
    Not quite on topic - but, I never cease to be amazed at the number of different questions you can ask on this Off Topic forum, and in a gaggle of mostly amateur woodworkers, find a couple of people who have real depth of knowledge in the subject matter, and provide good answers. This thread is an excellent case in point.
    YES! That's why I came here to ask my question. I knew I would get helpful objective advice. Real people giving input versus salesmen.
    Hobbyist

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Dufour View Post
    Never used it there are phone apps with star charts so you can look in the right direction and know what to look for. Probably a good free test so you know how much more you need on a real chart.
    Bill D
    yea those apps are very useful for finding and identifying things in the night sky.

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