Get Started in Astronomy “The Fun & Easy Way”

Night Sky Secrets motto is “Discover the Universe – The Fun and Easy Way”.

The article below reflects this and  is one I wrote, initially to help people looking for a telescope for their kids, but in reality the same applies to anyone starting out in Astronomy for the first time:

Telescope – First Scope Trap

Discovering astronomy with your first look through your first telescope at one of our major planets such as Saturn or Jupiter and even our very familiar moon is the beginning of a lifetime of pleasure, in discovering the wonders of the night sky. However if the first telescope you get is a standard tripod mounted refracting telescope (one using lenses not mirrors) as found in most department stores, the experience is usually one of frustration and disappointment instead.

It is very tempting I know, when you see the (typical small refracting) telescope for maybe $90 to $150 with claims of “Magnifies 600 times” or “See galaxies and nebulas” to think that this will delight you. The reality is one of these telescopes will have a wobbly tripod that will not allow you to see anything at 60 times, much less 600. The aperture (that’s the diameter) of the lens will typically be 70 to 90 mm and this will never gather enough light to see faint and distant galaxies, most of which are millions of light years away.

An easy and low cost alternative

So what can you do? Well, in my experience of almost 10 years of showing 1000′s of Adults & children including my own 3 kids around the night sky, the best way to start is in fact with a Star Disc, a red light and a pair of low powered binoculars. The reason is that for starters you will need to find something worthwhile to look at. A Star Disc will show you a few bright deep sky objects that are easily seen with binoculars on any given night. The red light will allow you to see the Star Disc without ruining you night vision. Your night vision takes at least 20 minutes away from white light to adapt to the darkness. A low powered pair of binoculars (EG: 10×50 – 10 times magnification and a 50mm lens) will show you many faint galaxies, nebulae and star clusters. A picnic blanket is a good idea to lay on as well. What a great way to get the family together, spend some time with your partner or just relax under the night sky yourself !

1st Telescope – A better Plan

Perhaps you have already done this and are ready to make the next step, and really want to get that telescope. What should you do? My experience and that of my astronomy peers from around Australia and across the world have shown me that the telescope that is (a) Quick to set up and pack up (b) Easy to use and (c) has enough aperture to resolve the object you are looking to see, will get the most use and provide many years of observing pleasure. Not just for the kids but the whole family and many friends.

So what sort of telescope should you chose ?

There are a couple of key things to consider:

  • Will you want a telescope at home that you can set up at short notice for a quick observing session, a scope you can easily travel with, or a scope that will help you find the wonders of the night sky you are looking for ?
  • Are you expecting to see fine details of distant Galaxies and Nebula ?
  • Do you want a telescope that is easy for children to set up and use ?

Here are a couple of possible Alternatives:

  1. If you want a scope that is easy to transport, will set up on a table or bench and will give you wide field views of the night sky. Then a short focal length, table top Dobsonian reflector may be just what you are looking for.
  2. Looking for something that will be able to stay set up in your Garage or ready to whip out onto the verandah at a moments notice, while having enough focal length and a mirror big enough to begin resolving details in nebula and a few bright galaxies & give good views of the planets ? Then a free standing dobsonian reflector may be the right solution for your home.
  3. Perhaps you don’t want to take the time to learn your way around the night sky and want a scope that  is quite portable while still giving satisfying views of the planets and bright star clusters and double stars ? Then a  Go-To tracking scope may be just the thing for your first Telescope, but does have added complexity and much harder to find under $1000.
  4. If you are expecting to see some details in distant Galaxies and faint Nebula, then you will need to consider going to a larger Aperture telescope 200mm (8″) and above. This does come at the expense of portability though.
  •  So what is a dobsonian mounted reflector ?  A reflector is much like the telescopes used in professional observatories (only much smaller!) Put in simple terms the telescope is mounted on a horizontal (azimuth) turntable close to ground level, allowing you to move the telescope to all points of the compass and a vertical pivot point allowing you to move the telescope from the horizon to directly overhead (the zenith) through 90 degrees. The eyepiece (this does the magnifying) is in the side of the telescope tube at about 1.3 meters above the ground, an ideal height for kids or a seated adult. A 4″ to 6″  Dobsonian is lightweight enough that a child of perhaps 10 years old can easily move and set it up in the park or backyard.

So-How much is this going to cost me ?


A great First Telescope


How much is one of these going to cost you?

You may be thinking thousands of dollars. In fact, all of the telescope mentioned here can cost under $600.

So start into astronomy the fun and easy way and your purchase will live on for many years to come. Contact us at Night Sky Secrets and we will be happy to discuss your telescope needs.

One Response to “First Telescope”

  • I wanted to do astrophotography so I ended up getting a local metal shop to make a pier for me that I could mount my drive (an EQ6) on. The pier only cost about £300, much cheaper than importing one from abroad. I now have my scope permanently housed in a roll-off-roof observatory so it's protected from the elements and setup time (and takedown time) is minimized. This way I can be up and running in about 10 minutes and I can go to bed in a similarly short amount of time. A Dobsonian is a great started scope but for the rigours of astrophotgraphy, you need a good drive (to track the stars) and a solid pier to mount it on. An observatory is almost an essential as well. An EQ6 mount is near £1,000, a pier will cost a couple of hundred and an observatory will cost up to a few thousand (unless you build one yourself as I did).