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Slashdot Asks: Cheap But Reasonable Telescopes for Kids? 187

Posted by timothy
from the will-take-credit-for-the-nobel-prize dept.
I am interested in a telescope for the use of some elementary and middle school aged relatives. Older and younger siblings, and parents, would no doubt get some scope time, too. Telescopes certainly come in a range of prices, from cheap to out of this world, and I am purely a duffer myself. But I enjoy looking at the moon and stars with magnification, and think they would, too. What I'm trying to find might be phrased like this: "the lowest priced scope that's reasonably robust, reasonably accurate, and reasonably usable for kids" -- meaning absolute precision is less important than a focus that is easy to set and doesn't drift. Simplicity in design beats tiny, ill-labeled parts or an incomprehensible manual, even if the complicated one might be slightly better when perfectly tuned. I'd be pleased if some of these kids decide to take up astronomy as a hobby, but don't have any strong expectation that will happen -- besides, if they really get into it, the research for a better one would be another fun project. That said, while I'm price sensitive, I'm not looking *only* at the price tag so much as seeking insight about the cluster of perceived sweet spots when it come to price / performance / personality. By "personality" I mean whether it's friendly, well documented, whether it comes intelligently packaged, whether it's a crapshoot as to whether a scope with the same model name will arrive in good shape, etc -- looking at online reviews, it seems many low-end scopes have a huge variance in reviews. What scopes would you would consider giving to an intelligent 3rd or 4th grader? As a starting point, Google has helped me find some interesting guides that list some scopes that sound reasonable, including a few under or near $100. (Here's one such set of suggestions.) What would you advise buying, from that list or otherwise? (There are some ideas that sound pretty good in this similar question from 2000, but I figure the state of the art has moved on.) I'm more interested in avoiding awful junk than I am expecting treasure: getting reasonable views of the moon is a good start, and getting at least some blurry rings around Saturn would be nice, too. Simply because they are so cheap, I'd like to know if anyone has impressions (worth it? pure junk?) of the Celestron FirstScope models, which are awfully tempting for under $50.
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Slashdot Asks: Cheap But Reasonable Telescopes for Kids?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2014 @07:30PM (#47739105)

    See the web-page
    www.RobertMartinAyers.org/choosing-a-telescope.html
    which discusses exactly that.

  • Nice Scope (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2014 @07:32PM (#47739125)

    Here you go, http://store.astronomerswithoutborders.org/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=5&products_id=4. This is a nice 5" dobsonian with excellent optics that gets fantastic reviews, $199. It's light, small enough for a young person to use and move around, has a good sized mirror that's high quality. A portion of the profits goes to buy telescopes for schools in developing countries.

  • Re:Dobsonian (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @07:53PM (#47739275)

    No. Absolutely not. Alt-az mounts are horrible, especially for beginning astronomers as there is a complete disconnect between the telescope axis and reality. An alt-az mount almost has to be motorized to be useful, and it drives up cost. People hocking dobs love to talk about how cheap the "dollars per inch" of the optics are, but the fail to mention you can look at something under high magnification for a few seconds before it disappears, and then you have to figure out how to track RA with an alt-az mount under high power and find the object again.

    There's no better way to get an astronomy newbie to QUIT the hobby than to set them up with a dob.

    A perponderance of users contradicts what you are writing. The concept of an EQ mount is completely at odds with the way people - especially noobs, think. Where is X? This many degrees up and that many over with the alt-az mount. So now with the EQ mount, you have to first align it, then moving it around can be "interesting", and by the time you get things moved around, the kids have lost interest.

    You might like the EQ mount better, but that's personal preference not shared by a lot of others, except thos that like to do imaging. Even then, with a drive and a eyepiece rotator, you can do just as well. What is especially problematic with the EQ mounts is how they scale in mass with the size of the scope. They get really big and heavy, really quickly.

  • Binoculars (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bodhammer (559311) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @08:03PM (#47739337)
    I have had five scopes. My current primary scope is Celestron CGE 1100.

    First, get a good set of binocs and a star atlas. I recommend either "Turn Right at Orion" and/or Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas. I have the Orion Mini-giants 9x63 and they are wonderful for astronomy. They are also light enough to be used without a tripod. It really helps to know the basic constellations when starting. Also get http://www.stellarium.org/ [stellarium.org]

    Craigslist has used scopes all the time. You could pick up a Celestron C5, C6, or C8 for a few hundred and prob. not lose too much on resale. Stay away from "department store" scopes!

    Check out your local astronomy club. Our club has 20+ scope for loaning and at a star party you could check out a bunch of scope live.
    Finally, the is a great resource: http://www.cloudynights.com/to... [cloudynights.com]

    Clear Skies!
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday August 24, 2014 @12:25AM (#47740371) Homepage Journal

    That's a bunch of hogwash. I have a 60mm refractor and it can see bands on Jupiter and the Cassini gap between the inner Saturn ring and outer (under ideal conditions). Binoculars will not even show the rings separate from the ball of Saturn, and will not show bands on Jupiter. I can also see spots on Mars and the polar caps under ideal conditions. It did take some practice to learn to see some of these, though. It wasn't instant.

    Just make sure the optics say "precision ground". That has a legally-enforced trade meaning.

    That being said, reflectors are more cost effective for looking at nebula. For "bright" objects like the moon and planets, refractors are more bang for the buck because the center mirror in the reflectors tends to blur planets etc. via diffraction. It's a trade-off.

    It all depends on the preferences and behavior and discipline of the kid.

    I have a cheap mount (simple tripod). It's annoying, but I've learned to live with it via practice by knowing how to manually track. Being bare-bones, it didn't stop me from seeing anything I wanted to see.

    And don't be fooled by extra or gimmicky attachments, such as a Barlow lens. They are often useless. The only attachment I really enjoyed was the sun filter lens, but there are other ways to view the sun via projection.

    Auto-targeting gizmos can be nice, but they do take a fair amount of setup and fiddling before they can do their job.

    But, I personally think it's better to just learn how to aim the thing manually. Start with the moon to get used to aiming, tracking, and focusing. You then apply those skills to progressively dimmer objects.

    If the kid is not disciplined or motivated to practice and use the scope to its potential, then no scope is "good".

"In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current." -- Thomas Jefferson

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