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Space Hardware

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 EmagGeek (574360) <gterich@@@aol...com> on Saturday August 23, 2014 @07:37PM (#47739163) Journal

    Get a 4.5" or maybe a 6" Newtonian reflector on an EQ mount. Be sure you spend at least 5x on the mount than you do on the Optical Tube. The mount is 80% of the telescope. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT cheap out on a telescope by getting a shitty mount.

    The EQ mount need not be motorized nor have a computer - in fact it's nice to learn about the RA/Dec axes and how to dial them in and track objects manually, but an RA motor would be necessary if you want to do any photography. (An RA motor does not necessarily require a full computer rig)

    Eyepieces are also important, and pay no attention to "max power" capabilities, as they are always way overstated. A 4.5-6" Newtonian will be best at powers up to but not exceeding about 60-90X. Make sure you get a range of eyepieces to have variable power, but focus on field of view rather than magnification. Field of view is WAY more important than magnification.

    The objects you will look at most with a 4.5-6" scope are the moon, planets, and nebulae. Nebulae are really cool, but you'll need the larger apertures to really appreciate them, or the photography setup so you can collect the light.

    If you foresee going far with this as a hobby, you will want to go 8-10" at some point. It's better to decide now as telescopes are utterly worthless on the used market.

    Hope this helps..

  • Local Observatory (Score:5, Insightful)

    by statemachine (840641) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @08:05PM (#47739349)

    Go to your local observatory on an open-house night and get a free look through the lens. There are usually amateurs set up with their own equipment outside and will allow viewers too.

    If your kids can stay up late and stand in the cold without complaining, they're ready for a telescope.

  • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @08:47PM (#47739587)

    If you foresee going far with this as a hobby, you will want to go 8-10" at some point. It's better to decide now as telescopes are utterly worthless on the used market.

    This would seem to present a compelling case for buying a telescope on the used market.

  • Re:Dobsonian (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2014 @10:40PM (#47740041)

    A beginner telescope should always be a EQ mount and a reasonable priced optical assembly. So, maybe a 6" Newtonian is fine. Then you add 2 or 3 eyepieces and you are done.

    *EVERY* beginner (or not beginner) looks at things called star charts. These charts have only 2 coordinates on them. Right ascension and Declination.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E... [wikipedia.org]

    And since Earth rotates, *EVERY* beginner knows that all you need is move R.A. and objects will stay beautifully in one spot in your scope.

    Your "objections" to not using EQ mounts are completely wrong when it comes to beginning scopes. And by beginning, I don't mean auto-tracking mounts.

    1. Their size (due to counterbalance) is irrelevant for small scopes.
    2. Alignment is almost elementary to be "good enough". Even if you miss polaris by 5-10 degrees, you are close enough such that declination adjustments to keep your scope pointed are minimal.

    When I used my very beginner "walmart grade" 60mm refractor to view Venus transit, its cheap EQ mount was very useful to track the sun. I just aligned the mount to general north and it Just Worked (BTW, it's not motorized or anything, 100% manual operation).

    On the other hand, dobs are not appropriate for high magnification (at least for beginners). On low magnification, in dark conditions, sure, get a dob. If you want to look at Saturn or Jupiter or even the Moon or the Sun, EQ mount is far far superior.

    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.

    The question says "reasonable telescope for kids" not "reasonable telescope to wow kids".

    PS. Practicing star hopping when using standard charts without EQ mount, is kind of complicated too if your next star is not in the same field of view. Or you don't know which direction is which because your chart is completely out of whack.

    Sure, you can just use an "app" to calculate these things for you. But then you might as well get computerized mount and learn nothing. You know, the "easy button" way.

  • Re:Dobsonian (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plover (150551) on Sunday August 24, 2014 @03:11AM (#47740747) Homepage Journal

    Exactly the opposite ... You're going to expect an 11y to polar align?

    Yes. Teach him or her once, and they feel like they now know the secrets of science. They'll soon be looking up exact lat/lon for their location, and setting it more precisely than the affordable (cheap) mechanism can handle, which is just fine. This also teaches them how to find Polaris. And if they ever get the itch to take some photographs, they'll have the right tool for the job.

    After looking at Saturn's rings and spotting the Galilean moons, they're going to want to see other famous features; looking for the Messier objects is a great challenge for kids. This will quickly teach them a few other foundational skills, too: how to read a star chart, Right Ascension and Declination, and sidereal time. All this can be done on a relatively inexpensive 4" reflector with a small equatorial mount on a tripod.

    A Dobsonian will give much clearer pictures for the money, and is great for viewing easily identifiable objects, but it's not going to give them a working understanding of celestial mechanics.

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