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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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  • Easy. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2014 @07:29PM (#47739095)

    Toilet paper roll.

    Paper towel roll as an upgrade.

  • 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.

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      I haven't used this scope, but it checks off all the right boxes. Seems like a good choice to me.

    • Thanks for posting this link. Like the OP I am interested in getting a telescope but know nothing about them really.
    • I was going to recommend this as well. There was a very favorable write-up of this telescope in Sky and Telescope several months back. I had planned on ordering one after reading it but it was out-of-stock at the time. Good alternatives would be a good Newtonian scope from any of the reputable companies: Meade, Celestron, or Orion. They all have a good variety of sizes and prices along with the accessories you need: eye pieces, sky charts, etc. Selecting one from any of these options will give you something

  • Thrift Store (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I would say to check out thrift stores and yard/garage sales to see what you can find. It's amazing what gems you might discover for $10!

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      No. People who give away telescopes to thrift stores are people who didn't think very carefully about their telescope purchase to begin with. You don't want their hand-me-downs.

  • 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..

    • 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.

      • Exactly. You can save a bundle on any given model if you can find a good one.
      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        Yes except the GP was wrong. A telescope and all associated gear typically holds about 70% of it's retail value unless it's very old and garbage.

        That said he has a point. I started this hobby just over a year ago with $3000 spent entirely on second hand gear. Even now as the hobby has grown I have yet to buy something new and it has been quite cost effective, and you can find almost anything on the second hand market if you look long / hard enough. Everything from entry level to a 12" f/12.2 custom made ref

  • Binoculars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AbandonAllHope (211475) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @07:37PM (#47739165)

    My college astronomy teacher told us, on our last day of class, you're always better off with an expensive pair of binoculars verses a cheap telescope. This was several years ago but he seemed to be of the opinion that if your budget was less than $200, you were better off with binoculars. He also pointed out that if your child loses interest in astronomy, binoculars have a wide variety of other uses.

    • by mtippett (110279)

      I would agree with this too. For that telescopish feel, you can get tripod mount attachments for most binoculars. Allows the adult to point the binoculars, swap to the kid without too much trouble.

    • And he is not the only one. When looking for the same question on the internet, this popped up. Sometimes you DO NOT have to ask slashdot for good recommendations.
    • Re:Binoculars (Score:4, Interesting)

      by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday August 24, 2014 @02:34AM (#47740677)
      This advice about binoculars had been obsoleted by cheap, good, chinese telescopes. (Ans pretty much every commercial telescope is chinese-made, these days)

      The advice came about after WW2 when there was a good supply of army surplus gear at very attractive prices. At the same time any amateur telescope was both expensive (being essentially hand made) and with poor quality optics and even worse mechanicals. The eyepieces sucked and the mountings available were completely rubbish.

      In those days, an "expensive" pair of binoculars would cost about £30 (UK currency - I don't know what that translates to in other currencies at the time). However that was roughly 2 - 3 weeks pay (before deductions) for a shop worker or junior office employee. Obviously at the the time, astronomy was a rich mans' game - and it was almost all men.

      With binoculars you are paying twice for the optics (one for each eye). Unless you go for top-end gear, you have fixed eyepieces that will only give a wide field of view - and them, you have to buy additional eyepeices in pairs. You also don't get any sort of mount - and a standard photographic tripod is unsuitable as you need to have the binoculars at eye height, or higher, in order to look upwards - a configuration that tripods are not designed for since you'd be standing too close. Without a mount, small arms will soon get tired of holding them at raised heights and you can't easily "star hop" to targets when you are a complete newbie. So using them is both frustrating and tiring.

      By all means buy a pair of binoculars (I have 3), but you'll also need a parallelogram mount - another 200 USD or more. You will also have to set their focus for each user, which means they will be nudged off target. Also you will only be able to see big things like The Moon. Planets will be too small to please with binoculars' low magnification and most dim astronomical targets will still be too dim to appreciate - just on the verge of vision: more "detecting" them than "observing" them - a turn off to kids used to seeing Hubble-like images.

      So binoculars are a bad idea to start with. One that is handed down due to ignorance and repetition without any consideration for why the advice was once helpful. They are no longer any match for a small, cheap, telescope on a proper mount.

    • Astronomy can be a very frustrating hobby when you're searching through space looking for something. If you intend to do the hobby with others or want to help your kid and star at the sky together you absolutely must get a decent purpose built tripod for your binoculars. There's nothing more frustrating than having someone say "Whoa! M16 looks great!" passing you the binoculars and then you spending 10 minutes trying to find the damn thing.

      I say purpose made because a standard tripod is not going to let you

  • Binoculars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dlleigh (313922) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @07:40PM (#47739175)

    Don't buy a telescope. Instead, get a good pair of 10x50 binoculars and an intro astronomy book with pictures.

    A telescope will always take some setup and you'll be less likely to go to the effort as time goes on. With binoculars, you just grab them and go. That's a much better way to keep beginners interested.

    • by mark_reh (2015546)

      Also much harder to point them at any specific thing in the sky and holding them steady is a problem- especially for kids and especially big binoculars like 10x50.

    • by Simulant (528590)
      Binoculars won't cut it if you want to see Jupiter's moons or Saturn's rings. Even if they have the magnification you still need a tripod to hold the view steady and you really need something with an equatorial mount to follow the objects or they will slip out of view very quickly I used to have a 90mm refractor with a manual equatorial mount (you had to rotate with knobs).. I'd go electric if I got one today... especially if a bunch of kid's are taking turns looking through the thing.
      • You can see Jupiter's moons just fine with even a cheap pair of binoculars. You don't have to hold astronomical binoculars too steady because they are designed for aperture instead of magnification.

        I've never really had a problem finding common naked-eye objects with binoculars and keeping them in the frame unless it is something fast-moving like the ISS.

      • Re:Binoculars (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Rockoon (1252108) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @09:05PM (#47739679)

        Binoculars won't cut it if you want to see Jupiter's moons or Saturn's rings.

        The problem with this argument is that you've just listed the only things he will be missing with a budget purchase. Ideal viewing times for these come rarely, and at the magnifications required he would also need a very expensive tracking mount in order to really enjoy them.

        Astronomy binoculars have many benefits in the budget arena. They are rugged, low maintenance, both eyes is nice, and most importantly portable.

        The other reply had mentioned that a downside is that they are hard to hold steady. Thats what a tripod is for.

        • by Solandri (704621)

          Binoculars won't cut it if you want to see Jupiter's moons or Saturn's rings.

          The problem with this argument is that you've just listed the only things he will be missing with a budget purchase. Ideal viewing times for these come rarely, and at the magnifications required he would also need a very expensive tracking mount in order to really enjoy them.

          The four Galilean moons around Jupiter are easily visible with binoculars. Heck if you have good eyesight and dark skies, you can sometimes barely make out G

          • by thegarbz (1787294)

            I don't know why you'd think ideal viewing times are rare. They're the same as for anything else in the sky other than the sun.

            Pre-empting what the GP meant this statement is definitely not true. There's this thing called "seeing" that will absolutely ruin your day usually. I live in the suburbs on the east coast of Australia and the seeing here varies from poor to outright crap and it is hard enough to make out the dot on Jupiter let alone the moons. On a truly rare occasion it actually does look spectacular.

            Now on the flip side I visited south France many years ago. The altitude and weather conditions ensured that I saw more of J

    • Too many people do not understand this. The binoculars are the best thing you can buy under $100 and they are useful for more than astronomy. Many of them are better than the telescopes Galileo used.

      The cheapest descent telescope would be a ground mounted Newtonian. They're big, heavy, and start at around $500. You don't want a cheap scope that you'll grow out of and you don't want an expensive scope when you won't necessarily stick with the hobby.

      A good pair of binoculars and a subscription to an amate

    • by smchris (464899)

      Binoculars are the recommendation in The Backyard Astronomer. But, then, they don't particularly recommend buying a child a telescope either.

      Personally, I went with a used 4.5" Orion Dob as the first instrument and I think it was a good choice. Now I have larger instruments _and_ binoculars. Yes, a small Dob isn't great for groups because you have to keep adjusting it. But, like people say, polar aligning an EQ is something to be explained too and you're still going to be moving it regularly manually. Doesn

    • by Ken_g6 (775014)

      I got a pair of good 7x50 binoculars. As a side-benefit besides astronomy, I call them my night-vision scopes. When I look through them at dusk at terrestrial objects, everything I see looks brighter! You won't see the landscape when it's pitch black, but it's a surprising difference for unpowered optics.

    • by nadaou (535365)

      Don't buy a telescope. Instead, get a good pair of 10x50
      binoculars and an intro astronomy book with pictures.

      Specifically, buy them The Stars: A New Way to See Them by Hans A. Rey, the creator of Curious George.

      http://www.amazon.com/The-Star... [amazon.com]

      The reviews on the back cover are worth the trouble of reading, if you can make them out in the Amazon image. Hell, just the names of the authors of the reviews on the back cover are worth the trouble of reading.

      It is quite simply the best popular book on observationa

  • by goodmanj (234846) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @07:43PM (#47739199)

    The telescopes listed in your "one set of suggestions" link are good. To get a telescope that's intended for real amateur astronomers rather than cheap junk for hopeful clueless parents, get a small reflector, not a refractor. I teach at a college: in our class for nonmajors, we introduce them to the sky with Orion Starblast 4.5s, which are cheap, compact and easy to carry, bulletproof, and easy to use. The magnification is low for planets, but that means it's easier to find things, and easier to track them manually through the sky. Orion also sells the SkyScanner 100mm, a slightly smaller, significantly cheaper version of the same thing. Their XT4.5 dobsonian is a little bigger and more expensive, and will give a better view of the planets but be more difficult to use for deep sky objects.

    What I'm saying is, buy a small reflector from Orion.

    • by Rockoon (1252108)
      The problem with reflectors is that they are not low enough maintenance for children. They are cheaper for the same light collecting ability, but you absolutely cannot expect a kid to be able to collimate one and they are not nearly as rugged as you would like.

      This means the parent becomes the gatekeeper of reflectors. The telescope only gets used when the parent is willing to set it up.

      Refractors cost a bit more for the same aperture, but they are so much closer to point-and-look rugged and low mainten
      • by goodmanj (234846)

        In my experience, these short, stubby tabletop reflectors are built like turtles, and can take an enormous amount of abuse without losing collimation. Your phrase "parent becomes the gatekeeper" is great, but it's got me thinking about the refractor you suggest, which is going to be physically big enough that a 9-year-old will probably need a parent to carry and help set up.

        I spent a lot of time following the "start with binoculars" advice when I was a kid, and came away mostly disappointed. Tripods help,

    • From personal experience, our son was able to learn and use a Starblast 4.5" pretty easily in 4th grade. My wife and I are both members of our local astronomy club, and have been into astronomy a long time, so we were able to give him help when needed, but also we took him to some of the public events for the club, and let him go to it. He enjoyed one project in particular where he tracked the galilean moons of Jupiter over several nights, sketching out their positions in a notebook, and he still likes us
  • by mark_reh (2015546) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @07:49PM (#47739235) Journal

    I found one for $80 with computer go-to controller. Optics seem very good. Check Craig's List for stuff for sale in your area.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      +1 for used. Optics don't degrade by looking through them but it'll knock 70% off the retail price, and maybe more if you can find a bargain.

      A lot of people work their way through upgrades so entry level stuff is typically quite easy to find, though a lot of the stuff that gets upgraded is imaging equipment where "entry level" still is out of the budget. But often you see some quality binoculars or something pop up.

      Heck the best thing I've ever seen was free + postage. There was a set of learning guides goi

  • by mbone (558574) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @07:55PM (#47739287)

    Get the best (Ha-Dec) mount you can. (I would not get an Alt-Az mount for a beginner on a budget.) Most department store type scopes have adequate optics, but very crappy mounts, and that makes for a miserable viewing experience. Get a very sturdy mount with a cheap scope,and then if the kid wants to move up, they have the mount for it.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      Could not disagree more. Nothing will get a kid less interested in astronomy than spending an evening aligning a mount, and then looking through a mediocre telescope at a dull blurry mess. The Dobsonian was created specifically because astronomy was a turn-off for the entry level beginner.

      Get a dob, that way your money is spent in optics that will actually allow you to see something. If you're still interested in dedicating time and effort into an emerging hobby, THEN get a decent mount

  • 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!
  • 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 jpellino (202698) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @08:11PM (#47739391)
    A plossl or super plossl (dont spend too much). Adding a barlow to the mix helps.
  • by xeno (2667) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @08:13PM (#47739397)

    I just worked thru this same project with my MS/HS kids. For us, the answer was not a specific scope, but the best one we could find for cheap secondhand. It worked out very well to involve the kids not just with the content viewable thru the scope, but with the mechanics of assembling a working setup. Now they're interested in the optics and process, not just the results.
    After several crappy new ones (thanks, woot...) we happened upon a Celestron Astromaster 90 for $25 at the local Goodwill (1000mm focal length/which they advertise as "dual-purpose telescope appropriate for both terrestrial and celestial viewing" -- but the most important thing for us was the stable tripod. Even a great scope will be frustrating and a turnoff for the kids if it's wobbly and hard to see something cool at the outset, like craters on the moon. For the CA90, I picked up an eyepiece-to-Tmount adapter and T-to-DSLR for $30, allowing us to swap naked-eye viewing and digital photography (face it, if you succeed and the kids go 'oo shiny' the next question is 'can i put this on tumblr?'), all for under $100 and the whole setup fits into the car trunk.
    An alternate which we also enjoy, while not strictly a "telescope": I picked up a 500mm F6.5 camera lens for under $50 (I have both a refractor http://www.pentaxforums.com/userreviews/opteka-500mm-mirror-f8.html and long-tube/telescope style http://www.pentaxforums.com/userreviews/quantaray-500mm-f8-f32.html) and slapped a 2x matched doubler on it, giving us an effective 1000mm telescope with a t-mount end. We dropped an additional $8 on a t-mount adapter for a DSLR, and $30 for a manfrotto lens holder for a tripod (optional). For under $100 total, this gave us some pretty sharp digital-only viewing that fits into a messenger bag. Again, this is a win not because it's the best optical setup, but because it pulls the kids into the process AND the result is shareable.
    Oh... and one other cheap trick that is a huge help with viewing using budget (but not crap) optics: Attaching about 8in of 1in link chain (just the standard hardware store proof chain) to the objective end of your long telescope makes an excellent vibration damper. With this chain damper and a 2- or 10-sec delay on your camera, you can snap no-touch/super-clear pictures thru the scope with most excellent results.
    YMMV. Good luck!

  • When I was 9 an uncle of mine gave me a "Halleyscope" (a not bad 40mm refractor on a tragic little tripod). I was a geek of course so it did immediately stir my interest, so a month later on my birthday I asked for a pair of binoculars. I had not read a recommendation anywhere, it just seemed that it was what I could find for observing based on my low birthday budget. Well, the Binoculars were more useful than the Halleyscope and I learned the sky and saw enough things to want to see more. So then it was ce
  • they may be happy to loan you a decent scope or two. Some members may even join you and you could experience several scopes. The person advising on binoculars gave solid advice as well. Try and get glimpse of a space station passover as well. Very popular with the kids. Stay away from all those department store refractors promising 500x magnification. They are garbage. Magnification is less important than a scopes ability to gather light. DOBS are the best bang for your buck.

  • by Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @08:26PM (#47739481)

    It's like buying a Ducati for a kid who hasn't had her training wheels removed. Amateur astronomy involves a lot of time spent in the cold and a lot of prerequisite knowledge. If you don't want to waste money, you should actually make sure that the person is truly interested in astronomy before buying a scope, and you shouldn't go cheap on the scope. Any telescope under $500 is probably not a good investment. I suggest the following.

    1) Go to an observatory open night (try universities, colleges, and professional and public observatories) or an amateur astronomy star party with the kids. See what they think about it.

    2) Actually go backyard observing with the people in question with the naked eye, if they are interested, buy them astronomical binoculars. A pretty good pair will start at under $100 and, unlike a $100 telescope, will be very portable and useful (even if the kid never really sticks with amateur astronomy).

    3) If they stick with it, get them a subscription to some amateur astronomy magazines like "Sky and Telescope" and "Astronomy".

    4) If they're still interested, buy them the best scope you can afford, either a ground-mounted Newtonian (or similar design) on the cheap range (you can actually get a good aperture size (which tends to be the most important measure) for pretty cheap, or if you have the money, go with a Schmidt-Cassegrain (or similar style) telescope with at least an 8" aperture (you might actually be able to find a good one used for well under $1000 if you look hard).

    There are a lot of other people and institutions out there with better equipment than you can afford, so no point in breaking the bank until you are sure that a good quality amateur scope is really worth the money, and no point in getting a low end scope when a pair of binoculars will serve you better in the long run.

  • I'd go with the Orion SpaceProbe 3 Altazimuth Reflector Telescope. It's a more modernized version of the one I first used as a youngster. I think I still have it somewhere but will have to look. Aiming the thing is probably the hardest to learn with any telescope and I'd stress that to the children you are going to give this to. That's the number one thing that turns children off to telescopes is trying to find the desired object in the sky. It takes a lot of patience and practice and if the child doesn't h
    • Oops, just saw the binocular recommendations. [face palm] Of course that would be a much better choice and be useful for more than just star gazing. Might get them interested in optics in general, photography, etc. I'd go with a nice pair of $35-$65 10x50 binocs and a good app.
  • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @08:40PM (#47739557)
    I've built a number of telescopes, and here's what I've learned.

    Unless you are willing to invest a lot of money in a good refractor, or lens based scope, you are better off with a mirror. Lenses have a quality called chromatic aberration, which can be mostly eliminated, but you'll be buying an expensive scope that isn't all that big, and need to take special care of it.

    An equatorial mount needs to be rock steady. This means it has to have a lot of mass usually a lot more than the Optical tube.

    This is why unless you plan on doing a lot of photography from a fixed location, an alt az mount is preferable for rmost folks. It also allows you to use a relatively large mirror.

    The Dobsonian version of alt-az mounts uses a base bearing, the azimuth portion, and altitude bearing, that usually consists of a teflon surface placed against a formica type surface. The idea is that when the scope is balanced, it will stay where it's placed, yet will move without jerkiness when you need to move it. The scopes I have made allow me to move them smoothly while viewing. It has a quality we refer to as "stiction"

    As for the size of the telescope, I recommend a 6 inch for beginners, or maybe an 8 inch. A focal ratiot of somewhere between F6 and f8 is also good.

    A note that the longer the focal length, the larger the magnification of any given object is for a given eyepiece, , and the narrower the field of view is. The shorter focal ratios, like f4 have a wider field of view which can make for some awesome views of the Milky way, but they have an aberration known as coma, which means the center of the image will be sharp, but not the edges. This too can be corrected, but with an expensive coma corrector.

    Next the really important part is Eyepieces.

    Very popular today is the Plössl, which have a pretty decent apparent field of view, which is to say it doesn't look like you are viewing through a porthole from 5 feet away.

    You should get a few different sizes. I would recommend a 32 mm, a 25 or 20 mm, and perhaps a 15 mm. There are shorter eyepieces available, but are only useable when the atmosphere seeing is very good, otherwise they give a pretty elnarged fuzzy image, which is not the lenses fault, but the conditions.

    Note there is a type of eyepiece called a "Nagler", which is a very good but very expensive eyepiece. Stick with the Plössls to start with, Naglers are awesome, but can empty your bank account pretty quickly.

    So let's say you are looking at a 6 inch scope. Orion has their skyquest scopes for either $299 or $349 a version with a barlow lens which will double the magnification of any eyepiece.

    I'd go for the $299 model. It's an F8 which should be a good compromise height for kids or adults - more on that in a moment.

    A Sirius Plössl eyepiece is in the roughly 50 dollar range each.

    Some things to think about:

    A chair for the adults, especially handy for viewing things at lower Alt settings.

    A step ladder with a railing for the young'uns.

    Both should wait unti you have a scope in hand. I have an infinitely adjustable chair that makes viewing a lot more pleasant, and the railing is just something for leaning against instead of the telescope.

    A Telrad. This is a cool - if ugly - device that projects a bulls-eye image on glass that you look through to find objects. Works great. There are also "red dot BB finders that are Okay but not much better than the regular finder. A cool feature is that there are Telrad finder charts that allow you to set your scope with a better chance of finding what you are looking for.

    • If you have a no-longer-used interchangeable lens film SLR sitting around, the standard 50mm lens can be a very impressive eyepiece. Tape it to the telescope, and if you're lucky you'll be able to bring things into focus.
  • I second, or third or seventeenth the binoculars recommendation. Great for celestial observations, birding, plane spotting, live theater, sight seeing, etc. No set up, control in hands of user, each may have their own instead of taking turns, etc.

    Note you don't need a scope for good astrophotography, there are pictures on Wikipedia I've taken just with a manual digital camera with good lens (and cheap tripod). Long exposure settings and proper image processing (combining multiple exposures to minimize ba

    • I guess that all depends on what you mean by astrophotography.

      A cheap $5000 DSLR with a telephoto lens is not going to give you good data nor is it going to be useful for most of the objects in the sky, though it might produce some very nice-looking pictures of certain celestial objects.

      To do actual science and capture useful pictures of most celestial objects, you need a descent telescope, a good mount, and a professional CCD. A DSLR won't cut it.

      But I'm sure under the right conditions you can get some pr

      • by RJFerret (1279530)

        Did you miss, "...for kids", relatives who are elementary/middle school age? Not trying to do science here or collect "data", trying to introduce/interest them in...oh nevermind...you don't seem to remember being six to 13 years old.

        But thankfully you don't need any of the equipment you listed. A couple hundred dollar digital camera with good lens and manual exposure control is plenty. It's good enough for Wikipedia, it'll be good enough for kids to throw online to show their friends lunar craters and co

        • I used to do experiments and gather data at that age. I would have loved it if someone would have taught me how to put my coding skills to use at that age by processing image data I gathered with a telescope.

          Just because someone is a kid does not mean that they are incapable of learning to use a scientific instrument to do science. You can give a kid a microscope, or a telescope, or a chemistry set, but unless you help her do actual scientific experiments, she's going to miss most of the value.

          Taking pre

          • by RJFerret (1279530)

            Why would you presume his child relations are incapable? I was disparaging the suggestion that thousands of dollars of photographic equipment (when the original request was for low budget options) was a priority to obtain data, rather than a smaller investment so the children in his family could share their adventures and explore a potential hobby, rather than be denied the opportunity because thousands of dollars of expensive single purpose equipment are involved.

            If a small investment induces a desire in

  • For $10, you can pick up a very very basic refractor with a flimsy tripod mount at any CVS. This will let you look at the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn, which are the most interesting things to look at without going up several orders of magnitude in price. It's dead simple to set up and focus, and the challenge of wrestling it into position so you can see the planets, and see them move away as the Earth rotates, will give you the chance to teach reasonably mature kids about basic astronomy and to gauge their in
  • Reflectors with an effective collecting area under 4" are worthless. That's everything from the aperture to mirror. That's going to put you well over $50. Adequate reflectors don't exist under $250, except on special clearance.

    You are better off buying a remotely controllable reflector with a webcam fitted to the eyepiece and having a group of kids take turns steering it. Firstly, it's cheaper overall. Secondly, you don't have breakages to worry about. Third, kids prefer nice, warm rooms to freezing pitch-b

  • by Ken_g6 (775014) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @11:21PM (#47740177) Homepage

    Let's assume you got a cheap telescope. What can you do to make it work better for you?

    1. Get astronomy software. Someone else mentioned Stellarium [stellarium.org]; I guess that's the go-to PC software now. I don't know what's available for phones. But make sure it shows an object's altitude in degrees.
    2. Get a red flashlight. I guess these days people use red LEDs; back when I was a kid the place to go was army surplus for those bent army flashlights with colored filters.
    3. Get a protractor. It's cheap, it's plastic, it shows degrees, and it's probably on sale now for back-to-school.
    4. Get a piece of thin string and a weight, such as a nut for a bolt.

    Tie the piece of string through the center hole on the protractor, and tie the other end to the weight. Now tape the protractor to the body of the telescope, preferably along some piece that sticks out near the tripod so it's aligned properly. To get an object in the scope, find its current altitude on your astronomy software. Then tilt the scope so the string's position matches that altitude on the protractor, using the red flashlight to see the string and protractor. You might have to do some math to get the matching number on the protractor. (90-x degrees - see, kids, that's what math is good for!) Now you mostly have to pan the scope, which is usually easier than tilting.

    One other idea that came to mind while writing this: Take the jack stand out of your car, tape it to one leg of the tripod, and you might be able to use that for fine tilt adjustments. I've never tried this idea, though.

  • I wanted to get something that my daughter and I could use to view the moon with but didn't want to spend a large amount of money in the event that she was not interested. I also wanted something that was easy to set up and portable (we live in the suburbs between two major cities, so to get a decent dark sky we need to drive a couple of hours). After doing some research I decided to go with the Celestron SkyMaster 15x70 [amazon.com].

    These have several advantages:
    - They're very portable and compact
    - They can be moun
  • by Bayoudegradeable (1003768) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @11:53PM (#47740269)
    my daughter (now seven) began using a 4.5" dob last winter. A member of the astronomy group that I belong to was pretty blown away that she could easily find the Orion Nebula on her own. She loves scanning the sky on her own and has stumbled across a few Messier objects this way. It's on the ground so it's almost immune to being knocked over. It's a fairly solid tube, so if it's knocked over it likely won't be a big deal. It has no moving parts, it's the perfect height for her, it's easy to move and the general 'point and shoot' nature makes it very easy to use. No batteries, no electronics, no alignment needed. (I collimate it once in a while and that takes all of 5 minutes) Also, the set up is ridiculously easy. I see her outgrowing this one day. There's a 12" truss dob waiting for her when she does.
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday August 24, 2014 @02:52AM (#47740711)

    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

    And most won't.

    Most kids (adults, too) will be curious, rather than interested, However, once they take a look through a telescope they will be disappointed. The only objects that give any sense of awe, or wonder, are views of The Moon, Jupiter, Mars (when it's close: once every 2 years), and Saturn. Everything else is just a fuzzy, faint, grey blob.

    Sure, you can point a telescope at M31 (Andromeda) and tell people that it's a galaxy and that it's 2 billion light-years away. But really: who care? and who can appreciate how far a light-year is, either? Try a telescope on M13 (The Hercules cluster: either the best or second-best cluster in the night sky) and it is just a collection of points of light - quite pretty for the average newbie to look at once, but that's about it - a bit like picking up an unusual shell on a beach.

    I have lots of friends and neighbours who have asked for a look through my telescopes. But none have ever asked again. They see things through my 12-inch Dob or 4 inch refractor (on a GOTO) and make all the right, appreciative, noises but that's mainly for show. Afterwards the reaction is mainly that's nice - who wants a beer? And the whole experience is chalked up "I've seen the rings of Saturn" - but that's all it is: a tick on a "bucket" list.

    So I would ignore all these recommendations for this telescope or those binoculars. - they merely reflect the biases and posessions of people who are already enthusiasts. I wouldn't go buying equipment in the hope of impressing, or converting children to astronomy. It won't. They are used to bright, colour images from space telescopes of things at the very edge of creation. They will settle for nothing less and are much more used to seeing things on screens than first-hand. Who can compete with that?

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      "Most kids (adults, too) will be curious, rather than interested, However, once they take a look through a telescope they will be disappointed. The only objects that give any sense of awe, or wonder, are views of The Moon, Jupiter, Mars (when it's close: once every 2 years), and Saturn. Everything else is just a fuzzy, faint, grey blob. "

      Oh so looking at Venus is not on the table? the closest planet. plus if you spend a little bit of money and buy the solar filters looking at the sun and watching a mercury

  • by Stephan Schulz (948) <schulz@informatik.tu-muenchen.de> on Sunday August 24, 2014 @03:29AM (#47740769) Homepage
    For a very low-price but useful entry-level telescope, try the Galileoscope [galileoscope.org]. It is an achromatic refractor that has been designed as part of the International Year of Astronomy, and can be had for approximately US$ 50 [amazon.com] (or order a box of 6 for US$30 apiece). It comes with an eyepiece that approximates Galileo Galilei's [wikipedia.org] experience, but also with (IIRC) 2 modern eyepieces that are decent enough for the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn's ring. Also, it uses a standard eyepiece adapter, so it can be further upgraded if required. Some assembly required - this is intended as a teaching opportunity ;-). It's cheap enough that it can just be passed on to another kid or a local school if a better instrument is obtained.
  • I don't know about the state of technology now, but when I was young and interested in that kind of stuff, you were considered a pretender if you didn't make your own including grinding your own mirror.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      You were even more of a pretender if you did not mix up your own amalgam of tin and mercury to silver the primary mirror yourself.

  • Grinding my reflecting mirror is a project that I would like to achieve, but after decades
    busy doing something else. The mirror project is still pending.

    I was thinking, if someone lives high up some mountain in Hawaii, has a big telescope,
    it could be a profitable business renting the telescope to someone else online.
    Since stars don't move too quickly, viewing celestral object through virtual telescope
    could be equally rewarding.

  • by Lumpy (12016)

    Nothing under $350 is worth buying do not do it, they are all crap.

    Honestly a 6" Orion dobsonian is a great first scope as it is clear enough to not just make the kids say "meh" and will let them see real detail on saturn.

    Note those ALL scopes are not kid friendly. they can bake their eyes out of their head easily in daytime, and extended full moon use without filters will cook your retinas even in a tiny 60mm aperture.

  • Speaking to their durability, a family friend gave his childhood Astroscan to our son for his fifth birthday. Our son is an adult now, and we still enjoy using it at home and on trips.

    Dan Rutter has a nice Astroscan review that includes some other telescope suggestions:

    http://www.dansdata.com/astros... [dansdata.com]

    -Dangle

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