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Ask the Astronomer

QUESTION:

What is a good "first telescope" for me and my family?

Astronomer William Georgevich replies:

At one point or another the heavens beckon for a closer look and at this time we think about maybe owning our own instrument. Choose the right one and you will find yourself committed to a lifelong pursuit of science each time you point your telescope upward. Choose the wrong one and you will use it once and put it or give it away, disgusted with the time and money you have spent.

The first step is to determine if you have seen everything you can with your unaided naked eye. If you have not given yourself the gift of leaving a large city and staring at the heavens free of light pollution, you are not ready for a telescope. But if you have stared into a night sky free of moonlight and artificial light and have wanted a closer look at all the "faint fuzzies", it may be time to select an instrument.

The easiest and most satisfying instrument is a pair of binoculars. A superb pair can be purchased for between $200 and $500 and all you have to do get a closer look at something in the sky is point. When gazing at celestial sights the most important thing to remember is that magnification is far less important than light gathering power. I recommend purchasing the biggest pair of binoculars you can comfortably hold in your hands with the lowest power.

All objects in space are faint, so you need a pair of binoculars with a large lens in front to collect light. A lot of celestial wonders are large so you don't want or need a lot of power. The smallest pair I recommend is a 7 X 50. That's 7 power with an objective lens in front of 50 millimeters. The ideal binocular which is not too large or too heavy to hold is a 10 X 70.

With such an instrument and a good star chart you can roam the heavens at will. No time spent setting up equipment. No frustration with not being able to point your telescope in the right place.

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