Telescope Buyers' FAQ - Part Five
What Are Some Good Introductions To Amateur Astronomy?
In the United States, there are two popular astronomy magazines: Sky and Telescope (S&T) and Astronomy.
P. Clay Sherrod's A Complete Guide to Amateur Astronomy, available through Sky Publishing Company, is a more technical introduction. Sidgewick's books are absolutely excellent books, probably the very best ever written on amateur astronomy.
Nightwatch by Terence Dickinson is a good introductory book on astronomy. Great section on purchasing a telescope. Star charts are so-so.
The Backyard Astronomer's Guide by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer. A comprehensive introduction to astronomy and the equipment amateurs like to use. Written by and for amateur astronomers.
What Will I Be Able To See?
The best way to find out is to go observing with someone. Look for a local astronomy club (S&T lists them periodically). This is also a very good way to get a good price on a used telescope of proven quality.
In general, you will be able to see all planets except Pluto as disks. You will be able to see the bands and Red Spot on Jupiter and the rings around Saturn. You may be able to see the ice caps on Mars when in its orbit is closer to Earth. Venus and Mercury will show phases but not much else.
You'll be able to see four of Jupiter's moons as points. Ditto Saturn's moon Titan. You'll also be able to see comets.
Do not expect your images to be anywhere as nice as the ones you see from the Hubble Space Telescope. If a $2000 telescope could get these, nobody would have spent billions of dollars to put the HST in orbit.
As far as 'deep sky' objects, you will be able to see all the Messier objects in most any modern telescope. Galaxies will tend to look like bright blobs. Look a while longer and you may find some spiral arms or dust lanes (assuming it has them). Galaxies look nothing like their pictures - you will not see the arms anywhere near as clearly. Remember, many of them are millions of light-years away.
You will also find that the colours you see are considerably more muted than the pictures you see. This is because our retinas work by having two different types of light sensitive organs, rods and cones. Rods are very sensitive to dim light, but relatively useless for colour vision. Cones are the opposite. Thus when looking through a telescope you are using your rods, and you aren't seeing a lot of colour.
What Company makes the Best Telescopes?
This is a very unfair question at the best. There are many companies which make good telescopes. A lot will depend on just how much you want to spend for a telescope. The major companies that make and/or sell telescopes are as follows: Orion Telescopes, Meade, and Celestron, but you have to be careful with what you buy from even these companies, as they all are selling telescopes that are coming from factories in China and are the same as the junk department store telescopes. There are other smaller companies that make good scopes too. There are some Japanese companies that are selling some very good telescopes and also some poor ones too.
Televue has a very good reputation, at a somewhat higher price.
Tasco is sold at Toys R Us, K-Mart, & Wal-Mart, etc. Waste of Money. Notice: Tasco has taken over Celestron, they are now one company, only time will tell if this improves Tasco or degrades Celestron.
Simmons: Total waste of money, worst than Tasco.
Bushnell: I have looked at this company’s telescopes 1st hand and I do not believe that they would withstand one full night of usage viewing the sky. They are even worse than Simmons! They are so bad they make Tasco junk look good!
Note: While they have added some newer scopes to their line-up to include 6 & 8inch DOBs, so far, the reviews have not been good.
There are some companies importing telescopes from Russia, I have not seen these scopes first hand, but have read some good reports of them.
What Is The Best Telescope To Buy?
Once more this will depend on the answers to questions you need to ask yourself. Are you going to use the telescope for just viewing or are you going to use it for astrophotography? Also it will depend on how much you want to spend too. In the end, only you can answer this question.
No FAQ list is going to be truly definitive - we all have our own opinions and interests, and one person's 'piece-of-junk optics' might be another person's dream telescope. This does not apply to department store telescope, though. Really.
As the numbers of companies who now either make and/or just sell telescopes of all price ranges, the list is just too much to put into this FAQ, instead, the next section will list a number of both large and small companies that market telescopes. The best idea would be to contact the companies and find out what kind of telescope they market in your price range. Then if you can, find one of those telescopes at a star party.
Author: Dennis Bishop