Summer stargazing – telescopes for beginners
PHOTO BY DAVE ELDER
The Neowise comet has kindled the interest of many amateur astronomers this summer and while this image taken by Pincourt resident Dave Elder who climbed Mont Rigaud after sunset was visible with the naked eye, even more magic in the stars can be seen with basic starter telescopes.
This summer’s visit by Comet Neowise may have awoken your desire to explore the heavens and while the night sky has a lot to offer even to the naked eye, if you’re considering buying some stargazing equipment it’s important to know the basics. Like many activities that require specialized equipment, astronomy can get expensive. Still, you do not need to invest several months’ worth of income to get started.
Department store telescopes
You might already be one of these people who were taken in by a low-priced telescope in a flashy box at your local retail outlet. The box probably showed impressive pictures of Mars and the Orion Nebula and more than likely also bragged about its very impressive magnification power. The problem with department store telescopes is that they are cheaply made. When it comes to astronomy, there are two things you can’t skip on – the quality of the optics and the sturdiness of the mount. Department store telescopes are notorious for failing on both counts.
If you want to buy a good quality astronomical instrument you will have to go to a specialized shop. Luckily, there are a few in the Greater Montreal area.
There are binoculars specially designed for astronomy. While they do not have the highest magnification power they offer a very nice view of a number of objects, including Comet Neowise, the moon, and Jupiter and some of its moons on a good night. They are relatively cheaper. A good pair of binoculars will set you back half what a department store telescope costs but will still provide a better astronomical experience. Binoculars are usually specified by a set of numbers such as 12x60. The first number refers to the magnification, the second number refers to the diameter. So, 12x6 binoculars will magnify an image 12 times, and will have an inside diameter of the objective lens frame of 60 mm. Obviously, the greater magnification the better, but the diameter is also very important because you need to see the aperture as a ‘scoop’ that collects light. Telescopes and binoculars are all about collecting light, and the bigger ‘scoop’ you have, the more light you will be collecting, which will give you a better image. Binoculars are a great and inexpensive way to find out if you have the astronomy bug.
PHOTO COURTESY SHUTTERSTOCK
A beginner’s refractor telescope on a decent mount can be had for a reasonable price but interchangeable eyepieces are also a necessary purchase.
The refractor is what most people have in mind when we talk about telescopes. It’s the basic type that works with lenses. The higher-end models tend to get costly, but you can obtain a beginner’s model on a decent mount for a reasonable price. Bear in mind that telescopes need interchangeable eyepieces, which decide what the magnification will be. If you want to observe, say, Jupiter, the eyepiece that comes included with most telescopes will get you a decent view of Jupiter and its main moons. If you want to get closer, you’ll have to buy more eyepieces, and they can get costly. Some telescopes come with an assortment of starter eyepieces. As you progress in amateur astronomy you will find that your telescope is no better than your best eyepiece (and its mount).
IMAGE COURTESY SHUTTERSTOCK
People are sometimes surprised to find out that some telescopes use mirrors instead of lenses. The Newtonian telescope uses a special mirror to magnify the light it collects. They can get heavy and bulky because their diameter is larger than refractors. They can also tend to be more expensive. Here, once again, the key components are good quality optics, a sturdy mount and a set of eyepieces.
IMAGE COURTESY SHUTTERSTOCK
The Dobsonian telescope is a great first investment for budding amateurs. At the risk of oversimplifying its design, it’s like a Newtonian without the complex mount. The Dobsonian’s mount is basically just a box. It’s simple, elegant... and cheap. It’s a great choice for a first telescope that’s both powerful and steady. What you save on the mount you can probably invest in more eyepieces.