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Buying my first scope (need some help!)

  1. Jan 12, 2009 #1
    I'm off to college next fall (possibly delaying another year depending on costs) to study Astronomy and would like to buy a telescope to start familiarizing myself with the night sky (and just generally stargazing, which I enjoy). I've looked through some of the similar topics on these forums but couldn't really find what I was looking for.

    Ideally, I would like to spend around $500. I could possibly convince myself to go higher than that if it would be worth it, but that's my target number for now.

    Being a complete beginner, I'm not sure what makes a good scope, so when I look at the size of the aperture and the focal length, I'm really not sure what would be good.

    Does climate make a difference when it comes to telescopes? I live in Fargo, ND, so this time of year it's very, very cold (though I'm going to be moving to Colorado come spring).

    Can anyone recommend some good telescopes for me?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 12, 2009 #2


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    Welcome to PF!

    Hi LucasJ! Welcome to PF! :smile:
    To familiarize yourself with the night sky, and for general stargazing, just get cheap binoculars …

    there's a lot of sky out there, and using a telescope to familiarize yourself with it would be like using a microscope to familiarize yourself with a map :wink:

    and … they're what comet-hunters use! :smile:
  4. Jan 12, 2009 #3


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    Do NOT buy a 'scope until you have had a chance to talk to other amateurs, and attend a few viewing sessions so you can see what other people are using. If you can attend star-parties with a club, be sure to get there early, so you can see what other people have to do to pack and transport their instruments. This is really important, especially since you're going to be moving, and may have space limitations. You have what appears to be an active astronomy club in your area, so plan on attending a few meetings. Some astronomers are real gear-hounds, and they're always looking to buy/sell/trade, and you might find a great deal on a used scope that way - best of all, you get to try it out first! Good luck.

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  5. Jan 12, 2009 #4
    Yes, a set of binoculars are more than amply to familiarize your self with the sky.

    Check with local astronomy clubs and talk with them. I am sure they will be more than happy to advise you.

    This being the IYA (International Year of Astronomy) many organizations have events planned, such as amateur astronomers holding observing sessions and talks at libraries, shopping malls schools and such.
    Excellent opportunity to look through scopes and binoculars, also talk with the people involved.

    Link to Fargo Astronomy Club;

    Link to Astronomy Clubs in Colorado;
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  6. Jan 12, 2009 #5
    A star chart and small binoculars are a great way to start out. Learn the names of the bright stars and constellations. Find the planets. You'll be amazed at the number of (non-stellar) objects you can see without a telescope.
  7. Jan 12, 2009 #6
    Thanks all. I had heard the binoculars suggestion a few times before (before I was really considering buying either). My main reason for wanting to buy the telescope was mainly financial, since I have a good job at the moment and can afford it. Not sure where I'll be financially once I move and start attending classes.

    When looking for binoculars, are there specific types more suited for this, or will any pair generally work?

    The FM Astronomy club looks inactive right now, but I'll keep checking back on that.

    Again, thanks for all the info so far.
  8. Jan 13, 2009 #7


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    I have a set of old Nikon 7x50s, and they are about as much as you want to hand-hold for long sessions. It can help to slide into a sleeping bag on a reclining patio chair (stay warm and avoid cricks in the neck) when viewing near the zenith. No matter what other optical aid I use, the binoculars are always with me.
  9. Jan 13, 2009 #8
    Same here, I have 7x50 and 10x50 both Bushnell

    Both pair work well. However, with the 10x50, I have slightly modified an old camera tripod as a mount. I find the field of view is narrow enough that it is difficult to hold them steady enough for good observing.
    When they are on the mount, ‘no problem’.

    Image stabilized are available, but I don’t know that the extra price, which can be substantial, is really worth it.

    The 7x50 give quite a good view and I have no problem with fields of view.
  10. Jan 13, 2009 #9


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    I picked up these old Nikons many years back at LL Bean for $65. Nothing wrong with them - they were being discontinued. My advice with binoculars is to buy an entry-level model from the best maker you can afford. The quality of the surfacing, coatings, etc, often extend into their lower-cost models, and you don't really need rubber-armored, waterproof, (etc) binos when you're taking them out on clear, dry nights to look at the heavens.
  11. Jan 15, 2009 #10
    Thanks a lot everyone! This has been a big help.
  12. Jan 21, 2009 #11
    If you can afford them, Canon image stabilizer binoculars are pretty much the ultimate low-mag astronomy tools. I have a 15x50, you can probably find one used for around $500. Under a dark sky, they're really spectacular - I use them far more often than my 7" reflector telescope, which is great for viewing planet features but is otherwise a pain to set up and impractical for bringing to sites other than my back yard.
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