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The beginning astronomer: Tips on how to buy a telescope and what to look for

Nov 23, 2011, 11:35 a.m.

If you've ever envisioned yourself as an amateur astronomer, there's never been a better time to make that dream come true. Modern technology has put into the hands of average folk the ability to find and study heavenly bodies in a way that would have turned Galileo green with envy--and it can all be yours without having to cough up a small fortune. Here are a few tips for novice astronomers on how to buy a telescope and what to look for.

Do your research. If you're going to buy a telescope, you'll need to know a bit about the various types offered in order to determine which one's for you. Bear in mind that sometimes the best telescope to buy won't be the most expensive. In fact, spending too much money on a telescope that you have no idea how to use will likely end up being a bust. Look for telescopes that match your preferred observation point. This is critical, as you don't want to discover when you get it home that you don't have enough room for it on your back porch. Stay away from department stores and big box retailers. Find a specialty dealer where you can ask lots of questions that will be answered by someone who knows what they're talking about. Find a seller that's willing to adjust the internal optics for you so that you don't have to spend too much time setting it up. Remember this: The bigger the aperture size, the stronger the telescope.High magnification doesn't always mean better. Telescopes with low magnification are often better for doing most star watching. Often, the higher the magnification the bigger the object--but the tradeoff is that the resolution may be blurry.

There's an App for That!

One of the most exciting advancements in telescope technology comes by way of yet another advancement you probably thought you'd heard all there was to hear about: The smartphone application. Believe it or not, there are downloadable smartphone apps that can put the power of a telescope right onto your mobile device. Not only is it possible to download apps to help you identify planets and constellations just by holding them up to the sky, but there are some telescopes in the under-$1,000 range that contain software to self-align so that you can spend your time viewing instead of searching.

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