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Slashdot Asks: Cheap But Reasonable Telescopes for Kids?

timothy posted about three weeks ago | from the will-take-credit-for-the-nobel-prize dept.

Space 187

I am interested in a telescope for the use of some elementary and middle school aged relatives. Older and younger siblings, and parents, would no doubt get some scope time, too. Telescopes certainly come in a range of prices, from cheap to out of this world, and I am purely a duffer myself. But I enjoy looking at the moon and stars with magnification, and think they would, too. What I'm trying to find might be phrased like this: "the lowest priced scope that's reasonably robust, reasonably accurate, and reasonably usable for kids" -- meaning absolute precision is less important than a focus that is easy to set and doesn't drift. Simplicity in design beats tiny, ill-labeled parts or an incomprehensible manual, even if the complicated one might be slightly better when perfectly tuned. I'd be pleased if some of these kids decide to take up astronomy as a hobby, but don't have any strong expectation that will happen -- besides, if they really get into it, the research for a better one would be another fun project. That said, while I'm price sensitive, I'm not looking *only* at the price tag so much as seeking insight about the cluster of perceived sweet spots when it come to price / performance / personality. By "personality" I mean whether it's friendly, well documented, whether it comes intelligently packaged, whether it's a crapshoot as to whether a scope with the same model name will arrive in good shape, etc -- looking at online reviews, it seems many low-end scopes have a huge variance in reviews. What scopes would you would consider giving to an intelligent 3rd or 4th grader? As a starting point, Google has helped me find some interesting guides that list some scopes that sound reasonable, including a few under or near $100. (Here's one such set of suggestions.) What would you advise buying, from that list or otherwise? (There are some ideas that sound pretty good in this similar question from 2000, but I figure the state of the art has moved on.) I'm more interested in avoiding awful junk than I am expecting treasure: getting reasonable views of the moon is a good start, and getting at least some blurry rings around Saturn would be nice, too. Simply because they are so cheap, I'd like to know if anyone has impressions (worth it? pure junk?) of the Celestron FirstScope models, which are awfully tempting for under $50.

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Dobsonian (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739087)

'nuff said.

Re:Dobsonian (3, Interesting)

EmagGeek (574360) | about three weeks ago | (#47739197)

No. Absolutely not. Alt-az mounts are horrible, especially for beginning astronomers as there is a complete disconnect between the telescope axis and reality. An alt-az mount almost has to be motorized to be useful, and it drives up cost. People hocking dobs love to talk about how cheap the "dollars per inch" of the optics are, but the fail to mention you can look at something under high magnification for a few seconds before it disappears, and then you have to figure out how to track RA with an alt-az mount under high power and find the object again.

There's no better way to get an astronomy newbie to QUIT the hobby than to set them up with a dob.

Re:Dobsonian (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739259)

No. Absolutely not. Alt-az mounts are horrible, especially for beginning astronomers as there is a complete disconnect between the telescope axis and reality. An alt-az mount almost has to be motorized to be useful, and it drives up cost. People hocking dobs love to talk about how cheap the "dollars per inch" of the optics are, but the fail to mention you can look at something under high magnification for a few seconds before it disappears, and then you have to figure out how to track RA with an alt-az mount under high power and find the object again.

There's no better way to get an astronomy newbie to QUIT the hobby than to set them up with a dob.

Exactly the opposite ... You're going to expect an 11y to polar align?

Re:hocking (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739351)

Hocking: To leave with a pawnbroker as security for a loan.

Hawking: To sell; to offer for sale by outcry in the street; to carry (merchandise) about from place to place for sale; to peddle.

Re:Dobsonian (4, Informative)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about three weeks ago | (#47739275)

No. Absolutely not. Alt-az mounts are horrible, especially for beginning astronomers as there is a complete disconnect between the telescope axis and reality. An alt-az mount almost has to be motorized to be useful, and it drives up cost. People hocking dobs love to talk about how cheap the "dollars per inch" of the optics are, but the fail to mention you can look at something under high magnification for a few seconds before it disappears, and then you have to figure out how to track RA with an alt-az mount under high power and find the object again.

There's no better way to get an astronomy newbie to QUIT the hobby than to set them up with a dob.

A perponderance of users contradicts what you are writing. The concept of an EQ mount is completely at odds with the way people - especially noobs, think. Where is X? This many degrees up and that many over with the alt-az mount. So now with the EQ mount, you have to first align it, then moving it around can be "interesting", and by the time you get things moved around, the kids have lost interest.

You might like the EQ mount better, but that's personal preference not shared by a lot of others, except thos that like to do imaging. Even then, with a drive and a eyepiece rotator, you can do just as well. What is especially problematic with the EQ mounts is how they scale in mass with the size of the scope. They get really big and heavy, really quickly.

Re:Dobsonian (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739489)

The effort and skill required to set up an equatorial mount is a greater cause of frustration than any limitation of the Alt./Az. mount. Countless star parties I have attended had numerous enthusiasts spending hours setting up their equatorial mounts properly while I was happily observing multiple objects with my Dobs. Then, if anyone bumped their mounts, it was all over again. I had an observing buddy who owned a 10" LX 200 and it always pissed him off that he spent all that time setting up and the slightest bump would put him back into calibrating the damn thing. He finally dumped it and bought an Obsession light bucket.

Re:Dobsonian (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47740041)

A beginner telescope should always be a EQ mount and a reasonable priced optical assembly. So, maybe a 6" Newtonian is fine. Then you add 2 or 3 eyepieces and you are done.

*EVERY* beginner (or not beginner) looks at things called star charts. These charts have only 2 coordinates on them. Right ascension and Declination.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E... [wikipedia.org]

And since Earth rotates, *EVERY* beginner knows that all you need is move R.A. and objects will stay beautifully in one spot in your scope.

Your "objections" to not using EQ mounts are completely wrong when it comes to beginning scopes. And by beginning, I don't mean auto-tracking mounts.

1. Their size (due to counterbalance) is irrelevant for small scopes.
2. Alignment is almost elementary to be "good enough". Even if you miss polaris by 5-10 degrees, you are close enough such that declination adjustments to keep your scope pointed are minimal.

When I used my very beginner "walmart grade" 60mm refractor to view Venus transit, its cheap EQ mount was very useful to track the sun. I just aligned the mount to general north and it Just Worked (BTW, it's not motorized or anything, 100% manual operation).

On the other hand, dobs are not appropriate for high magnification (at least for beginners). On low magnification, in dark conditions, sure, get a dob. If you want to look at Saturn or Jupiter or even the Moon or the Sun, EQ mount is far far superior.

So now with the EQ mount, you have to first align it, then moving it around can be "interesting", and by the time you get things moved around, the kids have lost interest.

The question says "reasonable telescope for kids" not "reasonable telescope to wow kids".

PS. Practicing star hopping when using standard charts without EQ mount, is kind of complicated too if your next star is not in the same field of view. Or you don't know which direction is which because your chart is completely out of whack.

Sure, you can just use an "app" to calculate these things for you. But then you might as well get computerized mount and learn nothing. You know, the "easy button" way.

Re:Dobsonian (3)

cunniff (264218) | about three weeks ago | (#47739281)

This advice is almost exactly the opposite of "good". You might be interested to learn that James Dobson, of Dobsonian fame, specifically designed the telescope to be simple to construct and use. The OP talked about the moon and Saturn. Both of those objects are very easy to see with the naked eye, and therefore very easy to point an alt-azimuth telescope at. An equatorial mount or motor drive is actually harder for a beginner to use than just a simple push-to-go-to alt-az mount. And any motorized drive you could get for anywhere near $100 is just junk.

All that said, you probably won't find a new Dobsonian scope for $100. There are some inexpensive alt-az refractors for about $120 - the Orion StarBlast 70mm for example. It has a finderscope, an erect-image diagonal, and a standard 1.25"-diameter focuser and two eyepieces. Might be worth a peek.

Alternatively, if you are interested in really learning a lot about telescopes, you could build one, starting with grinding your own mirror. You might get that done for about $100 for a 4.25" reflector.

Re: Dobsonian (2)

jpellino (202698) | about three weeks ago | (#47739357)

I think you mean John Dobson

Re: Dobsonian (1)

SteveAstro (209000) | about three weeks ago | (#47739451)

He means the late John Dobson.
I was pretty sure he was immortal. I was wrong.

Re: Dobsonian (1)

cunniff (264218) | about three weeks ago | (#47740107)

Derp. Yes.

Re: Dobsonian (2)

cunniff (264218) | about three weeks ago | (#47740123)

As penance, here is a $65 mirror grinding kit, for a 4.25" mirror: http://firsthanddiscovery.com/... [firsthanddiscovery.com]

To make your own Dobsonian, just add a diagonal and stalk, a cardboard tube, plywood, a bit of Ebony Star formica, and some teflon pads and miscellaneous hardware.

Re:Dobsonian +1 (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47740145)

I agree - a 6" or 8" Dobsonian scope will give you much better views for the dollar as a starter scope. Don't get a computerized aiming device. Instead, spend about $50 above the cost of the scope to get a Telrad finder and a copy of A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets. Set up the Telrad with an easy target like a streetlight or the moon - it's very easy to adjust, and once adjusted it makes finding things in the sky easy and fun. Finder scopes mounted on the sides of telescopes are almost worthless, and even worse for beginners. A paper towel tube would be better. But a Telrad finder puts a reticle on a good-sized patch of sky and makes it very easy to see the object you're aiming for.

Start off with easy summer sights: Start off with the moon. You can also easily find the globular cluster in Orion, the Ring Nebula in Lyra, and the double star Albireo for starters, as these are fairly easy to find. The M31 galaxy in Andromeda is easy to find too - just find the Great Square of Pegasus and you can find M31. Use the Field Guide. Those are the items I started on with my first scope - a Dobsonian - about 15 years ago. You'll never regret learning the sky.

A Dobsonian is not sealed, so make sure you have two good dust covers, and store the scope upside down, with the mirror at the top facing down, so the dust doesn't settle on it. Learn the sky with the Dobsonian, then if you get the bug, later on you can buy something with an Equatorial mount for photography (or you're a maker, you can build a mount and clock drive for your Dob. Once more, a Dobsonian is more fun for less money.

Re:Dobsonian (1)

smi.james.th (1706780) | about three weeks ago | (#47740305)

I second everything in parent comment. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to get good views of the planets with anything cheap, and anything that will give you good views of the moon / planets won't give you good views of anything else (deep-sky objects).

Something worth considering is a Celestron Firstscope though. It's pretty cheap and gives nice views of the moon. You'll be able to see Jupiter's moons and just-just make out Saturn's rings with the provided eyepieces. Many of the slightly brighter star-clusters will be within view as well. Some models of it come with finder-scopes, if it doesn't a simple red-dot is cheap enough. I have one and I was quite impressed, I thought it was going to be rubbish bit I was pleasantly surprised. It's nowhere near as good as my 4.5" Orion reflector, but it's not bad.

I'm currently in the process of grinding a mirror for an 8" reflector, similar to a friend's. The endeavour is costing me the equivalent of around $150 (spread over whenever I need bits and pieces) but I'll end up with a scope of similar quality to what you can buy from $350 - $500.

Re:Dobsonian (1)

goodmanj (234846) | about three weeks ago | (#47739387)

you can look at something under high magnification for a few seconds before it disappears, and then you have to figure out how to track RA with an alt-az mount under high power and find the object again

You shouldn't be using high magnification with a dobsonian. In fact, at the price point we're discussing here, you shouldn't be using high magnification at all.

Through a 4.5" f/6 Dobsonian with a decent wide-angle eyepiece, you can see Saturn's rings and Jupiter's moons plus a hint of cloud patterns, you can see open and globular clusters, and you'll have to push the telescope to re-center the object once every couple of minutes tops.

Re:Dobsonian (2)

phrostie (121428) | about three weeks ago | (#47739825)

Dobs in the 5" - 10" range are perfect.
I recommend 8-10.

when they out grow the Dob mount you can buy some rings and put them on an equatorial mount.
it gives you an upgrade path.

some good links:
great for comparing prices
http://www.optcorp.com/ [optcorp.com]

AWB offers a great little scope for the price.
http://store.astronomerswithou... [astronomer...orders.org]

It's hard to beat a lot of their prices.
http://www.telescope.com/ [telescope.com]

Re:Dobsonian (1)

NormalVisual (565491) | about three weeks ago | (#47740253)

An alt-az mount almost has to be motorized to be useful, and it drives up cost.

Something like a Meade ETX-80 isn't terribly expensive, the alignment procedure is easier, plus you get the benefit of go-to functionality with automatic tracking which really helps those that don't know the sky yet. German equatorials really are only necessary for photography, IMO, and are a royal pain in the butt to deal with when the optical tube is of any appreciable size.

My 10" Dob works just fine with an equatorial platform, and the platform costs a LOT less than a decent German mount that can deal with a 30 pound tube.

Easy. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739095)

Toilet paper roll.

Paper towel roll as an upgrade.

Choosing a telescope for a child (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739105)

See the web-page
www.RobertMartinAyers.org/choosing-a-telescope.html
which discusses exactly that.

Nice Scope (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739125)

Here you go, http://store.astronomerswithoutborders.org/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=5&products_id=4. This is a nice 5" dobsonian with excellent optics that gets fantastic reviews, $199. It's light, small enough for a young person to use and move around, has a good sized mirror that's high quality. A portion of the profits goes to buy telescopes for schools in developing countries.

Re:Nice Scope (1)

goodmanj (234846) | about three weeks ago | (#47739341)

I haven't used this scope, but it checks off all the right boxes. Seems like a good choice to me.

Re: Nice Scope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739405)

seconded. I frequently get asked this question since everyone I know knows I like astronomy and this is the one I recommend.

Nice Scope (1)

ctmurray (1475885) | about three weeks ago | (#47739705)

Thanks for posting this link. Like the OP I am interested in getting a telescope but know nothing about them really.

Re:Nice Scope (2)

sizzzzlerz (714878) | about three weeks ago | (#47740055)

I was going to recommend this as well. There was a very favorable write-up of this telescope in Sky and Telescope several months back. I had planned on ordering one after reading it but it was out-of-stock at the time. Good alternatives would be a good Newtonian scope from any of the reputable companies: Meade, Celestron, or Orion. They all have a good variety of sizes and prices along with the accessories you need: eye pieces, sky charts, etc. Selecting one from any of these options will give you something that should be useful for a long time. Good luck.

Thrift Store (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739147)

I would say to check out thrift stores and yard/garage sales to see what you can find. It's amazing what gems you might discover for $10!

Re:Thrift Store (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739255)

Even better yet, hit the thrifts about two or three weeks after Christmas. That is when you see the rejected gifts.

Re:Thrift Store (2)

goodmanj (234846) | about three weeks ago | (#47739323)

No. People who give away telescopes to thrift stores are people who didn't think very carefully about their telescope purchase to begin with. You don't want their hand-me-downs.

Re:Thrift Store (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739449)

No. People who give away telescopes to thrift stores are people who didn't think very carefully about their telescope purchase to begin with. You don't want their hand-me-downs.

If the kid doesn't get into astronomy and the telescope goes in a closet you will feel a bit better about the purchase. I am assuming that this would be the first telescope and spending an inordinate amount of money on it is something he is trying to avoid, so again, what's wrong with the thrift store or garage/yard sale again?

Re:Thrift Store (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about three weeks ago | (#47740171)

What he means is, that department store telescopes are shit; and department store telescopes given as gifts to people who do not care about astronomy will be shit treated in a shitty way. No better way to discourage someone from astronomy by giving them an entirely non-functional telescope.

Besides, there was no advice in your post about what kind of scope to get. Picking up any random thing is exactly what the poster was trying to avoid.

My suggestion, contact a local astronomy club to find out if they have any spare telescopes for sale. They usually have small ones that a member has fixed up and collimated. As an added benefit, they will be happy to teach you how to use it properly.

4.5" Newtonian on an EQ Mount (5, Insightful)

EmagGeek (574360) | about three weeks ago | (#47739163)

Get a 4.5" or maybe a 6" Newtonian reflector on an EQ mount. Be sure you spend at least 5x on the mount than you do on the Optical Tube. The mount is 80% of the telescope. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT cheap out on a telescope by getting a shitty mount.

The EQ mount need not be motorized nor have a computer - in fact it's nice to learn about the RA/Dec axes and how to dial them in and track objects manually, but an RA motor would be necessary if you want to do any photography. (An RA motor does not necessarily require a full computer rig)

Eyepieces are also important, and pay no attention to "max power" capabilities, as they are always way overstated. A 4.5-6" Newtonian will be best at powers up to but not exceeding about 60-90X. Make sure you get a range of eyepieces to have variable power, but focus on field of view rather than magnification. Field of view is WAY more important than magnification.

The objects you will look at most with a 4.5-6" scope are the moon, planets, and nebulae. Nebulae are really cool, but you'll need the larger apertures to really appreciate them, or the photography setup so you can collect the light.

If you foresee going far with this as a hobby, you will want to go 8-10" at some point. It's better to decide now as telescopes are utterly worthless on the used market.

Hope this helps..

Re:4.5" Newtonian on an EQ Mount (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739283)

You are correct about the mount. I had a very nice telescope as a kid with a cheap mount, and I never once was able to see anything through it. IIRC it was an 8" aperture, 50x. My father got the telescope free at work after they upgraded their telescope, and I wasted hours at a time trying to see the moon several times a week for a couple of years. I never once was even able to see the moon much less a planet. With my friend's telescope that had an amazing mount that cost several times what the telescope did, I was able to see the moon and stars. I think his telescope was a 3". We were once able to barely see Saturn's rings. It could have been distortion around a different bright object, but I like to think I saw Saturn. With his mount, the telescope would only barely move when you touched your face to the eyepiece. With mine, it could move almost a full inch.

Re:4.5" Newtonian on an EQ Mount (5, Insightful)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about three weeks ago | (#47739587)

If you foresee going far with this as a hobby, you will want to go 8-10" at some point. It's better to decide now as telescopes are utterly worthless on the used market.

This would seem to present a compelling case for buying a telescope on the used market.

Re:4.5" Newtonian on an EQ Mount (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about three weeks ago | (#47739723)

Good point.

Re:4.5" Newtonian on an EQ Mount (1)

smi.james.th (1706780) | about three weeks ago | (#47740283)

Exactly. You can save a bundle on any given model if you can find a good one.

Binoculars (5, Interesting)

AbandonAllHope (211475) | about three weeks ago | (#47739165)

My college astronomy teacher told us, on our last day of class, you're always better off with an expensive pair of binoculars verses a cheap telescope. This was several years ago but he seemed to be of the opinion that if your budget was less than $200, you were better off with binoculars. He also pointed out that if your child loses interest in astronomy, binoculars have a wide variety of other uses.

Re:Binoculars (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739539)

Your teacher was a wise man and this is the correct suggestion.
Beyond that, the next step up would be a Dobsonian. Anything else will ruin any budding interest in the night sky OP's young relatives may have.
Source: I'm an astrophotographer (and too lazy to find my Slashdot login credentials righ now).

Re:Binoculars (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739815)

binoculars have a wide variety of other uses.

^^ this.

Binoculars are excellent for those times when you want to look at something far away as if it was closer. The best part, is that when set up correctly, you get to look at landscapes and other far away things in 3D.

For looking at far away things in an easy to use manner, nothing beats a nice set of Binoculars, its an excellent way of using them.

Re:Binoculars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47740033)

I second this advice. Look I thought 'oh I will get into this' 500 bucks later I now have a *very* nice 10 inch dobson. 200 bucks later a nice set of lenses. It would probably be 900-1200 now for the same set of stuff.

It is a good dust collector now.

Start off SIMPLE and cheap. See if you are into it. Or better yet go find a local observatory and see if you want to mess with it. Or goto a local get together. Use some of the stuff there or see if anyone is selling anything.

I have saved at least 3 people a lot of money by using binoculars. A fourth guy though he really got into it and now has himself a very nice setup. But he knew he liked it. This can be an expensive hobby...

Re:Binoculars (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739951)

Ditto Ditto Ditto

Binoculars are often the best way for beginners to go. They are simple and intuitive to use.

It also helpful to get a simple and inexpensive adapter so you can mount them to a camera tripod.

Re:Binoculars (1)

mtippett (110279) | about three weeks ago | (#47740257)

I would agree with this too. For that telescopish feel, you can get tripod mount attachments for most binoculars. Allows the adult to point the binoculars, swap to the kid without too much trouble.

Binoculars (5, Interesting)

dlleigh (313922) | about three weeks ago | (#47739175)

Don't buy a telescope. Instead, get a good pair of 10x50 binoculars and an intro astronomy book with pictures.

A telescope will always take some setup and you'll be less likely to go to the effort as time goes on. With binoculars, you just grab them and go. That's a much better way to keep beginners interested.

Re:Binoculars (2)

mark_reh (2015546) | about three weeks ago | (#47739261)

Also much harder to point them at any specific thing in the sky and holding them steady is a problem- especially for kids and especially big binoculars like 10x50.

Re:Binoculars (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739367)

Binoculars with a camera tripod work well. Get a tripod that can lift the binoculars high enough that you can stand upright while using them whether you are looking at the horizon or near the zenith.

Re:Binoculars (1)

MildlyTangy (3408549) | about three weeks ago | (#47739821)

Also much harder to point them at any specific thing in the sky and holding them steady is a problem- especially for kids and especially big binoculars like 10x50.

No, its not a problem at all. Bring along an inexpensive green laserpointer. At night, its like holding an infinitely long lightsaber, you can easily point out night sky objects that everybody can see, even through binoculars and telescopes.

Other colors work well, but green is best.

Re:Binoculars (2)

funwithBSD (245349) | about three weeks ago | (#47739923)

Put SkyEye on the tablet or the cell phone and it will lead you to the objects you want to see.

The Beehive is awesome in Summer, and Orion Nebula in Winter for easy objects to find.

Re:Binoculars (1)

Simulant (528590) | about three weeks ago | (#47739317)

Binoculars won't cut it if you want to see Jupiter's moons or Saturn's rings. Even if they have the magnification you still need a tripod to hold the view steady and you really need something with an equatorial mount to follow the objects or they will slip out of view very quickly I used to have a 90mm refractor with a manual equatorial mount (you had to rotate with knobs).. I'd go electric if I got one today... especially if a bunch of kid's are taking turns looking through the thing.

Re:Binoculars (1)

Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) | about three weeks ago | (#47739513)

You can see Jupiter's moons just fine with even a cheap pair of binoculars. You don't have to hold astronomical binoculars too steady because they are designed for aperture instead of magnification.

I've never really had a problem finding common naked-eye objects with binoculars and keeping them in the frame unless it is something fast-moving like the ISS.

Re:Binoculars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47740139)

You can see them casually with a 200mm lens on a camera.

Craigslist --- the best place for telescopes

Re:Binoculars (3, Interesting)

Rockoon (1252108) | about three weeks ago | (#47739679)

Binoculars won't cut it if you want to see Jupiter's moons or Saturn's rings.

The problem with this argument is that you've just listed the only things he will be missing with a budget purchase. Ideal viewing times for these come rarely, and at the magnifications required he would also need a very expensive tracking mount in order to really enjoy them.

Astronomy binoculars have many benefits in the budget arena. They are rugged, low maintenance, both eyes is nice, and most importantly portable.

The other reply had mentioned that a downside is that they are hard to hold steady. Thats what a tripod is for.

Re:Binoculars (1)

Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) | about three weeks ago | (#47739503)

Too many people do not understand this. The binoculars are the best thing you can buy under $100 and they are useful for more than astronomy. Many of them are better than the telescopes Galileo used.

The cheapest descent telescope would be a ground mounted Newtonian. They're big, heavy, and start at around $500. You don't want a cheap scope that you'll grow out of and you don't want an expensive scope when you won't necessarily stick with the hobby.

A good pair of binoculars and a subscription to an amateur astronomy magazine might actually come in under $100 if you look around enough.

Re:Binoculars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739649)

Stellarium or Celestia on a PC are good for looking at objects. And if you want kids to be able to locate objects on a screen and then go outside to find it, or vice versa, it's a great way to go.

Alternatively, use an Android phone and Google Sky to identify objects in the sky. Simple to use "point and shoot" that's simple and fun. If there is additional interest, then graduate to a scope.

Re:Binoculars (2)

smchris (464899) | about three weeks ago | (#47739755)

Binoculars are the recommendation in The Backyard Astronomer. But, then, they don't particularly recommend buying a child a telescope either.

Personally, I went with a used 4.5" Orion Dob as the first instrument and I think it was a good choice. Now I have larger instruments _and_ binoculars. Yes, a small Dob isn't great for groups because you have to keep adjusting it. But, like people say, polar aligning an EQ is something to be explained too and you're still going to be moving it regularly manually. Doesn't sound like you are budgeting for a motor mount. I can just see binoculars being an interesting challenge as you try to get _each_ kid to find stuff. "No, look at where my finger is pointing. That one! Are you seeing it, the one I'm pointing at?" And, sure, I can see stuff like Jupiter's Galilean moons, the Orion nebula, a lot of moon detail, etc. with the 10x70s but anybody who tells you it's more fun to recline in a lounge chair, hold your breath and maintain your arms as rigid as possible so things don't move _too_ much should probably have his disdain for small Dobs taken with a grain of salt.

Re:Binoculars (1)

Ken_g6 (775014) | about three weeks ago | (#47740233)

I got a pair of good 7x50 binoculars. As a side-benefit besides astronomy, I call them my night-vision scopes. When I look through them at dusk at terrestrial objects, everything I see looks brighter! You won't see the landscape when it's pitch black, but it's a surprising difference for unpowered optics.

You already have the answer ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739181)

A $50 scope is complete junk and will probably scare most people away from the hobby for the rest of their life. Asides from maybe a GalileoScope, the answer to your question is in right in front of you in the form of the article you referenced. The only way you'd find something cheaper and is even somewhat usable is by looking for the items mentioned on craigslist, or via the "Clearance Center" portion of the Orion web site.

Small Orion reflector (2)

goodmanj (234846) | about three weeks ago | (#47739199)

The telescopes listed in your "one set of suggestions" link are good. To get a telescope that's intended for real amateur astronomers rather than cheap junk for hopeful clueless parents, get a small reflector, not a refractor. I teach at a college: in our class for nonmajors, we introduce them to the sky with Orion Starblast 4.5s, which are cheap, compact and easy to carry, bulletproof, and easy to use. The magnification is low for planets, but that means it's easier to find things, and easier to track them manually through the sky. Orion also sells the SkyScanner 100mm, a slightly smaller, significantly cheaper version of the same thing. Their XT4.5 dobsonian is a little bigger and more expensive, and will give a better view of the planets but be more difficult to use for deep sky objects.

What I'm saying is, buy a small reflector from Orion.

Re:Small Orion reflector (2)

Rockoon (1252108) | about three weeks ago | (#47739599)

The problem with reflectors is that they are not low enough maintenance for children. They are cheaper for the same light collecting ability, but you absolutely cannot expect a kid to be able to collimate one and they are not nearly as rugged as you would like.

This means the parent becomes the gatekeeper of reflectors. The telescope only gets used when the parent is willing to set it up.

Refractors cost a bit more for the same aperture, but they are so much closer to point-and-look rugged and low maintenance. 90mm refractors can be had for $150 which are more or less equivalent to 100mm reflectors in regards to light collection. If the tripod gets knocked over by the child you will cringe but it is unlikely to be damaged unless this happened on concrete.

Someone above had mentioned low-magnification large-lens binoculars and I think that they are probably a much better introduction, as they are also rugged and low maintenance but have the added advantage that they serve useful purposes in daylight. Many are made especially for astronomy and come with tripods (a critique of one of the replies was the incorrect assertion that telescopes have tripods and binoculars dont.)

Low magnification isnt a downside. There is very little to really see at high magnifications unless you have a telescope with really good optics, which is not happening on a budget and isnt recommended for children. Sure, rings of saturn... a few moons of jupiter.. and then nothing else really benefits from high magnification on a budget. Meanwhile the sky is filled with nebula...

Re:Small Orion reflector (1)

goodmanj (234846) | about three weeks ago | (#47740053)

In my experience, these short, stubby tabletop reflectors are built like turtles, and can take an enormous amount of abuse without losing collimation. Your phrase "parent becomes the gatekeeper" is great, but it's got me thinking about the refractor you suggest, which is going to be physically big enough that a 9-year-old will probably need a parent to carry and help set up.

I spent a lot of time following the "start with binoculars" advice when I was a kid, and came away mostly disappointed. Tripods help, but even then, 7x magnification rules out all the planets and all but the biggest deep-sky objects. Small reflectors offer a nice middle ground between that and the obscene 200x magnification advertised by your average $50 Walmart refractor.

Re:Small Orion reflector (1)

MildlyTangy (3408549) | about three weeks ago | (#47739851)

Orion Starblast 4.5s, which are cheap, compact and easy to carry, bulletproof, and easy to use.

Sorry, but I can confirm that these 4.5" Starblasts are not actually bulletproof. The mirror will shatter from the impact forces when hit in the center of the telescope barrel with a .38 caliber hollow-point round.

Re:Small Orion reflector (1)

Narrowband (2602733) | about three weeks ago | (#47739939)

From personal experience, our son was able to learn and use a Starblast 4.5" pretty easily in 4th grade. My wife and I are both members of our local astronomy club, and have been into astronomy a long time, so we were able to give him help when needed, but also we took him to some of the public events for the club, and let him go to it. He enjoyed one project in particular where he tracked the galilean moons of Jupiter over several nights, sketching out their positions in a notebook, and he still likes using it to show planets to other kids at these sorts of events a couple of years later.

Binoculars are a good starting place for adults, but harder to work with kids with, in my opinion, because you can't point them at something and then show it to the child, nor can they really get your help interpreting what they're seeing.

Look for a used Meade ETX 90 (4, Interesting)

mark_reh (2015546) | about three weeks ago | (#47739235)

I found one for $80 with computer go-to controller. Optics seem very good. Check Craig's List for stuff for sale in your area.

Good Used Scope or Binoculars (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739253)

Most of the optics in low end scopes are pretty disappointing. A good pair of binoculars is the best bet if you have a small budget and are just getting your feet wet in Astronomy.

A decent small spotting scope that has the ability to change eyepieces is a nice alternative. The Celestron 39-100x90mm Maksutov Angled Spotting Scope is a nice scope for beginners and can be had new for under $200 if you shop around. Used market is even cheaper. Folks are always upgrading their gear, so you might get lucky. That scope come with a couple of decent eyepieces that work great for moon observation. You can always buy additional eyepieces and Barlows as your budget allows in the future. It's a versatile, small scope that can be added and expanded for even photographic and terrestrial use.

Put you money in the mount (3, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | about three weeks ago | (#47739287)

Get the best (Ha-Dec) mount you can. (I would not get an Alt-Az mount for a beginner on a budget.) Most department store type scopes have adequate optics, but very crappy mounts, and that makes for a miserable viewing experience. Get a very sturdy mount with a cheap scope,and then if the kid wants to move up, they have the mount for it.

Binoculars (5, Informative)

Bodhammer (559311) | about three weeks ago | (#47739337)

I have had five scopes. My current primary scope is Celestron CGE 1100.

First, get a good set of binocs and a star atlas. I recommend either "Turn Right at Orion" and/or Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas. I have the Orion Mini-giants 9x63 and they are wonderful for astronomy. They are also light enough to be used without a tripod. It really helps to know the basic constellations when starting. Also get http://www.stellarium.org/ [stellarium.org]

Craigslist has used scopes all the time. You could pick up a Celestron C5, C6, or C8 for a few hundred and prob. not lose too much on resale. Stay away from "department store" scopes!

Check out your local astronomy club. Our club has 20+ scope for loaning and at a star party you could check out a bunch of scope live.
Finally, the is a great resource: http://www.cloudynights.com/to... [cloudynights.com]

Clear Skies!

Local Observatory (4, Insightful)

statemachine (840641) | about three weeks ago | (#47739349)

Go to your local observatory on an open-house night and get a free look through the lens. There are usually amateurs set up with their own equipment outside and will allow viewers too.

If your kids can stay up late and stand in the cold without complaining, they're ready for a telescope.

Re:Local Observatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739473)

In addition to going to observatory public events there is almost certainly an astronomy club nearby. They will frequently have outreach events as well and it is a great place to connect with people that are interested in the hobby and get a chance to see all sorts of different amateur equipment and see how it compares. Joining clubs is usually quite inexpensive and typically comes with several benefits like discounts on astronomy related periodicals, dark sky sites and depending on the size of the club they may have their own observatory that club members can use once trained.

I would highly recommend connecting with your local astronomy club before making any telescope or binocular purchase.

Re:Local Observatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739871)

If your kids can stay up late and stand in the cold without complaining, they're ready for a telescope.

^^ This.

My kids started complaining how cold they were at a local club night near Kansas.

They were shooting at us as we were running for the car, luckily none of us were hit, as it was pretty dark.

Re:Local Observatory (1)

bananaquackmoo (1204116) | about three weeks ago | (#47739985)

I hate to break it to you, but sometimes the "local observatory" is hundreds of miles away...

Re:Local Observatory (2)

goodmanj (234846) | about three weeks ago | (#47740059)

I'll bet you there's an excellent astronomy club closer than that.

First scope but upgrade the eyepiece (2)

jpellino (202698) | about three weeks ago | (#47739391)

A plossl or super plossl (dont spend too much). Adding a barlow to the mix helps.

treat it like a maker project for the kids (2)

xeno (2667) | about three weeks ago | (#47739397)

I just worked thru this same project with my MS/HS kids. For us, the answer was not a specific scope, but the best one we could find for cheap secondhand. It worked out very well to involve the kids not just with the content viewable thru the scope, but with the mechanics of assembling a working setup. Now they're interested in the optics and process, not just the results.
After several crappy new ones (thanks, woot...) we happened upon a Celestron Astromaster 90 for $25 at the local Goodwill (1000mm focal length/which they advertise as "dual-purpose telescope appropriate for both terrestrial and celestial viewing" -- but the most important thing for us was the stable tripod. Even a great scope will be frustrating and a turnoff for the kids if it's wobbly and hard to see something cool at the outset, like craters on the moon. For the CA90, I picked up an eyepiece-to-Tmount adapter and T-to-DSLR for $30, allowing us to swap naked-eye viewing and digital photography (face it, if you succeed and the kids go 'oo shiny' the next question is 'can i put this on tumblr?'), all for under $100 and the whole setup fits into the car trunk.
An alternate which we also enjoy, while not strictly a "telescope": I picked up a 500mm F6.5 camera lens for under $50 (I have both a refractor http://www.pentaxforums.com/userreviews/opteka-500mm-mirror-f8.html and long-tube/telescope style http://www.pentaxforums.com/userreviews/quantaray-500mm-f8-f32.html) and slapped a 2x matched doubler on it, giving us an effective 1000mm telescope with a t-mount end. We dropped an additional $8 on a t-mount adapter for a DSLR, and $30 for a manfrotto lens holder for a tripod (optional). For under $100 total, this gave us some pretty sharp digital-only viewing that fits into a messenger bag. Again, this is a win not because it's the best optical setup, but because it pulls the kids into the process AND the result is shareable.
Oh... and one other cheap trick that is a huge help with viewing using budget (but not crap) optics: Attaching about 8in of 1in link chain (just the standard hardware store proof chain) to the objective end of your long telescope makes an excellent vibration damper. With this chain damper and a 2- or 10-sec delay on your camera, you can snap no-touch/super-clear pictures thru the scope with most excellent results.
YMMV. Good luck!

Start with Binoculars (1)

Ecuador (740021) | about three weeks ago | (#47739441)

When I was 9 an uncle of mine gave me a "Halleyscope" (a not bad 40mm refractor on a tragic little tripod). I was a geek of course so it did immediately stir my interest, so a month later on my birthday I asked for a pair of binoculars. I had not read a recommendation anywhere, it just seemed that it was what I could find for observing based on my low birthday budget. Well, the Binoculars were more useful than the Halleyscope and I learned the sky and saw enough things to want to see more. So then it was certain that by giving me a bigger budget my parents would not be throwing away money (it was also tied to academic achievement) and it is how I got my Soviet TAL 1 4.5" reflector and it served me for years.
So, the advice is get binoculars (probably 7x50). If they show an interest and they want more, I would say stay away from alt-azimuth mounts (because they are usually crap), except dobsonians. I am not a dobsonian fan since I like to spend some time polar-aligning in order to get a more comfortable viewing experience afterwards, but it is a personal preference. Usually people who are more geeky and have patience will not consider spending time to try and align a mount to the earth's rotational axis as a bad thing. But dobsonians are also cheaper per aperture. So... overall your example link of suggestions seems ok, except as a second step after Binoculars and avoid Alt-Az mounts.

call your local astronomy club (1)

hodet (620484) | about three weeks ago | (#47739459)

they may be happy to loan you a decent scope or two. Some members may even join you and you could experience several scopes. The person advising on binoculars gave solid advice as well. Try and get glimpse of a space station passover as well. Very popular with the kids. Stay away from all those department store refractors promising 500x magnification. They are garbage. Magnification is less important than a scopes ability to gather light. DOBS are the best bang for your buck.

A telescope is a bad gift for a novice. (2)

Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) | about three weeks ago | (#47739481)

It's like buying a Ducati for a kid who hasn't had her training wheels removed. Amateur astronomy involves a lot of time spent in the cold and a lot of prerequisite knowledge. If you don't want to waste money, you should actually make sure that the person is truly interested in astronomy before buying a scope, and you shouldn't go cheap on the scope. Any telescope under $500 is probably not a good investment. I suggest the following.

1) Go to an observatory open night (try universities, colleges, and professional and public observatories) or an amateur astronomy star party with the kids. See what they think about it.

2) Actually go backyard observing with the people in question with the naked eye, if they are interested, buy them astronomical binoculars. A pretty good pair will start at under $100 and, unlike a $100 telescope, will be very portable and useful (even if the kid never really sticks with amateur astronomy).

3) If they stick with it, get them a subscription to some amateur astronomy magazines like "Sky and Telescope" and "Astronomy".

4) If they're still interested, buy them the best scope you can afford, either a ground-mounted Newtonian (or similar design) on the cheap range (you can actually get a good aperture size (which tends to be the most important measure) for pretty cheap, or if you have the money, go with a Schmidt-Cassegrain (or similar style) telescope with at least an 8" aperture (you might actually be able to find a good one used for well under $1000 if you look hard).

There are a lot of other people and institutions out there with better equipment than you can afford, so no point in breaking the bank until you are sure that a good quality amateur scope is really worth the money, and no point in getting a low end scope when a pair of binoculars will serve you better in the long run.

Re:A telescope is a bad gift for a novice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739629)

This! My parents bought me several telescopes, and I never could even find the moon through them. It is a very expensive, frustrating, and non fruitful hobby. All it did was turn me off of astronomy and physics. The only time I ever saw something worthwhile was when a friend with a $10k setup got a blurry glimpse at Saturn. I think I saw the rings. He wasted several hours each month for several years just for that one glimpse.

Re:A telescope is a bad gift for a novice. (2)

funwithBSD (245349) | about three weeks ago | (#47739943)

Wow, that is so sad.

I can walk out tonight and see the rings with 10x50 binoculars or even the 300 zoom on the 35mm camera.

Re:A telescope is a bad gift for a novice. (2)

greenwow (3635575) | about three weeks ago | (#47740087)

I think you're mistaken. You might be seeing a blur around a bright object like an airplane. I have friends that have very expensive telescopes that have never seen anything other than the moon through them, and even that can take hours of trying. Just brushing your face against the eyepiece will ruin it and take a lot of time to get it repositioned. It takes a lot of luck and hours of time to see anything through a telescope.

Seems to me (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739505)

I keep hearing about how 3D printing is the next industrial revolution and a total game changer. I mean we're 3D printing cars, houses and rockets now.

He should go to a maker space and 3D print the best telescope possible, right?

Based on your link to examples (1)

multimediavt (965608) | about three weeks ago | (#47739529)

I'd go with the Orion SpaceProbe 3 Altazimuth Reflector Telescope. It's a more modernized version of the one I first used as a youngster. I think I still have it somewhere but will have to look. Aiming the thing is probably the hardest to learn with any telescope and I'd stress that to the children you are going to give this to. That's the number one thing that turns children off to telescopes is trying to find the desired object in the sky. It takes a lot of patience and practice and if the child doesn't have the personality characteristics they will lose interest quickly. Sky watching can be amazing good fun, especially now that there are good apps that can help you find things in the sky easily. That might be another thing you spring for, a good app (desktop or mobile) for them to use to help them find things to look at.

Re:Based on your link to examples (1)

multimediavt (965608) | about three weeks ago | (#47739613)

Oops, just saw the binocular recommendations. [face palm] Of course that would be a much better choice and be useful for more than just star gazing. Might get them interested in optics in general, photography, etc. I'd go with a nice pair of $35-$65 10x50 binocs and a good app.

My thoughts (2)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about three weeks ago | (#47739557)

I've built a number of telescopes, and here's what I've learned.

Unless you are willing to invest a lot of money in a good refractor, or lens based scope, you are better off with a mirror. Lenses have a quality called chromatic aberration, which can be mostly eliminated, but you'll be buying an expensive scope that isn't all that big, and need to take special care of it.

An equatorial mount needs to be rock steady. This means it has to have a lot of mass usually a lot more than the Optical tube.

This is why unless you plan on doing a lot of photography from a fixed location, an alt az mount is preferable for rmost folks. It also allows you to use a relatively large mirror.

The Dobsonian version of alt-az mounts uses a base bearing, the azimuth portion, and altitude bearing, that usually consists of a teflon surface placed against a formica type surface. The idea is that when the scope is balanced, it will stay where it's placed, yet will move without jerkiness when you need to move it. The scopes I have made allow me to move them smoothly while viewing. It has a quality we refer to as "stiction"

As for the size of the telescope, I recommend a 6 inch for beginners, or maybe an 8 inch. A focal ratiot of somewhere between F6 and f8 is also good.

A note that the longer the focal length, the larger the magnification of any given object is for a given eyepiece, , and the narrower the field of view is. The shorter focal ratios, like f4 have a wider field of view which can make for some awesome views of the Milky way, but they have an aberration known as coma, which means the center of the image will be sharp, but not the edges. This too can be corrected, but with an expensive coma corrector.

Next the really important part is Eyepieces.

Very popular today is the Plössl, which have a pretty decent apparent field of view, which is to say it doesn't look like you are viewing through a porthole from 5 feet away.

You should get a few different sizes. I would recommend a 32 mm, a 25 or 20 mm, and perhaps a 15 mm. There are shorter eyepieces available, but are only useable when the atmosphere seeing is very good, otherwise they give a pretty elnarged fuzzy image, which is not the lenses fault, but the conditions.

Note there is a type of eyepiece called a "Nagler", which is a very good but very expensive eyepiece. Stick with the Plössls to start with, Naglers are awesome, but can empty your bank account pretty quickly.

So let's say you are looking at a 6 inch scope. Orion has their skyquest scopes for either $299 or $349 a version with a barlow lens which will double the magnification of any eyepiece.

I'd go for the $299 model. It's an F8 which should be a good compromise height for kids or adults - more on that in a moment.

A Sirius Plössl eyepiece is in the roughly 50 dollar range each.

Some things to think about:

A chair for the adults, especially handy for viewing things at lower Alt settings.

A step ladder with a railing for the young'uns.

Both should wait unti you have a scope in hand. I have an infinitely adjustable chair that makes viewing a lot more pleasant, and the railing is just something for leaning against instead of the telescope.

A Telrad. This is a cool - if ugly - device that projects a bulls-eye image on glass that you look through to find objects. Works great. There are also "red dot BB finders that are Okay but not much better than the regular finder. A cool feature is that there are Telrad finder charts that allow you to set your scope with a better chance of finding what you are looking for.

Re:My thoughts (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about three weeks ago | (#47740095)

If you have a no-longer-used interchangeable lens film SLR sitting around, the standard 50mm lens can be a very impressive eyepiece. Tape it to the telescope, and if you're lucky you'll be able to bring things into focus.

OneSky (1)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47739675)

https://store.astronomerswithoutborders.org/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=4&zenid=ivsojs1sjlgpf0aqaosc5echo4

Binoculars again, digital camera (1)

RJFerret (1279530) | about three weeks ago | (#47739681)

I second, or third or seventeenth the binoculars recommendation. Great for celestial observations, birding, plane spotting, live theater, sight seeing, etc. No set up, control in hands of user, each may have their own instead of taking turns, etc.

Note you don't need a scope for good astrophotography, there are pictures on Wikipedia I've taken just with a manual digital camera with good lens (and cheap tripod). Long exposure settings and proper image processing (combining multiple exposures to minimize background noise) provide incredible results.

Re:Binoculars again, digital camera (1)

Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) | about three weeks ago | (#47739759)

I guess that all depends on what you mean by astrophotography.

A cheap $5000 DSLR with a telephoto lens is not going to give you good data nor is it going to be useful for most of the objects in the sky, though it might produce some very nice-looking pictures of certain celestial objects.

To do actual science and capture useful pictures of most celestial objects, you need a descent telescope, a good mount, and a professional CCD. A DSLR won't cut it.

But I'm sure under the right conditions you can get some pretty pictures with one of objects like the moon, Jupiter, and even some nearby extragalactic objects.

In my mind, better to learn to do the star-finding first, then get a good telescope, then if you're still interested, get the add-ons like the astronomical cameras and spectroscopes.

Re:Binoculars again, digital camera (1)

RJFerret (1279530) | about three weeks ago | (#47739915)

Did you miss, "...for kids", relatives who are elementary/middle school age? Not trying to do science here or collect "data", trying to introduce/interest them in...oh nevermind...you don't seem to remember being six to 13 years old.

But thankfully you don't need any of the equipment you listed. A couple hundred dollar digital camera with good lens and manual exposure control is plenty. It's good enough for Wikipedia, it'll be good enough for kids to throw online to show their friends lunar craters and comet tails and whatnot.

You also don't need the "right conditions" thankfully, I'm sandwiched between two cities and full of light pollution, but layering multiple exposures and image processing resolves all of that, and provides a practical application of image processing other than fake media model imagery for kids to learn about (which my nieces were taught about around eight years old).

Re:Binoculars again, digital camera (1)

Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) | about three weeks ago | (#47740209)

I used to do experiments and gather data at that age. I would have loved it if someone would have taught me how to put my coding skills to use at that age by processing image data I gathered with a telescope.

Just because someone is a kid does not mean that they are incapable of learning to use a scientific instrument to do science. You can give a kid a microscope, or a telescope, or a chemistry set, but unless you help her do actual scientific experiments, she's going to miss most of the value.

Taking pretty pictures is nice, but that's not why astronomers put cameras on the end of telescopes. Each photon is a piece of data and that's the real value of a picture. Even a younger elementary school kid is perfectly capable of doing something like deriving the temperature of a star from a photograph if they have a proper astronomical CCD with proper astronomical filters and figuring out what type of star it is. If you treat kids like they are too dumb to do science then that will certainly end up being true.

firstscope-telescope (1)

srwood (99488) | about three weeks ago | (#47739733)

http://www.celestron.com/browse-shop/astronomy/telescopes/firstscope-telescope

Celestron FirstScope (1)

Trimaxion (2933647) | about three weeks ago | (#47739799)

I once won a Celestron FirstScope as a door prize at an astronomy club meeting. Its size and shape might make it a nice instrument for a child to call their own. However, the view it provided was about what you'd expect for $49 retail -- not particularly good. When I donated it to a friend for his kids to use, I wondered afterward if I did him a disservice by giving it to him. His kids might take a look through the thing and think "that's it??" and lose interest in the hobby. Then again, maybe an inquisitive child wouldn't mind. I'm a jaded old geezer and my sense of wonder isn't what it used to be.

In my opinion, good steps are:

- Don't buy a cheap telescope.
- Find a local astronomy club and go to one of their outings. Every club I've encountered has enthusiastically welcomed visitors and new members. I was hooked when I got my first view of M42 through an 18" Obsession. Clubs are a great way to see what the hobby offers and experience a lot of nice equipment without spending any of your hard-earned money first. A lot of clubs even offer free loaner scopes to members.
- Buy "NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe" and/or "Turn Left at Orion"
- Get a pair of decent binoculars. You'll have them forever and they have uses beyond astronomy if interest wanes.
- The "Zero Gravity" folding lawn chairs that you can get at Walmart and other places are awesome for using binoculars. You can lay almost flat with them and they are very comfortable. It's much easier to hold heavy binoculars and avoid straining your neck when you're reclined that far.
- Get several *red* LED flashlights. They'll preserve your night vision when you're in the field, and kids might think it's neat to have their own to use. You can find cheap plastic ones that have a dimmer built in and run off 9V batteries, with a lanyard to wear around your neck. They're great.
- Warm clothes and boots. You'd be surprised how cold you can get when sitting motionless in an empty field at night.

After that I'd look at buying a basic 6" dobsonian. It's big enough to see some interesting things but still relatively easy to manage. The largest piece in an Orion XT6 weighs less than 21 pounds. Personally I would skip the fancy add ons like digital setting circles. Spend your money on good eyepieces instead. Hunting through the sky without assistance can be a lot of fun. With a 6" dob you might also want to get an "astronomy observing chair"; these specialty chairs can quickly adjust their height and make it easy to sit close to the eyepiece and observe comfortably.

10 dollar CVS scope (1)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | about three weeks ago | (#47739917)

For $10, you can pick up a very very basic refractor with a flimsy tripod mount at any CVS. This will let you look at the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn, which are the most interesting things to look at without going up several orders of magnitude in price. It's dead simple to set up and focus, and the challenge of wrestling it into position so you can see the planets, and see them move away as the Earth rotates, will give you the chance to teach reasonably mature kids about basic astronomy and to gauge their interest without spending a lot of money. If you live in particularly dark country, you can just barely begin to see things like the Orion Nebula with this kind of scope (though it looks like a smudge--we've all been spoiled by nice pictures from 2m+ telescopes mated to CCD cameras).

Good Binoculars and Stellarium (1)

bswarm (2540294) | about three weeks ago | (#47739981)

I use a Pentax 20x50 Binocular more than my low/mid priced refractor telescope. Also Stellarium www.stellarium.org is a good free planetarium for win/mac/linux PCs.

Get the iPad app "Star walk" instead (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47740001)

After they spend a couple hours with inexpensive, but quality software, they will have more interest in rising to the many opportunities by just going outside with bare eyeballs.

beware of telescopes for birding (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47740025)

Whatever you buy MUST have a spotting scope or crosshairs or gun sight attached. I once bought a nice 4-6" reflector for $50 at a science museum. On a clear night, I couldn't even find the moon! Also, a steady stand it pretty important.

Galileoscope? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47740043)

I don't have this, but remembered the site when I saw your question:

http://galileoscope.org/

Interesting question (1)

jd (1658) | about three weeks ago | (#47740149)

Reflectors with an effective collecting area under 4" are worthless. That's everything from the aperture to mirror. That's going to put you well over $50. Adequate reflectors don't exist under $250, except on special clearance.

You are better off buying a remotely controllable reflector with a webcam fitted to the eyepiece and having a group of kids take turns steering it. Firstly, it's cheaper overall. Secondly, you don't have breakages to worry about. Third, kids prefer nice, warm rooms to freezing pitch-black country parks well away from light pollution, hot drinks, facilities, ...

Not only is this more likely to be attractive to kids, parents who invest $50 in a group effort are much more likely to make sure they get their money's worth than if they spent the same amount just on their kid. It's all about the attitude of not wanting to pay for someone else's stuff. It's a vulgar, uncouth attitude, but that makes it easily exploitable for everyone's gain.

Almost forgot. (0)

jd (1658) | about three weeks ago | (#47740169)

DO NOT BOTHER WITH REFRACTORS!

(Yes, that was intentionally shouted. If anyone actually needs to be told that, they're not to be trusted with gentleness.)

Refractors will always produce low-quality images. A good pair of binoculars will cost less and show you more. Seriously. Refractors are for the gullible. Powerful binoculars will not only be cheaper, they will collect more light, they will be far more rugged, they will be easier to align, and they will be easier for kids to look through.

Re:Almost forgot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47740267)

I'm sure you're aware that binos are just two refractors mounted side by side?

Cheap helpers for cheap scopes (2)

Ken_g6 (775014) | about three weeks ago | (#47740177)

Let's assume you got a cheap telescope. What can you do to make it work better for you?

1. Get astronomy software. Someone else mentioned Stellarium [stellarium.org] ; I guess that's the go-to PC software now. I don't know what's available for phones. But make sure it shows an object's altitude in degrees.
2. Get a red flashlight. I guess these days people use red LEDs; back when I was a kid the place to go was army surplus for those bent army flashlights with colored filters.
3. Get a protractor. It's cheap, it's plastic, it shows degrees, and it's probably on sale now for back-to-school.
4. Get a piece of thin string and a weight, such as a nut for a bolt.

Tie the piece of string through the center hole on the protractor, and tie the other end to the weight. Now tape the protractor to the body of the telescope, preferably along some piece that sticks out near the tripod so it's aligned properly. To get an object in the scope, find its current altitude on your astronomy software. Then tilt the scope so the string's position matches that altitude on the protractor, using the red flashlight to see the string and protractor. You might have to do some math to get the matching number on the protractor. (90-x degrees - see, kids, that's what math is good for!) Now you mostly have to pan the scope, which is usually easier than tilting.

One other idea that came to mind while writing this: Take the jack stand out of your car, tape it to one leg of the tripod, and you might be able to use that for fine tilt adjustments. I've never tried this idea, though.

Consider binoculars? (2)

Ogre332 (145645) | about three weeks ago | (#47740227)

I wanted to get something that my daughter and I could use to view the moon with but didn't want to spend a large amount of money in the event that she was not interested. I also wanted something that was easy to set up and portable (we live in the suburbs between two major cities, so to get a decent dark sky we need to drive a couple of hours). After doing some research I decided to go with the Celestron SkyMaster 15x70 [amazon.com] .

These have several advantages:
- They're very portable and compact
- They can be mounted on a tripod
- They can be used for non-astronomical viewing
- It's only a $60 investment

Ultimately for us, it was the best of both worlds.

My first telescope... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about three weeks ago | (#47740245)

was a 6" dobsonian and I still think it was an excellent choice. It sounds like your budget is lower so smaller dobs would likely fit better. As others have stated you are probably looking more for a reflector not refractor or a few pairs of decent binocs. Really it sounds like binoculars is what your really after as you will be able to get multiples and require so little work.

6 year old testimonial (2)

Bayoudegradeable (1003768) | about three weeks ago | (#47740269)

my daughter (now seven) began using a 4.5" dob last winter. A member of the astronomy group that I belong to was pretty blown away that she could easily find the Orion Nebula on her own. She loves scanning the sky on her own and has stumbled across a few Messier objects this way. It's on the ground so it's almost immune to being knocked over. It's a fairly solid tube, so if it's knocked over it likely won't be a big deal. It has no moving parts, it's the perfect height for her, it's easy to move and the general 'point and shoot' nature makes it very easy to use. No batteries, no electronics, no alignment needed. (I collimate it once in a while and that takes all of 5 minutes) Also, the set up is ridiculously easy. I see her outgrowing this one day. There's a 12" truss dob waiting for her when she does.
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