“The heavens declare the glory of God.” Psalm 19:1
Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to investigate why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity, and they never let go. At age seventeen he was the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver’s Royal Astronomical Society.
Do you have a budding astronomer in the home? The investment of a telescope is something the entire family can enjoy. New technology has helped costs come down significantly in recent years, but how do you know which one to buy? Here are some general guidelines.
1. A scope’s usefulness is directly linked to the quality of the optics. For best results, you’ll want a “reflector” telescope (not a “refractor”).
2. The key statistic about a telescope is not its magnification but its aperture. So you’ll want to get the telescope with the widest aperture (not magnification) that you can afford. Most objects do not need magnification so much as brightening. Telescopes of larger aperture gather more light and thus show dimmer objects.
For a good first telescope, Dr. Ross recommends a Dobsonian with at least a 6” aperture. Another excellent option (and more convenient to operate) is a Schmidt-Cassegrain.
3. A telescope’s value is also influenced by a second factor: the atmosphere. Stargazing will be extremely limited if you live in a major metropolitan area. Ideally, you’ll want to use your telescope far away from light “pollution.” This will greatly enhance your ability to see distant space bodies.
4. Dr. Ross strongly encourages beginners to consider the extra investment of a telescope with an automated star-finder (GPS). This accessory will make the stargazing experience more rewarding because you’ll be able to find specific space objects much faster.
5. Additional quality eyepieces are another good investment. Much of the frustration of cheap scopes comes from their tunnel-vision eyepieces.
6. Some scopes also have attachments for digital cameras, which will allow you to capture images of your discoveries. A good set of filters may also be a useful accessory. Filters can make faint objects, such as planets, galaxies, and nebulae, easier to see.
Most major cities have amateur astronomy clubs that host star parties, often for free. Enthusiastic veterans love to help new people get involved in their beloved hobby.
Finally, be aware that the space images you are used to seeing are generally from the Hubble Space Telescope. Objects won’t look quite as vivid through a home telescope. Even so, a modest investment can make your home the place to be on clear nights as you share a closer view of God’s creation.