Picture it: El Paso, 1984. A young girl opens a gift from her uncle, a scientist by trade, to find a brand new, small reflector telescope. This one, important gift would fuel her imagination and inspire her to pursue the study of science for the rest of her life.
That young girl was me.
Fast forward to now: your child has asked for a telescope for Christmas. They are bright and curious, so, naturally, you turn to Google to find the best telescope in order to fuel their imagination.
Like most parents, you want your child to have the best that money can buy. But not all telescopes were created equally. Some are complicated and can even be frustrating to use.
So, to help you pick the right one for your child (or even yourself), here are some suggestions for making the right choice that will continue to encourage your child’s interest in science and the natural world:
Bigger is not always better. When looking online for a telescope, you might see some that have higher magnification. And while a claim of 600x magnification might sound impressive, the truth is that even the most experienced users do a lot of observing at powers under 100x.
In fact, a smaller magnification of 50x to 75x is enough to show you awesome sights, like the rings of Saturn, the four largest moons of Jupiter, and crisp views of the craters on the moon. And even if your child wants to look at galaxies, nebulae, or star clusters, the image in a smaller powered scope will be brighter and the field of view will be larger.
Not to mention that the telescope, itself, will be easier to point.
Technology can over complicate things. While it might seem exciting to have a computer controlled telescope that will automatically point at the wonders of the universe, these can be complicated to use. Not to mention that they require power to function correctly. This means that anywhere you use it, you will need a power source and a laptop computer for them to work properly.
A simple point and look design will not only lower frustration but will teach your child how to use the stars as their guide. They will learn more about constellations, planet locations, and cardinal directions.
Little Timmy can impress his friends by pointing up with confidence because he knows that shining red “star” is really the planet Mars. Not to mention that these types of telescopes are perfect not only for backyard use, but also for camping trips, because they can be taken literally anywhere.
It’s not the length of the scope, but the size of its aperture that matters. The mirror (or lens) is the most important specification of a telescope. It is the part that gathers the light to form an image. Most beginner scopes will have apertures that range from 2.4 inches all the way up to 6 or 8 inches. A larger aperture can mean a brighter and sharper image.
This means you will see more of whatever you have the scope pointed at; but be careful about the size and weight. For first time users, try to stay between 4 and 6 inches.
This will insure the telescope is light enough so that it’s easy to set up and use, but still powerful enough to impress anyone.
Now that you have purchased the best telescope for your budding, young scientist, you’ll need to teach them how to use it. Not sure how? That’s okay. The Museum of Space History in Alamogordo will be holding a free telescope workshop from 10am to noon on Saturday, December 29th.
So, bring yourself, the new telescope, and your aspiring astronomer for some great tips on how to set it up and use it.
For more information on this workshop or any other questions, you can call the museum at 575-437-2840, or toll free at 877-333-6589. Or you can visit their website and on Facebook.