Photo courtesy Air and Space Magazine
It’s that holiday time of year again and your aspiring young astronomer is begging for a telescope for Christmas.
No need to panic! It’s a wonderful thing that the spark of curiosity is there. If you nurture that spark with the right purchase choice, it could turn into a life-long hobby or more.
For most of us it’s an on-line trip to the internet, buying the first thing that looks reasonable. That might work out, but an uninformed choice could result in a gift that ends up squashing your child’s budding interest because it’s too complicated or frustrating to use.
Below are a couple of guidelines that will help you make the right choice and encourage your child’s interest in science and the natural world.
Rule number one: Avoid high magnification. A claim of 600X magnification might sound impressive but the truth is, experienced telescope users do a lot of observing at powers under 100X. A magnification of 50x to 75X is enough to show you sights such as Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons and a wealth of detail on the moon. For objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters, the lowest possible power is often used. The image will be brighter, the field of view will be larger and the telescope easier to point.
Rule number two: Avoid excessive complication and technology. It might sound great to have an instrument that will automatically show you the wonders of the universe but the truth is, these types of instruments can be complicated and time-consuming to set up and require power for use. They also remove the wonder of learning the night sky on your own. Something that, once learned, will be a friend for a lifetime. Simple point and look designs will have a low frustration factor with any child figuring out how to use it very quickly. Look for non-powered alt/az or Dobsonian designs.
Rule number three: Aperture rules! The diameter of the element that gathers the light and forms the image, the mirror or lens, is the most important specification a telescope has. In beginner telescopes you’ll see apertures ranging from 2.4″ up to 6″ or 8″. A larger aperture means a brighter and sharper image. You will simply see more no matter what you’re looking at, just be careful about size and weight. For a beginner, an instrument between 4″ and 6″ will be ideal, light and small enough to be easy to set up yet powerful enough to impress.
“Remember, the best telescope is the one that get used…If you keep the above rules in mind, you’ll give your child the key to unlocking an interest in nature and science that will last a lifetime,” Museum officials shared.
“Make sure your new astronomer has the right tools and the New Mexico Museum of Space History will help teach the right ways to use them. Mark your calendar for the Telescope Workshop for new users on Saturday, January 4, beginning at 10:00 am in the Tombaugh Education Center and Theater on the museum’s campus. The workshop is free and instruction will be provided by museum educators.”
The New Mexico Museum of Space History, a Smithsonian Affiliate, is a division of the NM Department of Cultural Affairs. For more information, call 575-437-2840 or toll free 1-877-333-6589, visit the website or like the museum’s Facebook page.
Tips courtesy New Mexico Museum of Space History