When new students register for our online astronomy courses, one of the first questions they ask me is if I can recommend a good telescope.
Our courses do not require use of a telescope—as that could make them cost-prohibitive for many families—but some students and parents still want a nice telescope to explore the sky.
The Truth About Telescopes
Here’s the thing: a good hobbyist telescope is often fairly expensive (around $500-$2000) and involves a big learning curve. If your thoughts on telescopes are “go big or go home,” then you’re not only going to need to fork over a lot of cash on the telescope and all the extras (power tank, carrying bag, scope, GPS, computer, etc.), but you’re also committing to learning how it works.
Is a hobbyist telescope cool? You bet.
Does it take a lot of money and time? Absolutely.
But if that’s what you’re looking for, here’s a list of recommendations for hobbyists:
Another option is to go with a kids’ telescope. This is definitely less expensive (most are less than $100). The issue with these is you don’t always see a whole lot with them. If you’re looking for a good first-time telescope for your littles, here’s our recommendations for kiddos:
- Celestron 21024 FirstScope Telescope (for 6 and up)
- Levenhuk LabZZ MTB3 Microscope & Telescope & Binoculars Kit (for 6 and up)
- Educational Insights GeoSafari Omega Refractor Telescope (for 10 and up)
- Celestron AstroFi 90 Wi-Fi Refractor Wireless Refracting Telescope (for 10 and up)
In between this would be a decent amateur telescope. This would be a great way to go. These are moderately priced ($300-500), and they are easier to use that a hobbyist telescope. If that’s your cup of tea, then see this list of amateur recommendations.
- Celestron AstroFi 102 Wi-Fi Maksutov Wireless Reflecting Telescope
- Meade StarNavigator NG
- Orion 27191 StarBlast 6i IntelliScope Reflector Telescope
My Recommendation: Binoculars
If you’re looking for something good for both parents and kids, we recommend getting a good pair of sky-gazing binoculars.
- You’re using both eyes. This gives your brain a better view of the objects you see.
- The images are right-side-up. Telescopes (because they often use mirrors) invert the images you see, but what you see in binoculars are more intuitive as far as comparing what you see to a map of the sky.
- Kids find them easier to use—if you’ve ever asked a kid to close one eye and line up their other eye just the right place in a telescope eye-piece, you know what I’m talking about.
- There’s little-to-no learning curve.
- There’s almost no set-up and take-down time. This is great for those cold nights when you just want a quick glance at the sky.
- Binoculars are versatile. If you ever want to use them for bird-watching or other nature-viewing, they can be used for that as well.
- They are often cheaper.
Standard sky-viewing binoculars are 7-power—the same power used by the military today—and this would be good for a first-time buyer. But if you can find a 10 or 15 power, these will magnify things wonderfully!
Make sure, whatever you buy, you also get a tripod to go with the binoculars. This will keep your image steady.
Find a good store that carries binoculars so you can try them out—how they feel in your hands, how they feel on your eyes, etc.—and see which one has a good balance of price and performance. Here are a few we recommend you try out:
- Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15×70 Binoculars with Tripod Adapter
- BARSKA Gladiator 12-60×70 Zoom Binocular w/Tripod Adapter
- BARSKA Gladiator 20-100×70 Zoom Binocular w/Tripod Adapter