About Budget Astronomy

“What’s a good telescope to get for stargazing?”.  It’s a question that I’ve been asked by friends and relatives more times than I care to remember.  My usual counter questions are “What sort of things do you want to see and how much money do you want to spend?”.  The reality is that for a really good astronomical telescope and mount that will give superb detailed views of planets, stars or nebula you will need to part with at least £300 (and you can spend a darn sight more than that).  

My own experience has been that most first time stargazers are looking to spend no more than about £50-£100 on viewing equipment.  Often this initial purchase is for a child (or a big child) who might well be ‘into it’ for either a lifetime or for about 15 minutes, so advising them to spend £300+ on a 6 inch Dobsonian Telescope isn’t really going to fly.  

The problem is that buying a cheaper telescope or set of binoculars can often disappoint as they frequently provide poor images, are difficult to use, have wobbly tripods, poor eyepieces and/or primary optics.  Many claim outrageously high magnification capabilities which are never going to be practical in the real world.  What most people who are new to astronomy want is to quickly and simply get up and running with a telescope or set of binoculars which will give them some interesting views of the more easily visible objects that will ignite their enthusiasm for more and give them an idea as to whether astronomy is just a passing phase or a new lifestyle.  It doesn’t have to provide knockout views of the Martian surface or have the punch to be able to make out the detail of the Bubble Nebula which is 11,000 light years away.  

My criteria of what a good, low cost telescope should be able to do is provided below.  It should –

  • be easy and pleasant to use
  • be stable on its mount or tripod
  • provide crisp views of lunar surface features
  • have the ability to spot Jupiter’s largest moons (although they will still just be points of light)
  • pick out the Andromeda Galaxy and some of the more easily viewable nebula

Not all low cost equipment is poor and many telescopes and binoculars will fulfill the above remit well.  The purpose of Budget Astronomy is to independently review lower cost astronomy equipment and sort out the wheat from the chaff.