By Mike P. Usher
This morning, perhaps as you are walking the dog, look to the east and you have a chance to see three planets – Venus, Saturn and Mercury. Venus and Saturn are easy to spot, along with the first magnitude star Spica. Mercury is much more difficult as it is so close to the horizon. Wait a few minutes and it will rise higher – but wait too long and it will be lost in the morning twilight. Probably your best chance is to wait until November 30 when it reaches it’s farthest distance from the Sun (as seen from Earth).
This is the time of year when everyone asks me, “what kind of telescope should I buy for my spouse/child/ grandchild?” The quick answer is none; take the money set aside for a telescope and purchase binoculars instead. There are two reasons for this: first, the expectations of what you will see through the telescope far exceed the reality. Second, a telescope is a precision engineered optical device and such devices are not inexpensive.
Still, with Christmas time fast approaching and money burning holes in pockets, people still insist on buying telescopes. I’ll throw out a few prices so you can help orient yourself and see what is a fair deal versus a rip-off. The prices given are for stripped down basic models with decent optics. Specifically, models called Newtonian reflectors with Dobsonian mounts (NOT tripods), minimum of accessories and NO electronics. Dollar for dollar they are the best buys today. Add $200 and up if you want electronics. Please note all telescopes come with a very steep learning curve! In my lifetime, I have never seen a pre-teen have the patience required to master a telescope although they really do enjoy viewing with one.
Quality telescopes are sold by aperture – the diameter of the mirror (or lens); all sizes given below are in reference to the aperture. The length of the telescope is four to eight times larger than the aperture, plus the mount.
6 inch (150mm) – the smallest size considered useful by amateurs, about $300. Easily portable, an excellent size for young teens.
8 inch (200mm) – possibly the most common size used by amateurs, about $350. Very portable, widely owned by amateurs of both genders and all ages.
10 inch (250mm) – recently became the average size used by amateurs, about $575. Starting to push the boundary of what can be transported by a standard sized car. They weigh about 50 pounds, and are rather bulky.
12 inch (300mm) – about $1100. You need a pickup truck or SUV here for transportation. They weigh about 80 pounds and are rather bulky.
For additional useful information and a list of manufacturers, please drop me an e-mail at usher34105@ earthlink.net
See you next time!
Mr. Usher is President of the Everglades Astronomical Society which meets the second Tuesday each month during the summer at 7:00PM in the Books-A-Million, at the Mercato, Naples.