Tonight, just after sunset we have two planets in the east. Venus shines brightly in the twilight, but if you happen to be on the beach you can catch a glimpse of Mercury. If you can check the sky out a week earlier than the date on the chart Mercury will be quite a bit closer to Venus and thus somewhat easier to locate. From our point of view in the Solar System Mercury is dropping towards the Sun and will soon pass (nearly) in front of it.
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 Christmastime 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, 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 4 to 8 times larger than the aperture, plus the mount.
Six inch (150mm) – the smallest size considered useful by amateurs, about $300. Easily portable, an excellent size for young teens. Eight 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.
See you next time!