Tips on Buying a Beginner’s Telescope from the New Mexico Museum of Space History

December 1, 2019 Carlos Arreola

 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. 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 or visit the website at www.nmspacemuseum.org. Like us at: www.facebook.com/NMSpaceMuseum/

PHOTO CUTLINE: An amateur astronomer exploring the night sky. 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. (Photo courtesy Air and Space Magazine)

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About the New Mexico Museum of Space History: www.nmspacemuseum.org

TheNew Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo is a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, under the leadership of the Governor’s Commission to the New Mexico Museum of Space History. Programs and exhibits are supported by the International Space Hall of Fame Foundation through the generous support of donors.

Dedicated October 5, 1976, as the International Space Hall of Fame, the New Mexico Museum of Space History’s mission is to inspire and educate, to promote and preserve, and to honor the pioneers of space exploration.

A Smithsonian Affiliate, the museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), and stresses the significant role that the state of New Mexico has played in the development of the U.S. Space Program through collecting, preserving, and interpreting significant artifacts relevant to the history of space. The museum campus facility includes: the Museum of Space History, International Space Hall of Fame, John P. Stapp Air & Space Park, Daisy Track, Clyde W. Tombaugh Education Center, New Horizons Dome Theater and Planetarium, Astronaut Memorial Garden, Hubbard Space Science Research Building, and Museum Support Center. 

3198 State Route 2001 | Alamogordo, NM 88310 (Mailing: PO Box 5430, Alamogordo, NM 88311-5430) For more information: (575) 437-2840 or toll free 1-877-333-6589. Hours 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.  Monday and Wednesday-Saturday, Noon – 5:00 p.m. Sunday (closed Tuesday), closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.  Events, news releases and images about activities at the New Mexico Museum of Space History and other divisions in the Department of Cultural Affairs can be accessed at www.media.newmexicoculture.org

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