If you’re fairly new to astronomy, starting out by buying a telescope is probably a bad idea. Here’s why:
1. They’re fiddly to learn and use.
You need to learn to assemble them, adjust them properly, learn what lenses to use for what objects, track planets across the sky.. in short, they’re intimidating. You’re likely to get overwhelmed, pack the telescope away and never look at the sky again.
2. They’re expensive.
A good telescope costs anything from a few hundred dollars to a couple of thousands. This is a lot of money to invest into a hobby you haven’t really explored yet.
3. They’re bulky.
Even the tiny telescopes that come in backpacks need some time to set up before they can be used. If something takes time and effort to assemble, you’re less likely to use it in the early stages.
4. You can only look through them with one eye.
Keeping one eye closed shuts off that entire side of your vision. This isn’t a problem once you know what you’re looking at, but you initially want to take in the sky with both eyes.
5. They aren’t an easy purchase to make.
There’s so much to consider when picking out a telescope – you need to think about your budget, your lifestyle, your commitment to maintenance, and most importantly, what you want to look at. And how can you know what you want to look at unless you have some idea of what’s out there?
Don’t get me wrong, telescopes are amazing instruments. They will give you stunning, unparalleled views of stars, planets and galaxies. They just aren’t ideal for novices. You need to learn a fair bit about navigating the sky and how optical systems work before you take the plunge and buy one.
So how do you get started?
A small pair of binoculars is an easy entry point into astronomy. You can think of binoculars as two tiny telescopes mounted next to each other. In fact, this is what they are. Involving substantially less fiddling.
Binoculars solve pretty much all the problems that telescopes pose at the early stage:
1. They’re ridiculously easy to use.
You literally just need to lift them up to your eyes and look through them. There’s some skill to this – I’ll cover that in a future post.
2. They’re cheaper than telescopes.
You’d be surprised at how much you can see through a cheap $15 pair. Or even better, you probably have an old pair lying around the house.
3. They’re light and portable.
Smaller pairs can be comfortably held by hand. Also you’re more likely to just grab them whenever you go out, they aren’t heavy and don’t need ‘setting up’ as such.
4. You’ll see double what you would with a telescope.
You’ll have a much wider field of view since you’re using both your eyes to look through them instead of just one. The difference is that the objects will be less magnified.
5. BONUS: They’re versatile.
You can use your binoculars on safari, to birdwatch, even spy on people. If you try stargazing and you find it sucks, you can always use them for something else.
In short, start out with a well-chosen pair of binoculars. You’ll learn the sky quickly with them, and you’ll find yourself using them often, even when you have a telescope.
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