If you’re new to astronomy, starting out by buying a telescope is probably a bad idea. There are a number of reasons for this:
1. Learning to use a telescope properly takes time. There are nuances with assembly, adjustment and care that can be intimidating if you’re learning your way around the sky simultaneously.
2. Good telescopes are expensive. Your investment will range from a few hundred dollars to a couple of thousands. This is a lot of money to invest into a hobby you haven’t properly explored yet.
3. Telescopes are bulky and need effort to set up. Even the small telescopes that come in backpacks need time and energy to assemble before they can be used. If something isn’t simple and intuitive to use in the early stages, you’re less likely to make use of it.
4. You can only look through them with one eye. Keeping one eye closed shuts off one entire side of your vision. You basically lose half of the seeing power of your eyes. While you’re learning, it’s more ideal to take in the sky with both eyes.
5. It’s not an easy purchase to make. There are many factors to consider when picking out a telescope. You need a clear idea of your budget, your lifestyle, your commitment to maintenance, and most importantly, what you want to look at. And you can’t know what you enjoy observing until you know 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. Binoculars are basically two tiny telescopes mounted next to each other.
Binoculars solve nearly all the problems that telescopes pose in early stages:
1. Binoculars are easy to use. Once you can focus and aim them properly, you just need to lift them up to your eyes and look.
2. They are much cheaper than telescopes. You likely have an old pair lying around the house. If not, even the cheap supermarket pairs reveal so much more than you can see with your eyes.
3. Binoculars are light and portable. Smaller pairs can be comfortably held by hand. You are also more likely to just grab them whenever you go out. They are light, portable, and don’t need setting up.
4. You have a wider field of view than a telescope, since you’re using both your eyes to look through them instead of just one. The only difference is that the objects will be less magnified, and you can’t change lenses to vary magnification.
If you buy them and find that astronomy isn’t for you, your binoculars won’t go to waste. They can be used on safari, or for birdwatching.
In summary, the best instrument to start out with is a well-chosen pair of binoculars. You’ll learn the sky quickly with them, and will find yourself using them often, even after you get a telescope.
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