It's the holiday season. Prime time to buy a telescope, either for yourself or someone else. Unfortunately, it's also pitfall season for those getting a telescope for the first time.
Buying for a Youth
You know an intelligent, inquisitive young person. You want to give them a gift that encourages their interest in science, gives them access to the universe for their own study, and gives them a chance to stretch their mind. A telescope is a great choice. Iin astronomy, amateurs are as active in doing real science as the professionals. They may not have first hand access to new data from the Hubble Space Telescope, but there's a whole universe of stuff that pro scopes like the Hubble don't have the time to look at--that's where the amateur astronomers come in.
That first scope can be a blessing--or a disaster. A good scope, even of the most modest type, can be used to learn and grow and do real science. A bad scope can bury an interest in science and convince the poor youngster that they're "no good" at it.
Here are some prior articles I've written that apply to telescopes given as gifts:
If you read no other article, please read
Department Store Garbage Scopes.
Also, at least scan Telescope Mounts, What Not to Buy. It gives some common bad designs to avoid.
You'll also want to know about advertising claims that are misleading. High Magnification: Forget It!" explains why those claims are bogus, and what you should look for (telescopes don't work like microscopes, but advertisers take advantage of people who don't realize this.)
Glance over A Kids' Telescope, if you can.
You may also consider giving a pair of binoculars that are good for astronomy, rather than a telescope. Have a look at Starting Small.
Buying for Yourself
If you're buying for your own use, you'll want to have a look at the above, plus review the articles below:
First Telescope Economics
Don't Buy a Telescope That Doesn't Fit
Want to Test-Drive a Telescope?
Happy Holidays, and may all your astronomy purchases bring happiness and enlightenment.
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