Christmas Telescopes

We just received the Costco Christmas sales mailer. Every year there is a telescope featured, promoted as a gift. Not just slightly featured either, but included on the front page of the flyer, the first thing you see when you pick the mailer up.

Celestron Astromaster 130EQ
A typical inexpensive telescope, the Celestron Astromaster 130EQ

The telescope this year is a Celestron Astromaster 130EQ, the typical small reflector on an equatorial mount. The deal includes several eyepieces, filters, and a cell phone adapter for afocal photography.

Those of us with long practical experience just cringe when we see such telescopes. These cheap telescopes are usually more of a frustration to would be amateur astronomers than useful. Cheap ‘scopes have deterred more folks from the hobby than we will ever know.

We used to call such telescopes ‘department store telescopes’ in a very negative way. With the demise of department stores it is now stores like Costco and Walmart that now sell such telescopes.

These light German equatorial mounts are usually wobbly and difficult for beginners to use. There really is no need for a small mount to be equatorial unless you are doing long exposure astrophotography, and that requires a motor drive and more stability than such a light mount provides. A more stable alt-az mount is far more user friendly and would be a better choice.

I have repeated the line so many times… A telescope is one of those things when you want to buy a decent one or do not bother. A cheap telescope will get used once or twice, then sit in a closet for years.

Personally I think at least 5 or 6″ aperture is the minimum for a beginner’s telescope, about 125 or 150mm. Anything less will put a lot of the best nebulae and clusters out of reach, reducing them to dim shadows of the beauty they provide in a larger ‘scope. If you can afford it buy an 8″ telescope for your first.

Expect to pay at least $500-$1200 for an entry level telescope worth buying. If you can, get advice from someone with experience in the hobby before putting your money down.

Better yet, attend a few star parties with your local astronomy club to see for yourself what is available. No need to own a ‘scope to attend, generally folks will invite you to look through theirs and cheerfully answer your questions about the equipment.

If your price range is around $100, consider a good pair of binoculars instead. These will be more useful, can be used for stargazing, and much more.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

One thought on “Christmas Telescopes”

  1. Astromaster 130eq was my first telescope (still does), i was like three months learning about telescopes, so when finally bought it, it just takes me a few minutes and wait for a clear night to focus Jupiter and Saturn and the moon a few months later i found andromeda (very opaque), orion nebula (so beautiful), ptolemys starcluster, pleyades, venus (just a very brilliant small sphere), sun with a handmade filter with a eclipse glasses. And thats all by now. I still very happy with it. If you are thinking about buying, you have to learn how to use it in videos or manuals before your first time. of curse i want a new one, specially a computarized ecuatorial mount and a good camera. But my econmy and my location is a big problem :c …. regards everyone. David Rosado – Ecuador.

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