Seeing mountain ranges on the moon, the Red Spot on Jupiter, or the rings of Saturn for the first time on your own telescope is just really awe inspiring. It is also always an event to make the trek out of town for dark skies by yourself for a peaceful retreat, or to share the beauty of our galaxy with friends and family. We think a few things are important to make your journey into amateur astronomy or astrophotography rewarding from the start.
Get a quality telescope
While telescopes that can be had for a hundred bucks or so can be fun to play around with and may be enticing for a quick entry into the hobby, it may discourage you from the start with blurry and less satisfactory images. You also can easily spend $10,000 on a great telescope, but like most things (especially on Undersome) there is a middle ground where bang-for-the-buck fights diminishing returns. Some inexperienced new buyers get telescopes based on power, but this is not really what matters since any telescope can gain power based on a different eye piece magnification, what you want is aperture. Aperture gives more surface for light to bounce off of, and makes dim objects brighter with more detail, because it is receiving more light and ultimately more information on the subject. Since planets and moons only reflect light, you want to gather as much as possible. We will recommend a great starter telescope further down in this article that will actually have the perfect balance, and let you see highly detailed views of things like the Red Spot on Jupiter and the rings of Saturn.
Be able to find the things you want to see easily
Unless you just want to see the Moon, finding what you in a big sea of starts can be a chore if you don’t know were to look and most people want to spend more time looking at celestial points of interest over looking at charts by flashlight, adjusting and calibrating and guessing. To find what you want to see you can get a little help from newer technologies. Systems like SkyAlign and others can automatically point you to exactly what you want to see at any given time so you can spend more time looking then guessing. If you ever feel like this is cheating, you can always turn it off and get out the flashlight and charts, but you probably would rather spend more time looking at the fun stuff.
Keep it portable
Big telescopes collect more light and give better views, but there is a cutoff point from where you can simply grab your equipment and head outside as opposed to making it a production with extra people to do lifting, rolling dollies, and basically making a big production out of a move. This is supposed to be fun, so keep things light and travel-ready, and you will actually want to get outside to use your equipment more often.
Get some accessories to expand your options
A few things that don’t add a lot of cost but really add to the experience and convenience would be an extra battery pack for your star finding apparatus, filter lenses for viewing certain objects like the Moon with greater detail, and an SLR camera adapter to expand into astrophotography so you can share your amazing shots with others.
A highly rated starter telescope for professional results
The Celestron NexStar 6 SE is a Schmidt-Cassegrain style 6″ Catadioptric telescope that gathers enough light for beautiful views of brighter deep space objects like globular clusters, nebulas, bright galaxies, as well as the local planets, and weighs in at just 30 pounds for mobility. It includes a StarPointer finderscope to help with alignment and accurately locating objects along with SkyAlign that allows you to align on any three bright celestial objects, for fast and easy alignment of nearly 40,000 objects. This telescope continues to receive rave reviews for quality, clarity, and ease of use. You can match it with your favorite SLR camera and go even further by breaking into astrophotography with attachments listed below. This telescope runs about $800.
Accessories for even more engagement
Accessories are not included in our base price, as not everyone will want to use a camera or need an extra battery pack if viewing from home, but they are added for your information if you do want to expand a bit. You can still add a few of these and stay under $1000 for your setup.
This kit includes various Plossl eyepieces for extended contrast and resolution, some Barlow lenses for more power combinations, and planetary and Moon filters for better views during certian phases of brightness. It would be $700 to buy these individually, so it is a no-brainer to get the set at about $127.
Keep the power going on your telescope’s electronics while in the field. It includes an LED flashlight and cigarette lighter in and out ports. Pick one up for about $60.
Share photos of your finds with these adapters for your SLR camera. We have listed the ones that fit the NexStar 6 for the most popular cameras from Celestron via Amazon, and you will need both the universal T-adapter and a T-ring made for your camera.
Celestron 93625 Universal 1.25-inch Camera T-Adapter for all 35mm camera T-rings (about $18, need for all cameras)
Celestron 93419 T-Ring for 35 mm Canon EOS (about $8)
Celestron 93402 T-Ring for Nikon Camera (about $8)
Search for other camera T-rings here.