Are you a budding amateur astronomer looking for the best telescope? There are a few things that you should keep in mind before heading out to the store and spending your good and hard earned money.
Firstly, remember that aperture is the key to a telescope’s performance, not magnification. Aperture determines the telescopes ability to capture light and this, over and above magnification, will determine how good the image is that you see. Thus, the best telescope, will have an excellent aperture to match its intended use. Magnification, by its very nature, will simply enhance the image that is already there.
So, if there is a faint and blurry image (as will be achieved with a cheaper and smaller aperture telescope), it will just become a bigger faint and blurry image. An easy rule of thumb to remember regarding magnification is… on a normal night with reasonable conditions, expect 50x magnification per inch of aperture. So, for example, a 2.5″ telescope will have a magnification of 125x and a 6″ telescope’s magnification would reasonably be expected at 300x.
Secondly, telescope size, telescope design and telescope price will all be dictated by what you want to achieve, what you want to see, how much you want to spend (not just in money terms, but also in terms of time and effort), how technical you need / want your telescope to be and how portable you want to be. Answer these questions first before heading to the store because the best telescope for you will be the one that you use the most.
Lastly, a great way of experiencing astronomy, learning about telescopes and finding the best telescope for you is to join an astronomy club. There are clubs all over the world in every major (and many smaller) cities. Most clubs have observation nights or ‘star-parties’ and you can come along and learn and trial different telescopes to find the one best suited to your needs. You can look up clubs (and telescope information) in an astronomy magazine too. Two very good and popular ones are Astronomy and Sky & Telescope.