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Monday December 17th, 2018

A Telescope for Christmas

Simple Rules for Buying a Telescope as a Gift

(Alamogordo, New Mexico, December 10, 2018) – Well, it’s happened. Your bright and curious child has asked for a telescope for Christmas. Your first impulse will be to Google your favorite internet retailer and buy the first thing that looks reasonable. That might work out, but an uninformed choice will probably result in a gift that ends up squashing your child’s budding interest because it’s too complicated and frustrating to use. Below are a couple of guidelines that will help you make the right choice and encourage your child’s interest in science and the natural world.

IMAGE: A telescope makes a great gift for budding young astronomers but it’s sometimes hard to decide what the best telescope is for a first time user. Three simple rules can help make your gift one that inspires and excites the whole family. (Credit: NASA/JPL)

A telescope makes a great gift for budding young astronomers but it’s sometimes hard to decide what the best telescope is for a first time user. Three simple rules can help make your gift one that inspires and excites the whole family. (Credit: NASA/JPL)

Rule number one: avoid high magnification. A claim of 600X magnification might sound impressive but the truth is, experienced telescope users do a lot of observing at powers under 100X. A magnification of 50x to 75X is enough to show you sights such as Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons and a wealth of detail on the moon. For objects such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters, the lowest possible power is often used. The image will be brighter, the field of view will be larger and the telescope easier to point.

Rule number two: avoid excessive complication and technology. Many small telescopes offer computer control and extra gadgets, even at the entry level. It might sound great to have an instrument that will automatically show you the wonders of the universe but the truth is, these types of instruments can be complicated to set up and require power for use. They also remove the wonder of learning the night sky and the thrill of discovering objects on your own. Simple point and look designs will have a much lower frustration factor with any child figuring out how to use it very quickly. Look for non-powered alt/az or Dobsonian designs.

Rule number three: Aperture rules! The diameter of the element that gathers the light and forms the image, the mirror or lens, is the most important specification a telescope has. In beginner telescopes you’ll see apertures ranging from 2.4” up to 6” or 8”. A larger aperture means a brighter and sharper image. You will simply see more no matter what you’re looking at, just be careful about size and weight. For a beginner, an instrument between 4” and 6” will be ideal, light and small enough to be easy to set up yet powerful enough to impress.

Remember, the best telescope is the one that get used! If you keep the above rules in mind, you’ll give your child the key to unlocking an interest in nature and science that will last a lifetime.

Now that you know what type of telescope you’ll need for your aspiring young astronomer, the next step is teaching him or her how to use it. On Saturday, December 29, Museum of Space History educators will present a free telescope workshop from 10:00 am until noon. Bring yourself, your aspiring astronomer and the new telescope for some great basic tips on how to set it up and use it.

The New Mexico Museum of Space History, a Smithsonian Affiliate, is a division of the NM Department of Cultural Affairs. For more information, call 575-437-2840 or toll free 1-877-333-6589 or visit the website at www.nmspacemuseum.org. Like us at: www.facebook.com/NMSpaceMuseum/