The night sky from Sunset to Sunrise is a realm of beauty and wonder. The Moon, Stars and Planets can capture the imagination of a child (or any adult). If you have the have the opportunity to see it away from city lights on a Moon-less night, a child can be amazed at the overwhelming number of stars that are visible and the brilliance of the Milky Way.
A children’s telescope will reveal greater detail and other magnificence objects that are not visible to the unaided eye. The Moon’s craters, the Moons around Jupiter, the Rings of Saturn, the Pleiades star cluster, and our nearest Galaxy Andromeda are a few of the wonderful objects to observe repeatedly with a childrens telescope.
Childrens Telescope - How to Choose and Buy
All telescopes, even children’s telescopes, are of two basic types. Refracting telescopes use a lens for gathering the light. Reflecting telescopes use a mirror. For a childrens telescope, each will provide wonderful observations. Typically a larger telescope will use a mirror.
In choosing the telescope, the child’s ability and interest in using the telescope should be considered. The child should be able to understand how to set up, use and store the telescope. All telescopes can be set up and pointed for observing an object in the sky. Typically the more expensive telescopes have features that facilitate and enhance this capability.
For a Children’s Telescope, factors to consider are:
(1) Cost – A beginner’s childrens telescope that provides an introduction to observing the most well known astronomical objects such as the Moon, planets and bright stars will cost approximately $50. An intermediate children’s telescope that has a larger lens or mirror and hand controls used to observed slightly fainter objects and to track for a short time will cost approximately $100 - $200. An advanced children’s telescope to observe even fainter object and the ability to track accurately for an extended period using an automatic drive will cost approximately $300.
(2) Quality of Optics – Quality optics will provide a good image, increasing your enjoyment in the observation. The image should appear sharp with respect to definition and sharpness of color.
(3) Size of Light Gatherer – The larger the lens in your refracting telescope or mirror in your reflecting telescope, then the more light telescope collects from the objects that you observe and the bright that it may appear or the fainter the object that you may observe. Beginners will have a wonderful introduction to astronomical wonders with a 70 mm (2.4 in) refractor. Intermediate observer can expand their viewing with a 114 mm (4.5 in ) reflector. Advanced observer can expand to larger sizes at a higher cost.
(4) Magnification – Two items determine the Magnification: focal length of the light gatherer and focal length of the eyepiece being used. Focal of the light gatherer is fixed characteristic of the lens or mirror in the telescope. You can use different eyepieces. Typically when you buy the telescope you be provided with at least two eyepieces: one for low magnification and one for high magnification. There is a limit on the magnification that can be obtained. As a rule of thumb, the limit is 2X the diameter of light gather measured in millimeters. For example, a 70 mm (2.8 in) refractor has a limit of approximately 140X. This will be achieved only on very clear nights in which the air is very steady.
(5) Mount – Once properly assembled, the mount and the telescope should be very steady. You will want to minimize the image being shaken (moved) because the mount or telescope was touched slightly, blown by a slight breeze or controls were handled. A solid base mounted on a quality tripod that is sturdy and easily adjustable in height is very useful. Many tripods have a platform that be attached to the three legs. This is very convenient for holding the eyepieces and other observing tools.
(6) Telescope Characteristics – You will use the telescope for a child in many locations. The telescope should be lightweight and very transportable. Because you will be using it in dimly lit situations, it should be easy to set up, disassemble and store by all users – children and adults. The owner’s manual will provide very useful information on how best to use and care for the telescope. A telescope for kids should be treated as quality instrument. The owner’s manual should be read and followed.
Top rated companies for children’s telescopes are Meade – see its Starter Telscopes; Celestron – Asromaster Series. NexStar GT, LCM Series Computerized Telescopes; Bushnell – Voyager Sky Tour; Orion. By reviewing the information associated with the products described on their websites you gain much information about the characteristics of a childrens telescope.
Consult with a member of a local amateur astronomy club or with someone who teaches astronomy at a local college for additional information. Attending a local star party can be a lot of fun and open up new wonders.