If you are just starting out in the amazing world of astronomy, there are a couple of items that you will want to consider before a telescope is even purchased. Making sure you find your way into an astronomy club or joining a group of like-minded people who share the same passion for looking at the night sky as you do will be very helpful in the long-run.
Bouncing ideas off of one another and evaluating your observations are great reasons to have a group with whom you can discuss your findings and your questions. Make sure that you are up-to-date on what constellations and planets can easily be seen in the current night sky. The ability to identify the constellations, the primary stars and star formations, and the planets visible in the night sky without the aid of a telescope is the first step in becoming a truly great astronomer.
While elaborate guides into the world of telescopes and other magnification devices are unnecessary, it can be helpful to know which telescopes for beginners are going to suit the needs of a person who is just taking up this exciting hobby. Meade makes some great starter telescopes that even someone just getting their feet wet in astronomy can recognize the benefits of.
The Meade Telestar NGC-60A Achromatic Refractor Telescope and the Meade 20218 NG-70SM 70MM Altazimuth Refractor Telescope are both great options for any amateur astronomer looking to become involved with the power of telescopes. Two other companies that make quality beginner telescopes are Orion and Galileo who both offer inexpensive options with their starter telescope sets.
There are three main types of telescopes that are for sale on the open market: refractor, reflector, and Schmidt-Cassegrain. A refractor telescope is going to be the easiest for people to use and understand. A refractor telescope gathers the light using a lens in the wide end of the telescope and focuses it into the small end of the telescope for easier viewing. An eyepiece is used to observe this focused image.
A reflector telescope uses a mirror to collect the light at one end of the telescope and focus it back a point near where the light entered the telescope. Using a small mirror, the converging light beam is diverted off to the side of the telescope into the eyepiece Because it is easier and less expensive to make a mirror than a lens of the same size that produces the same quality of image, larger telescopes are typically reflectors.
Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes give you the most compact style of telescope of the three. They use mirrors and lenses to create a picture of whatever is being focused in the sky. Typically a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope will cost more than a reflector with the same size mirror and accessories. The correcting lens is designed to provide a better image.
The magnification of your telescope is limited by the size of the lens/mirror. Approximately the largest magnification is two times the size of the lens/mirror measured in millimeters (or about fifty times as measured in inches). A reflector with a 114-mm mirror (4.5 inch) has a maximum magnification of about 228x.
One final note about amateur astronomy deals with what is appearing in your telescope when you point it to the sky. Do not be discouraged if the images that you see are not the same images that can be viewed in magazines and journals. Those pictures are taken with highly developed, highly expensive telescopes that are way out of most amateur's price range. Delight in the fact that you have found beautiful representations of the night sky on your own and marvel in the displays that the universe gives us.