Need telescope recommendations for kids, please!
October 12, 2017 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Short and sweet: a 10-year-old niece and her 7-year-old brother have requested a telescope for Christmas, and while I'm more than willing to encourage anything to do with STEM, I'm afraid I just don't know enough to get them something decently useful to a couple beginners plus not too wildly expensive. Help!

Specific brands would be great, but even magnification specs would be helpful. Suggestions for any associated gear, like books, tripods, star charts, whatever, also welcomed.
posted by easily confused to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
A small refractor telescope on any decently stable tripod is very suitable for beginners. All I had was a 3 inch field scope bungeed to an aluminum tripod as a kid and still had much enjoyment looking at the Moon, comets, Mars, and Jupiter. A small reflector can be had for a few hundred bucks, but they're harder to just pick up and use and is more responsibility, obviously. They will give a much more impressive view given dark skies, though.

A $70-100 set of binoculars might also be a good option. You can see nebula and star clusters that are harder to see with a small telescope even in areas with relatively high light pollution. It's kinda neat aiming at a spot that seems to have no stars and have them seemingly appear out of nowhere thanks to the extra light gathering without as much magnification.

In any event, I'd definitely start small before working up to a larger telescope since the big ones require setup to get the most from, so you can't just point and look so easily. That makes the beginner stuff handy to have even after getting a 6"+ reflector.
posted by wierdo at 10:00 AM on October 12

Apparently they stopped making the original Astroscan a few years back when they literally accidentally broke the mold (?!).

Here is the new Astroscan Millenium.

TL;DR: for kids (and kid prices), you don't want high power -- that's hard to use. Please avoid $100 specials with high magnification. Those are a great way to turn anyone off of telescopes!

What you want is bright images and wide field of views. The moon looks AMAZING through an Astroscan, as does the Milky way. And it's strong enough to catch the rings of Saturn. has a weirdly hard to link gallery of images taken through this scope.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:02 AM on October 12

The Astronomers Without Borders One Sky is frequently recommended as a first telescope. It has a 5" parabolic f5 mirror and collapses down into a very small package. It weighs about 15 lbs. There is an epic thread on the Cloudy Nights forum with almost 2500 posts.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 10:28 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Ironically, the AWB One Sky is only available in the US. In other places it's sold as the Sky-Watcher Heritage P130.
posted by bonehead at 11:05 AM on October 12

Buying a telescope is easy. Learning to use it is hard! The Google Sky and Celestia programs are useful, and taking them to an open observatory night at your local college or university might be good too. Most areas have amateur astronomy meetups where you can share telescopes and someone else figures out optimal dates and locations -- you could take them to one of those. Also you could pay a couple of bucks for them to use to rent serious expensive telescopes over the internet.
posted by miyabo at 11:19 AM on October 12

I'm not sure what "wildly expensive" means, but maybe something like an Orion XT6 or XT8 dobsonian telescope. It's really just a giant light bucket. Maybe pair it with a good solid book like Nightwatch.
posted by cmm at 11:56 AM on October 12

I had a ball-type ExploraScope that was impossible to aim. Eventually I gave up, sold it, and bought this little reflector (Meade LightBridge). This type of mount, you can’t zoom too much because you don’t have fine motor control, really. But it’s small, cheap, super-light, and you can see the moons of Jupiter with it (from my suburban front porch).

I use the “Sky Guide” app for aiming.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:02 PM on October 12

I purchased this 3 years ago and I'm very happy with it.
posted by Splunge at 12:20 PM on October 12

The Wirecutter just did a telescopes for beginners review and recommended the astronomy without borders one sky also.
posted by TheAdamist at 2:45 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

I'm going to be a contrarian and suggest the Galileoscope, a simple refractor kit that they can build themselves. Get them a decent tripod with it, and they can do a lot of exploring; if they find that astronomical observation is a passion, then you (or their parents) could move up to a higher quality reflector. It's $60 from Amazon.

I used one to take this photo of the Moon simply by holding a digital camera up to the eyepiece. In my history of science courses, I have sometimes had students build scopes and use them to reproduce Galileo's telescopic observation of the moon, stars, and planets in his 1610 publication The Sidereal Messenger (Note: Al van Helden's modern translation, available in print, is better than this 19th-century version).
posted by brianogilvie at 6:02 PM on October 12 has some recommendations of options.

Also consider binoculars, which are easier to use and good ones have a similar magnification to beginner telescopes. I use my birding binoculars to stargaze way more often than I bother with my telescope.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:12 PM on October 12

A small refractor telescope on any decently stable tripod

Don't neglect the second part, it will save you a lot of frustration to have a telescope you can actually aim at things.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:31 AM on October 13

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