Good Entry-Level Telescope? Will I See Mars?
January 31, 2004 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Telescopes! All this mars stuff has got me wanting to look at the heavens, up-close like. Anyone have reccomendations for a good entry-level telescope? Is it realistic to expect a decent look at mars from a consumer-grade telescope?

I'm especially interested in whether or not those meade auto-tracking dealies are any good, since I see them used for not too much. Also: can you rent telescopes anywhere?
posted by Hackworth to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total)
I notice you're in san francisco.

The Sidewalk Astronomers are a great resource. And they'll let you borrow a telescope!
posted by vacapinta at 2:07 PM on January 31, 2004

wow, perfect! Thanks!
posted by Hackworth at 2:14 PM on January 31, 2004

have a look with someone else's before you buy. if you're used to the glossy pictures nasa and stsci produce you may be a little disappointed.

the moon looks pretty.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:15 PM on January 31, 2004

Also consider popping across the bridge to Chabot, where not only do the Sidewalk Astronomers show up from time to time but amateurs of all stripes congregate almost every night. Currently, plenty of them are viewing Mars nightly.

If you're nice you'll get to peek though quite a few of the huge range of models that are set up out on the plaza, and you might even get to buy something.
posted by majick at 3:57 PM on January 31, 2004

Their 37 inch reflector is very impressive.

To look at Mars, you'll need something much bigger than an entry level scope. Especially in the bay area with all of the light polution and other gunk floating in the air.
posted by mbell at 4:01 PM on January 31, 2004

I have to respectfully disagree with mbell. You can get a wonderful look at Mars through a consumer telescope (though of course it will not compare with the view from the Hubble or the various Mars probes). New telescopes appropriate for this task can be had for as little as three hundred [US] dollars if you are careful about what you buy.

However, be advised that Mars' closest approaches to Earth happen at two year intervals and the most recent one was this past summer. Mars is significantly smaller in the eyepiece than it was six months ago and will not be at its best until 2005. On the other hand, Saturn and Jupiter are up right now, and are gorgeous in even small good-quality telescopes, as are innumerable non-planetary sights.

vacapinta's suggestion of contacting a local amateur astronomy group is an excellent one. Most have public viewing events, and many have equipment available for loan or rent. I suspect that's the best option for Hackworth but if anyone here wants specific telescope advice I'll be glad to try and help out, and I'm sure other MeFi astronomers will come out of the woodwork with suggestions and advice. Meade's line of automated telescopes contains some that are recommended and others that are not. It is important to choose a telescope based on the way you plan to use it.
posted by Songdog at 6:04 PM on January 31, 2004

Try before you buy. A small fee to an amateur astronomy club would be money well spent. Usually these clubs let you loan out a scope. Also, they could provide you a wealth of information.
posted by jasonspaceman at 9:28 PM on January 31, 2004

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