Just starting out?
If you are considering the hobby of astronomy, we at RCS Optics encourage you to start without any optical tool- just your unaided eyes and a star chart.
Learn the sky with your own unaided eyes, and you will soon be able to identify constellations as well as learning the names of stars. After you become familiar with the night sky, then use a pair of binoculars and check out larger celestial objects like the moon. That is a great way to introduce children to the hobby of star gazing. As a side note, avoid buying binoculars or telescopes from a department or toy store as their optical quality will typically be very poor.
Earth from Saturn (NASA Photo)
On the darkest night, unaided, you may be able to see as many as 4,500 stars and planets, depending upon your location and the season- but hey, who's counting? The YALE BRIGHT STAR CATALOG, that's who. The catalog puts the number at 9,096 visible stars across the entire sky in both hemispheres. Of course there are many more stars out there- that number is the limit of stars with a magnitude of 6.5 that are visible from earth with the naked eye!
As your interest increases you will want to see deep space objects like distant galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters. Only quality optics will help you achieve that level of viewing.
Important note: Do not look at the sun with any type of magnifying instrument unless it is properly equipped with special filters designed for viewing the sun.
Binocular Buying Guide
Large objective lenses and magnification above 10x are desired. Often times this size of binoculars can be quite heavy during extended viewing so having a tripod connection would be an advantageous feature.
Click here to see the selection of Binoculars for Astronomy that RCS Optics offers.
Telescope Buying Guide
There are three types of telescope designs; refractors, reflectors, and compound. The most common style is the refractor telescope. It is the simplest type as the light enters through a lens at the front end as the primary optical element and is directly transferred through to the eyepiece or for angled positions a mirror is used to redirect the light path to the eyepiece. Binoculars are a form of refractors. Reflectors are open at one end and have a mirror at the back end of the scope body whose function is to reflect the light to a secondary mirror, near the front of the scope body, which then redirects the light path to the eyepiece. A compound telescope uses both lenses and mirrors to offer a more compact and somewhat more lightweight design as compared to a reflector telescope. Price wise, a refractor telescope is more expensive than a reflector type.
The number one specification that you should be concerned with is aperture size (Objective Lens diameter). A larger aperture will allow you to see fainter objects and will also provide a more spectacular view than a smaller diameter telescope. Magnification is a secondary concern as often times you will actually get a brighter view on a lower magnification than on maximum magnification. Magnification is determined by dividing the telescopes focal length (in mm) by the eyepiece diameter (in mm). So magnification is changed by changing eyepieces.
Two critical features that you need to look for are quality optics and a smooth, stable mounting system. Other than that, big scopes are better than smaller scopes, however you must also take into consideration ease of setup and portability. Do not purchase a telescope based upon the maximum magnification comparisons. Keep in mind that it is the aperture size that is most important.
Click here to see the selection of Telescopes that RCS Optics has to offer.