Telescope Buyers Guide

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What is so difficult about choosing a new Schmidt Cassegrain telescope? There are just so darned many of them, and the manufacturers' ads in the astronomy magazines and on the Web tend to confuse more than they enlighten. Is a fork mount best? Or, is a German mount better? Are ultra high contrast coatings (UHTC and XLT) optical coatings necessary (whatever they are)? Is any kind of Schmidt Cassegrain the "right" catadioptric telescope? Might a Maksutov Cassegrain or a Schmidt Newtonian be better? Yes, all those models, all those options—it is enough to confuse anybody.

Choice is good, however, and picking a first serious telescope is not as hard as it seems if the prospective buyer has at least some idea of what the telescope will be used for and how much money can be spent on it. The different CAT designs, SCT, MCT, SNT, and MNT have different strengths as far as what they are best suited for viewing or imaging, and that will help when choosing a model. When it comes to price, the SCTs, at least, sort into three categories: bargain, medium priced, and top of line.

One thing not to do is skimp on a telescope, even if spending more than was initially planned means putting off buying for a while. The worst thing for a novice amateur astronomer to do is choose an unsatisfying scope that will be rapidly outgrown and soon need to be replaced. That does not mean a top-of-the-line telescope is necessary the first time around. Today's less-expensive SCTs sport features at least as advanced as those of the most advanced telescopes on the market 10 years ago. The critical thing is not to choose an aperture that is too small to show good detail in objects. Hold out for at least an 8-inch if possible. A question I am often asked

R. Mollise, Choosing and Using a New CAT, 4

DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-09772-5_4, © Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009

by beginners is whether buying a particular manufacturer's most expensive model ensures better optics than those in one of their less-expensive telescopes. In general, the answer is "no," not if the scope in question is an SCT. Celestron and Meade use identical optics in all their standard design telescopes.

Are there any other caveats before we start kicking the tires of telescopes? There are a couple. First, if at all possible, try to examine the scope of interest—or at least a similar model—in person before committing to buying it. SCTs look a lot smaller in the magazine ads than they do in person, and all too many novices wind up buying more scope than they can handle weightwise. There is a lot to ponder beyond the general information given here that is best experienced in person. Is a particular telescope's control layout easy for you to use? Do the images it produces impress you?

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