A child looking up to the sky each night is a stargazer in the making. And you, as a responsible parent, should take the time to figure out if this is the real deal or just another fad. If your child has indeed caught the science bug, then you might consider buying him or her a telescope. In this guide, we’re going to teach you exactly what to look for in a kids’ telescope and that you don’t have to spend a fortune just to put a smile on your child’s face.
(Image source: Max Pixel)
Taking the first steps to buy a telescope
Choosing a telescope for the little one is no child’s play. The first step you’ve got to take is to make sure that your kid’s interest goes beyond looking at the sky. As you probably know, not all those staring at the night’s sky are interested in an up-close image of celestial objects. In other words, some were born with astronomy in their blood, and others have, what the poet might call, a fleeting fancy.
To spark their interest in the science of stars, planets, galaxies, and nebulae, you can try taking your child to the local observatory or, even better, a planetarium. Astronomy books, stargazing guides, documentaries like the ones produced by National Geographic or joining a local astronomy club are also great ways to make your child more inquisitive.
In this case, the most obvious choice would be to buy a mid-range beginner’s telescope. Why not aim for cheap? Again, poor-quality parts and optics can be a turn-off even for a seasoned stargazer. Plus, there’s always the matter of upgrading the telescope. If your child acquires a taste for astronomy, a mid-range telescope is capable of receiving any number of upgrades including better eyepieces or computerized mounts.
Reflector vs. Refractor: which telescope should you buy?
Now, before choosing a telescope for your child, you should figure out what kind might be suitable for him or her. For instance, reflector telescopes (use one or more curved mirrors to reflect the light as to create a coherent image) are cheaper, sturdier, easier to learn, and better suited for celestial observation. On the other hand, if your child wants to use the telescope during the daytime as well, a refractor (uses a lens to form an image) is the far better choice for them.
AZ vs. EQ mount telescopes
Do keep in mind that, in general, refractors are pricier than reflectors and fully upgradable. Moving on, the second thing you need to look at is the telescope’s mount. There are two types of telescope mounts available on the market – the AZ (azimuth) and the EQ (equatorial).
The first one is easier to get the hang of. However, as your child acquires a taste for stargazing, an AZ mount might slow them down a bit in the tracking of celestial objects. This is where the EQ mount comes into action – it’s a bit harder to master (all those knobs and levers), but, in the end, it delivers higher accuracy once the child gets accustomed to its intricacies.
When it comes to optics, the most important thing to keep in mind is the telescope’s aperture (the opening where the light gets in). The bigger the aperture is, the more light goes in, and, of course, the clearer the image becomes. It’s that easy. If you want the best deal, we recommend you buy the telescope with the biggest aperture you find.
Computer controlled telescope mounts
Long gone are the days when telescopes were just an intricate system of lens and levers. Nowadays, most telescope mounts can be controlled via a computer. Often referred to as computerized mounts, these additions can help the viewer spot celestial objects faster compared to standard AZ, or EQ mounts that call for manual spotting. Please bear in mind that computer mounts come with a learning curve. It could take you some time to teach your child how to operate the controls, but it will be far easier for them to go star-hunting on their own.
Focal length and magnification of a telescope
One more thing before we go – focal length. Defined as the distance between the center of a lens and the focus, this parameter will help further narrow down your search. As in the case of aperture, telescopes touting a bigger focal length are better than those with smaller ones. Bear in mind that focal length also determines the magnification factor, so be sure to check it out twice before buying the telescope.
To wrap everything up, before investing your money in a kids’ telescope, make sure that your child has a genuine passion for the science of the stars. Choose between a reflector or refractor based on your needs and don’t forget to keep an eye out on specs such as focal length, aperture, magnification, and computer control features.
Lauren Ray John is a Senior Editor at TelescopeReviewer.com. She writes reviews for different types of telescopes. Lauren has always loved the astronomy field, so she decided to take life into her hands and follow the career she has always wanted.