The stars are one of our first scientific curiosities as children. I think we can all remember the first time that we really looked up at the night sky and realized that there was an entire universe out there, not just ourselves or our families or our planet.
We all look up at the same beautiful, twinkling, infinite universe, but many with no idea of the magic it holds.
A good telescope is the gateway to unlock all of that magic and wonder (even in a tutu, as you see my daughter pictured here in our makeshift concrete block observatory!).
It’s nothing short of inspiring and is probably the easiest way to get kids excited about science and technology.
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How to Choose the Right Telescope
Not all telescopes are created equal. Many telescopes that are marketed to children are, quite frankly, pretty useless for the price. Here’s how to pick the best telescope for your family.
How Telescopes Work
Telescopes allow us to take a closer look at objects that are far away. They do this in two ways, by collecting more light and magnifying the image. A telescope can be as simple as two lenses, or much, much more complicated.
Aperture (or sometimes called objective) is the diameter of the lens or mirror that’s used to collect light (or photons).
Remember that when you’re looking at celestial objects, you’re really looking at light, and that’s why aperture is so important. A bigger lens or mirror means a sharper and brighter image. The further away they are, the fainter their light is. It doesn’t matter how much you magnify a dark image – it’ll still be a dark image. Bring on the light!
If you live in a suburban or urban area, you’ll want a larger aperture (more light) to help cut through some of the light noise from your surroundings. If you live in a rural area, you can make do with a smaller aperture. However, you should aim for at least 70mm and remember that when it comes to aperture, more is always more, no matter where you are.
The lens at the eyepiece is responsible for making the image look larger (magnified). A good eyepiece can magnify images, no matter how much aperture (light) your telescope collects. However, like I said before, a dark image magnified is still a dark image… and not much fun to look at. That’s why magnification isn’t as important as aperture.
Despite many marketing tricks claiming things like “500x magnification”, that’s unrealistic without incredibly high (and expensive) aperture and not really necessary. Magnification of just 50x will reveal all kinds of wonders from our solar system.
Types of Telescopes
A refractor is the “classic” telescope, much like the one Galileo used when he peered into the night sky. It uses a lens to collect light (aperture) and has an eyepiece (magnification). This design is rugged and good on the go, but does present a mirror image of the sky.
A reflector telescope uses a mirror to collect light (aperture) and was invented by Newton. Unlike a refractor, reflector telescopes present you with an image as it appears in the sky. This can be useful for little scientists trying to follow a star map, but they do require some occasional maintenance.
Then, there are compound telescopes that use components of both refractors and reflectors in their design. These designs are powerful, but not necessary for little astronomers!
Longevity vs. Budget
There are hundreds and hundreds of telescopes to choose from and hundreds and hundreds of good options. It really comes down to what you want to spend now, how much ease of use you want, and how long you want to keep the same telescope for.
Personally, I opted for a budget-friendly and easy-to-use telescope for my girls. I’m excited about the possibilities of their next telescope, but I wanted them to find their current telescope accessible and fun. Also, if their scientific interests carry them to other places than the night sky, I won’t be left heart broken at the expense!
The Science Mom’s Telescope Picks
The Science Kids’ Telescope
My kids have the Celestron Firstscope telescope, a Netwonian reflector telescope.
We love this telescope for many reasons and I’d highly suggest it for anyone starting to dive into the world of stargazing.
- The Firstscope has a 76mm primary mirror, which collects enough light for us to make out awesome detail in the night sky, from the moon’s craters to Saturn’s rings.
- It comes with 20mm and 4mm eyepieces, which gives us two ways to observe the night sky.
- We have up to 75x magnification power.
- The telescope has a tabletop style base that rotates, making it stable and easy to use with two little ones.
- The optical tube is decorated with the names of famous scientists and astronomers. I love the symbolism as my girls stand on the shoulders thousands of brilliant minds before them as they gaze up into the sky.
- It’s light enough to be easily transported around with us. Ruby can even carry it by herself.
- Celestron has a free app (with in-app purchases) called SkyPortal that you can download to compliment your stargazing.
Other Beginner Telescopes
The Orion Funscope is similar in style to our Firstscope.
With 4.5 inch aperture and 25mm and 10mm eyepieces, you’ll be able to view objects with 50x magnification.
It also comes complete with a MoonMap and digital software download that allows you to view simulations of the night sky, great for little astronomers to learn their way around space.
Celestron Kids 50TT
The Celestron Kids 50TT is a basic refractor telescope that’s good for starting astronomers. It’s easy to set up and get to stargazing. With a 50mm aperture and 12.5mm eyepiece, it has 30x magnification.
This telescope is super lightweight, including its tabletop tripod, and comes with a carrying case to observe on the go.
Orion GoScope III 70mm
The Orion GoScope III 70mm is great for little astronomers on the move. It comes with a backpack to carry it around in!
With 70mm aperture and 20mm and 9mm eyepieces, this telescope has 44x magnification. It rests on an aluminum tripod. It also comes with a MoonMap and viewfinder to help locate objects before viewing through the telescope.
Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST
The Orion 09007 SpaceProbe 130ST is the ideal telescope for serious junior astronomers. This telescope is the priciest on my list, with good reason.
With a 130mm primary mirror, its aperture is almost double our Firstscope. It also comes with 25mm and 10mm eyepieces, allowing for 26-65x magnification. The SpaceProbe also comes with a finderscope to help find objects quickly. The aluminum tripod is lightweight and has an accessory tray to keep your other eyepiece close.
Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker
The Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker is another great option for more serious stargazers.
It has a 127mm aperture and 20mm and 4mm eyepieces, allowing for up to 250x magnification. It also comes with a 3x Barlow lens that triples the magnification of both eyepieces. This telescope rests on a tripod that also has an accessory tray to keep eyepieces and the Barlow lens easily accessible.
In addition to Celestron’s SkyPortal app, it also comes with “The Sky” software to help locate thousands of items in the night sky!
Do you have a telescope at home? Leave a comment and tell us about it!