Where To Start?
So, your kid wants a telescope? While your first thought might be to run and buy “Star Trek” on Blu-Ray and leave it at that; know that there are many affordable options that most importantly are easy and fun to use. One website, I continuously come back to is telescopes.com. They have a wide selection of choices for beginner to expert level amateur astronomers. Telescopes, eyepieces and accessories found here are generally of good quality for a reasonable price with low to free shipping and handling.
Beginners Telescope for a Kid
Buying for a child interested in astronomy is a very daunting task. It seems that as many objects there are in the sky there are choices of telescopes to buy. For a kid who is showing some interest in astronomy, the best telescope to get is a refractor. They require very little to no maintenance and are what a child imagines when they think of the design of a telescope. Meade’s NG70-SM refracting telescope is a great example of an affordable and useful beginners scope for a child. It’s 70mm aperture, 700mm focal length and included 9mm and 25mm eyepieces will bring in enough light for some nice low and medium power views of the craters of the Moon, cloud belts of Jupiter and even the beautiful rings of Saturn.
The telescope arrived, your child unwrapped it with excitement and now what? Where does he or she begin? How do they know what to look at? Why is this 70 dollar telescope collecting dust in the corner of my living room a month after Christmas? First things first, sit down with your child and walk through the directions on how to build and use the telescope. While directions are boring, reading them carefully for assembly and giving your kid a tutorial on how the telescopes works will help lessen future frustrations. On the first clear, somewhat warm night, take out the telescope just after sunset and find the Moon. Have them start out with the 25mm low magnification eyepiece and use the red dot finder to center the object in the field of view. After some time with the 25mm, switch to the 9mm for some closer views of the shadows and craters.
Depending on the age of your child and continued interest shown, there are a couple avenues to consider. After spending sometime on the Moon, finding Jupiter and Saturn will probably be their next challenge. Online resources and iPod Touch/iPhone Apps can be used to find out what part of the year they can be viewed and when in the night time they are out. Moving on from these, I would suggest putting in the low power 25mm eyepiece and having them slowly scan the sky. They can explore interesting constellations and star patterns and might even come across a surprise deep sky object (Galaxy and Nebula) or two.
If your kid is showing interest a few months to a year in you might want to consider purchasing some additional resources for a Christmas or birthday present . The first thing you might want to add are some books and movies on space. In terms of books, nothing quite beats the Backyard Astronomers Guide. While this might be too advanced for kids, I would highly recommend it for teenagers who are looking for everything from basic facts to in-depth knowledge of amateur astronomy. The History and Discovery Channel’s have some incredible series that could entertain and educate anyone on the concepts of space. The Universe and When We Left the Earth are two of my favorites, giving a rich scientific and historical perspective of our place in the universe and our accomplishments in manned space flight.
In terms of accessories for the telescope, a more powerful eyepiece for some closer views of the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn might be needed. A good affordable choice would be the 6mm Zhumell Z Series Planetary Eyepiece. It will provide 117x magnification views through the Meade NG70, which is probably near the limit of what this telescope can handle. Most importantly, this is a nice eyepiece that could be used with any potential telescope upgrade down the road.
Astronomy can be a great way for you and your child to bond over something that can help shape their perspective of our planet and their place in the universe. Astronomy can also easily become an aggravating nightmare. Hopefully, following this basic buying and observing guide will alleviate some of those challenges and uncertainties and replace them with memories of excitement and exploration for you and your child.