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Telescopes under the Tannenbaum: A gift guide for skywatchers

Scopes make a great gift and there are many out there, but trying to choose the right one can make your head spin faster than a pulsar.

Starwatch — Mike Lynch column sig
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Throughout the year, especially around this time, I receive many emails about purchasing a telescope.

I don’t consider myself an expert, but I have lots of experience purchasing telescopes. I also have a very understanding spouse who lets me indulge my passion.

There are many telescopes out there and trying to choose the right one can make your head spin faster than a pulsar.

My strongest recommendation is to avoid telescopes at retail stores and general shopping websites. It’s best to stick with major telescope brands. I think the best brands are Orion, Celestron and Meade. You can purchase scopes from their websites, but it’s even better to buy one of these brands from a specialized telescope dealer who can help you make the right decision.

There are three basic types of telescopes – reflectors, refractors, and Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes.

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Refractor telescopes gather light with the objective lens, the one where light enters the scope. The wider that lens is, the more light- gathering power you’ll have. The minimum you’d want to have is a 60mm refractor, which means it has a 60mm diameter objective lens where the light from your target enters the scope.

Reflector telescopes gather light with a concave parabolic objective mirror at the back end of an open tube. Light is collected by that mirror and sent back to another smaller mirror at the front of the scope. That smaller mirror then bounces the image outside the tube to an eyepiece. Isaac Newton did a nice job when he invented the reflector telescope in the late 17th century.

I also recommend that you get a reflector telescope with a Dobsonian mount. These kinds of scopes are known as Dobsonian reflectors and are very user friendly. One disadvantage with reflector telescopes is that they’re bigger and bulkier, but still manageable.

Schmitt Cassegrain scopes are an optical hybrid of reflector and refractor scopes. They are definitely a little more expensive, but the trade off is that they're more portable. Along with that, if you ever want to do serious celestial photography, you need this kind of scope.

Here are my four recommended scopes for this holiday season. All of these are less than $1,000.

I have to warn you that there’s a chance you won’t get your telescope in time for Christmas. As with many other products, there’s a chance your telescope may have to be put on back order. You might have to wrap a photo of the telescope to put under the Christmas tree and go to bed with visions of stargazing in your head.

1. The Celestron First Scope – Designed for kids about 8 to 10 years old. It's not a pure Dobsonian scope, but it's similar with a small mirror. https://www.celestron.com Expect to pay: $55-$75

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PHOTO 1.jpg
The Celestron First Scope. Contributed

2. Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Scope – For teens through adults. It has an 8-inch diameter mirror. www.telescope.com\u0009 Expect to pay: $550

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Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Scope. Contributed

3. Orion SkyQuest XT10i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope – A great adult scope with a 10-inch wide mirror. It comes with a small computer that will help you locate hard-to-find celestial objects. www.telescope.com Expect to pay: $1,200

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Orion SkyQuest XT10i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope. Contributed

4. Celestron NexStar 6SE – This Schmidt-Cassegrain type has a fully automated GoTo mount with a database of 40,000-plus celestial objects that automatically locates and tracks objects for you. Just type in the celestial target you want to see and it will electronically slew the telescope right to it and then track it across the sky. I have this scope and I love it. www.celestron.com Expect to pay: $800 to $1,000.

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Celestron NexStar 6SE. Contributed.

I have more information about purchasing telescopes for all ages on my website www.lynchandthestars.com .

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and author of the book “Stars, a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations,” published by Adventure Publications. Send questions to mikewlynch@comcast.net .

The Rochester Astronomy Club welcomes new members and puts on public star parties. Their website is rochesterskies.org .

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