Reading blog articles about space exploration is a wonderful way to spend your time, but actually observing the stars, planets, and galaxies of our celestial neighborhood with your own eyes is pretty awesome. If you take a look around, you might see some telescopes that promise to put space in your face at even a few thousand times bigger than they appear to the naked eye - which sounds great, but before you take your relationship with space to a new level by getting a telescope, keep this in mind:
When it comes to observing, bigger isn't always better.
The fact is that getting the best image isn't just about having the highest magnification; the different functions of a telescope should correspond with each other. Otherwise, those high-tech specs won't mean very much.
Telescopes have two main jobs: they make small things appear bigger and they make dim things look brighter. The magnification is determined by the combination of the main optics of the telescope, and the eyepiece we look into all have a main optical component, which is a lens or mirror.
Either way, its job is to focus light at a distance known as the focal length.
The focal length depends on what the lens or mirror is made of and how much it's curved. And the lens inside the eye piece has its own focal length, too, so you need to think about how those two pieces of optics will work together.
For example, a lens with a focal length of 650 millimeters combined with an eyepiece with a focal length of 10 millimeters will give you a magnification of 650 over 10, or 65. But still, magnification isn't everything, because not everything in the night sky is small.
Some things that are hard to see are actually pretty huge but also really faint, like the Andromeda galaxy. If you had superhuman vision, it would look about six times wider than the full moon, but its light is spread out over such a huge area that we can barely see it. The bigger the opening or aperture of your telescope, the more light it can pick up.
If you've done any backyard observing, you'll know that it's also pretty disappointing if you have a nice piece of equipment with great magnification and fantastic aperture, but then you find that the image is bouncing around so much and you can't tell if you're looking at Jupiter or a smudge on your neighbor’s window. Even though it doesn't take a lot of math to find the right telescope, you also need a sturdy mount, like a tripod, that keeps your telescope securely pointed where you want it.
A lightweight mount can cause your telescope to bounce around from the slightest touch.
Puffs of wind or even vibrations from the ground can rattle it.
Many public libraries and astronomy groups lend out telescopes, so whether you're looking to buy and doing more research, or you just want to borrow a telescope once a year for the meteor shower, you have a lot of options.
Just remember that a crisp, clear image will be more impressive than a blurry smear if you take the time to find the right tool.
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Sources: This story was originally published on SciShow Space. I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest in the subject. Hofmeister, Caitlin. "Choosing A Telescope: Bigger Isn't Always Better!" SciShow Space, YouTube. 9 June 2015. Web video.
Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "How To Pick The Perfect Telescope." SkyFeed. 9 July 2018. Web article.