This is a loaded question, but one that is worth exploring if you’re in the market for a good telescope. The short answer is, it depends on what you want to do with your telescope. Options abound when it comes to choosing magnification strength, lens types, mirrors versus lenses versus both, and telescope size. So, let’s look at the diverse economy behind the telescope industry, starting with the most expensive and descending to the most affordable.
The United States takes the prize for most expensive telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in May 2020, was built to be the Hubble Space Telescope’s successor. Clocking in at a jaw-dropping $8.8 billion, its gold-coated mirrors are able to collect 7 times more light than Hubble and will be able to reveal the universe as it existed 13 million years ago. Overall, the JWST is 10 times stronger than Hubble, and took 20 years to build. You can follow its progress and projected launch by visiting NASA online: www.jwst.nasa.gov.
Featuring a combination of lenses and mirrors that fold light inside the telescope tube, these high-magnification telescopes tend to run along the higher price range. While you could pay as much as $16,000 for a high-quality catadioptric, Celestron makes some great midline models that run around $5,000. If you’re a beginner with money to spare, you can find more stripped-down versions for $1,000 to $2,000. Aperture size is the biggest price factor in any telescope, so keeping your primary lens or mirror size modest will keep your cost down.
While you get better magnification and clarity with a reflector telescope than a refractor, you will also pay more. At the top end, you’ll find Meade models up to $7,000, though again, if you keep your lens size under about 12 inches, you’ll pay less. Celestron throws their hat into the midline ring again with some great models that run around $1,200 to $1,500 and come complete with extra lenses and filters. The bad news is, if you’re paying less than $1,000 for a reflector telescope, you’re probably not getting a good device.
You could track down a top-of-the-line Takahashi for over $14,000, but this is the exception to the rule with refractor telescopes, as most of them are more budget-friendly. At the top of the spectrum, you’ll spend around $2,000 to $6,000. But you can find a good balanced telescope for $300 to $1,000. If the telescope is less than $100, though, it’s probably not worth your time.
This is where it’s okay to spend less than $100 on a telescope. Your child will need a simple and durable model, one that can withstand little hands and that will be comfortable enough for new learners. Celestron and Orion excel in this category, as well. Plan to spend between $60 to $100 for a decent model and try to avoid the toy aisle in your local department store if you want a telescope that’s worth your money.
For the most industrial and economically-minded astronomers, you can find a homemade refractor telescope kit for around $20. This is a perfect science fair project for kids and an interesting way to learn how telescopes work. For about $70, you can buy a Galileoscope kit to learn more about the world’s first astronomer and how he saw the cosmos.
Search any retailer online and you’ll find more telescopes than you can imagine. Just remember, if you’re an astronomy beginner, don’t bite off more than you can chew. You can buy an awesome telescope without breaking the bank, and you’re more likely to get a lot of use from it if it’s not frustrating or beyond your skill level. Whatever you decide, a telescope is a rewarding purchase that can last you a lifetime.
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