Go Out: Look Up!
A Guide to the Sky, Telescopes, and Telescope Programs
Choosing a Program Scope Type
There is no perfect scope. Each scope type has its strengths and weaknesses.
The larger the scope diameter (mirror or lens "aperture"), the more you'll be able to see. Newtonian reflectors provide large apertures at modest cost. The primary drawback to Newtonian reflectors is that the mirrors require periodic collimation, which requires a bit of expertise. Refractors require less maintenance, but tend to come in smaller diameter.
Newtonian reflectors mounted in Tabletop Dobsonians, such as the Orion Starblast 6i, are good choices for loaner programs, because they're sturdy, portable and provide adequate aperture for seeing deep sky objects. They're also a great value.
If your scope budget is around $500, the Orion Starblast 6i is a good option for a computerized scope. A big plus about it's "pust-to" system is that you do not need to use the computer if you don't want to. Novice users can aim it at objects using traditional methods. Intermediate users can try using the computer. Click here for more about computerized vs. non-computerized.
If your budget is around $800, you start to enter a very intriguing realm of equipment: the Robotic Telescopes. These Robotic Scopes require little user knowledge about the sky or or the equipment other than knowing how to use the handset menu. Generally, you turn them on, and wait until they figure out where it is. You then hit the "Tour" button on the menu. They do all the work. Very cool technology.
The Celestron SkyProdigy Series start at under $700 and are highly-automatic. Information about what you are looking at is displayed on a scrolling line on the handset. They come with refractor or Newtonian scopes.
If your budget is over $1300, consider the amazing Meade Lightswitch telescopes. Like the SkyProdigy Series, they align themselves. Rather than having to read a scrolling line on a handset, though, the Lightswitch scopes provide audio commentary on the objects you are shown. If audio isn't enough and you want video presentations on what you are seeing, a small optional video screen is available (add $99). These great scopes make it easy to have a great observing experience with little prior sky or equipment knowledge. The Lightswitch scopes are Schmidt-Cassegrain, which have the advantage over Newtonians of maintaining their collimation longer.
A sample program start-up cost using the Starblast 6 is here.
White Light Filters
A white-light solar filter can be added to a scope relatively inexpensively, though, there are very strong reasons not to do so. The primary reason is safety. A scratch in the coating or a hole in the filter, though unlikely, can cause severe eye damage. The filter falling off during viewing would have a similar catastrophic effect. Also, getting children in the habit of looking at the sun with a telescope is perhaps not appropriate in a school setting.
Dedicated Hydrogen-Alpha Scopes
Dedicated Hydrogen Alpha telescopes are generally safer and allow viewing of sunspots, prominences, filaments and active regions on the sun. They provide the ability to run an astronomy program from school grounds during school hours. Coronado Solar Scopes and Lunt Solar Systems are the primary vendors. Pricing starts at around $599 for the Coronado PST.
Questions or comments? Email:Jeff Martin