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Looking for the proper equipment to get started in amateur astronomy?

If you've ventured here in your quest for your first telescope you're bound to be overwhelmed at the abundance of choices that are out there by now. Reflectors, refractors, and everything in between abound.

When it comes to recommending equipment, the good news is I can easily recommend what not to buy. First, stay away from those cheap department store telescopes. You know the ones, they're advertised as being able to reach high magnifications such as 400x, and not much else. Nothing will stifle a persons interest in the hobby faster than the lousy images from a cheap scope. Save yourself the grief, either spend the money to buy a good scope or buy a pair of good binoculars. Second, don't buy a scope that's so big or awkward that it's hard to move around, or takes a long time to setup and take down. The problem only escalates if you have to drive to a dark location to do your observing. (Imagine getting your new scope just to find that it won't fit into your car!) After the newness wears off a scope that's a chore to move around, it will more than likely turn into a dust collector. This is a two edged sword though, because you don't want to buy a scope that's too small either. A good rule of thumb is keep refractor apertures above 3 inches and reflectors above 6 inches. (Keep in mind, a small telescope that gets used will show you more of the universe than a large dusty one.)

The bad news is that I can't recommend what telescope to buy. Unfortunately no one can. The final determination will be up to you. However, I can recommend a book on the subject, Phil Harrington’s Star Ware (you'll find a link to his web site under Equipment Reviews). It's very comprehensive for its size and price, and it's also very readable. Also, get out and visit and talk to people in the hobby. A great place to start is at your local astronomy club. (Check your favorite Internet search engine for a club in your area.) If you get a chance, go to a Star Party, you'll have a blast and you'll have the chance to try all kinds of different equipment. (You'll find a list of Star Parties and other like events in all the major astronomy magazines.)

Prepare yourself well before you shop, the more information the better!