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So you want a telescope for Christmas?

Mt John Observatory, Tekapo. Photo: Ian Griffin.

So you want a telescope for Christmas?, Otago Daily Times, 12 December 2022

In the run-up to Christmas, astronomers like me are often asked for advice on a suitable telescope for a beginner.

These days there is a huge and somewhat confusing variety of equipment targeted at stargazers.

With equipment prices ranging from tens to thousands of dollars, the wrong choice could make for an expensive mistake.

My first question to someone setting out on their stargazing journey is always, “do you own a pair of binoculars?”.

If the answer is no, I would suggest that binoculars can be an excellent gift for someone unsure about investing in an expensive telescope. It is possible to see a vast number of fascinating objects with a decent pair of binoculars.

By purchasing a good set of star maps to go with their binoculars, novice stargazers can spend many happy hours learning their way around our awesome night sky.

Of course, if they decide heading out on chilly nights isn’t quite their cup of tea, they still possess a handy pair of binoculars which can be used for birdwatching or other purposes.

When choosing a first telescope, it must be stated that good telescopes are not cheap.

Unfortunately, some of the less expensive plastic telescopes available from toy shops are of poor quality and give very disappointing images when pointed skywards.

My advice to anyone thinking of purchasing a telescope is to go to your nearest local astronomical society and seek advice from the more experienced members. Very often they will have different types of telescope available to look at. This will give you the information you need to decide which best suits your needs and budget.

So how about me? If I had a choice of telescope I would opt for the 0.6m Boller and Chivens telescope at the University of Canterbury’s Mount John Observatory.

The combination of size, ease of use and location make it, in my opinion, one of the finest telescopes in the world.

Fingers crossed the authorities at Mount John look kindly on my requests to use the telescope in 2023!

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2023
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