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Frequently Asked Questions – Telescopes

In this article we have gathered answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about telescopes. This material will be undoubtedly useful for all novice astronomers and, possibly, interesting for professionals. Here you will find useful tips on choosing your very first telescope; you will also learn how to make your astronomical observations even more effective and informative.

"What is the most important thing you need to know before buying a telescope?"

If you are going to purchase your very first telescope, make sure not to rush the selection process. You definitely shouldn't run to the closest department store to acquire your first instrument. Pay no attention to eye-catching stickers promising high magnification power and other marketing tricks. Just find a good, trusted store that sells quality optical equipment in your area. Instead of so-not-helpful advertising slogans, you will get professional help and advice, not to mention a true quality instrument that will serve you for years.

Magnification power depends on how much light a telescope can gather. And the light gathering power of a telescope depends on the size of its objective lens or mirror (aperture). The useful magnification power of a telescope (if you observe in clear skies using a quality instrument) equals double the telescope's aperture in millimeters (or about 50x per inch of aperture).

Sometimes you can see inexpensive 50-millimeter refracting telescopes that claim to be capable of providing 500x magnification power. Technically that is possible, but, keeping in mind the foregoing, you can certainly tell that the optics of such an instrument only produce 100x increase.

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"Where to buy a telescope?"

In the store
The obvious answer – you can buy a telescope in a specialty store that sells optical instruments. Such a store will likely give you a receipt, which means you can return the instrument if you have any problems with it. Sometimes you can even return non-defective products with a full money-back guarantee for a certain period of time after purchase.

Delivered by mail
There are two options here. You can order a telescope in a specialty optical equipment online store or you can use one of the famous marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay that sell different types of products. Sometimes that is the only way possible to purchase a telescope for people living in small towns, located far away from major centers of the country.

Buy from other people
The idea of buying a second-hand telescope might be very appealing (and reasonable!). Many people buy expensive instruments, use them just a couple times, then get bored or just realize that this “isn’t their thing,” and, finally, place ads on the internet. A big plus – you will pay much less than you would for the new instrument. There is, however, also one significant flaw - you can’t be one hundred percent sure that the instrument you are going to purchase is in good condition and wasn’t damaged before. So you have to think twice, especially if the instrument is expensive. Although some manufacturers, such as Meade and Celestron, offer a limited lifetime warranty on their products; the warranty cannot be transferred to another person.

Levenhuk online store
Levenhuk optical equipment store offers a wide selection of quality telescopes of all types. We ship our products free of charge within the continental U.S. and with minimum delivery charges worldwide. Here you can buy telescopes straight from the manufacturer at the best prices and with unremarkable comfort and ease.

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"What telescope to choose?"

Truth be told, such a question cannot be unambiguously answered; it depends on your preferences and your goals. Are you going to observe in a visual mode, or do you want to take pictures and record videos? How much money are you willing to spend? It is hardly possible to give a straight answer to all people at once.

The optical equipment market offers a wide variety of telescopes in different price categories. Once you decide your price limit and what your goals and needs are, everything will become much clearer. Even better is if you have an opportunity to test the desired telescope model before buying it (for example at special amateur astronomers gatherings or other astronomy events).

In order to make the right choice, carefully read all the information about your potential future telescope: product descriptions, specifications, and manuals. The convenient catalog will help you find exactly what you are looking for. You can find suitable models according to your level of experience (for example, telescopes for beginners or telescopes for professionals), telescope optical design, observed object, and so on.

And, of course, you can always address your question to our professional managers. Call us or use this form.

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"What should I know about the optics?"

A telescope's most important attribute is its aperture (the diameter of the objective lens or mirror). Obviously, the bigger the objective lens, the more light you will gather. That means that large aperture telescopes allow you to observe fainter celestial objects and get more detailed views. Yes, it is that simple - large telescopes will give you clearer, sharper views, just because they are bigger.

The aperture of a telescope is always specified in the product description. Just look for the “objective lens/mirror diameter” or “aperture.” As one of the most important features of a telescope, it is often referred to in the title. For example, Levenhuk Skyline 90x900 EQ Telescope: 90 is the telescope’s aperture in millimeters; 900 is its focal length in millimeters.

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"How to determine the efficiency of optics?"

There are a few important details here.

First of all, poor assembly may affect the telescope’s efficiency. Fortunately for us, amateur optical instruments are relatively easy to manufacture, and most of them work just fine.

Secondly, different optical designs perform differently. Schmidt-Cassegrain and Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes, Newtonian telescopes, refractors – all these telescope types have their own strong and weak points. However, these differences are relatively small. The same aperture telescopes of different optical designs will have almost identical efficiency. Obvious differences become noticeable only when the aperture increases 10-20%.

Atmospheric turbulence limits the telescope's ability to transmit fine details of the image. Background glow of the sky limits the telescope’s ability to detect faint celestial objects. Atmospheric turbulence is more harmful for large telescopes than small ones. So if you have to observe in such conditions most of the time, there’s no sense in buying a large instrument. However, large aperture telescopes will show you a greater number of faint objects, even if you observe in bright skies. Many amateur astronomers scout out the area in order to find places with a peaceful atmosphere and go there from time to time to see what their instruments are capable of.

However, aperture is the main thing. The world's best 90mm fluorite apochromat is not able to compete with 150-mm homemade Newtonian reflector - that’s simply the law of physics!

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"How to develop my observing skills?"

Even experienced observers believe that observing skills are something that comes to you intuitively, that all you need to do is “keep your eyes open” and practice more. But generally that is not the case. To become a real professional observer, you have to practice a lot, constantly learn and try something new. Purchasing a large telescope to see more is the same as purchasing a large pan to cook better. It is not completely wrong but, as you know, cooking depends mostly on knowledge and experience, and not on applied tools. The same applies to astronomical observations. Practice is free and more effective than a race for new instruments. An experienced observer with mediocre instrument can see a lot more than a beginner with an excellent powerful telescope model. So what are the qualities you need to develop to become better observer?

First of all – patience. Looking for celestial objects on the sky might take a lot of time, even if you know their exact location. Perseverance – your eyes, telescope, and skies do not remain constant from night to night. Dark adaptation – it is important to avoid bright light before observations, it might take hours before you reach your maximum seeing capacity. Peripheral vision – the central part of the retina gives a clear color image, but the peripheral region is much more sensitive to light. Using your peripheral vision, you can see very faint objects and their low contrast parts.

Moreover, there are several useful observation tricks that will help you see even more. Eliminate the scattered light, distracting the eye from faint objects. To do so, use eyecups or special capes (if you do not have special tools, just use some part of your clothes) to cover your head while observing. Move the telescope – our eyes respond to movement and sometimes “exhibit” faint objects that were invisible before. Try it with your peripheral vision. Do not move the telescope – our eyes are able to store photons for seconds and show the weak parts. Try it with your peripheral vision.

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"What should a beginning amateur astronomer do first of all?"

For a start you should always remember to listen to good advice. No books can ever replace first-hand experience. Join local an astronomy club, attend astronomy events with actual observations, and try looking through different telescopes. You will gather a lot of useful information and meet a lot of interesting people who like sharing their thoughts and experiences on different observing techniques and optical equipment. You can find astronomy clubs and societies by visiting planetariums, science and technology museums, and by contacting departments of physics of nearby universities. Also, you can find addresses in amateur astronomy magazines and, of course, on the Internet.

Now answer the following five questions

When choosing a telescope, especially for the first time, one can be a little astonished by the widest range of available models. To make the right choice, answer the following questions.

How much effort are you ready to put into studying the sky?

If you know the constellations and can orient in the sky using the star hopping method and star charts, when you will be able to successfully use a telescope, which is less expensive, smaller and lighter as compared to a telescope with a computer-controlled mount.

How much effort are you ready to put into mastering your observing skills?

The ability to see details in celestial objects as well as the ability to see faint objects require a lot of practice and special knowledge. But it's very rewarding - under the same atmospheric conditions an experienced observer can notice details that a novice can miss even observing through a more powerful telescope.

How far are you able and willing to transport your telescope from its storage place to an observational spot?

The differences in telescopes' optical designs and hence their sizes lead to a great difference in portability. And of course it's better to have an easily transportable, lightweight telescope that can be frequently used for its intended purpose, than a bulky instrument whose only purpose is to take up space and collect dust, because it's too large or too heavy.

Some astronomers enjoy various technological novelties as they are, isolated from their real practical value and economic justification of their cost. Are you ready to spend money on sophisticated equipment, even if there is no particular need for it?

If the answer is yes, it might be good for your skills since high-tech equipment sometimes provides an incentive for self-improvement. Some of the equipment is also considered a sign of good taste in the amateur astronomy world. If the answer is no, then always think twice before buying a new astronomy-related product. Do you really need it? Don't let hype advertising affect your buying choice.

Do you want to take pictures or CCD images of celestial bodies?

Astrophotography is a very expensive hobby. And it's not only about the money. Generally it takes several years and several sets of equipment before you start getting fully satisfying results. So astrophotography is a lot more costly and time-consuming than visual observations.

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"What can you see through a telescope?"

The best way to find out is to actually take a look through a telescope in the company of an experienced amateur astronomer from your local astronomy club.

In general you will be able to see all planets as disks. You will witness cloud bands and the Great Red Spot on Jupiter and Saturn’s rings. When Mars is near the closest approach to Earth, you will see its polar caps. Mercury and Venus will show you their phases, but nothing more. You will see four moons of Jupiter and Saturn’s moon Titan as dots; relatively bright comets will also become visible to you.

You should not expect to see images as large, bright and detailed as the ones produced by the Hubble telescope. Why would anyone spend billions of dollars on creating a space telescope if it were possible to see the same with a $100 amateur telescope?

As for deep-sky objects, most modern telescopes can show you almost all objects from the Messier catalog. At first galaxies will appear to you just as weak spots. But if you look closely, you can see its spiral structure. The observed image will still be far from astrophotography images you can see on the Internet. Remember, most galaxies are millions of lightyears away from us. Don’t expect images to have bright colors – most objects are just too weak for a human eye to register their color.

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"Can binoculars be an alternative to a telescope?"

Hundreds of deep-sky objects are large and bright enough to look good through a 50-mm objective lens under low magnification. That’s why medium sized binoculars like 7x50 and 10x50 (where 7 and 10 are magnifications and 50 is the aperture) are a quite reasonable choice for beginners. Such binoculars are affordable, portable and easy-to-use. But to be able to use astronomy binoculars with success, first you need to study the starry sky in detail and also make sure that the binoculars are not very heavy, so you can hold them without tiring and the image shaking.

Here are some examples of good astronomy binoculars from our product range:

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"What to read for a beginner astronomer?"

Some of the best books for getting familiar with constellations and celestial objects are “Discover the Stars” by Richard Berry, “Patterns in the Sky: An Introduction to Stargazing” by Ken Hewitt-White and the more practice oriented “Astronomy: A Step by Step Guide to the Night Sky” by Storm Dunlop. Most amateur astronomers had started their astronomical journey with these wonderful books. Besides that, you can use any amateur astronomer handbook to learn the basics.

We also would like to recommend some additional interesting astronomy titles: “Astronomy” by Ian Ridpath, “The Backyard Astronomer's Guide” by Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer, “Astronomy Demystified” by Stan Gibilisco, and “Illustrated Dictionary of Practical Astronomy” by C. R. Kitchin.

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"Can I build a telescope by myself?"

Yes, you can. The most reasonable choice for a beginning telescope builder is a Newtonian reflector on Dobsonian mount. Keep in mind that your creation will only be suitable for visual observations as astrophotography requires a more advanced mount. Of course, building a telescope is not easy; it takes a lot of complicated operations with different materials, precise calculations and lots of patience. But as a result you can get a relatively powerful telescope of 120-200mm aperture at a significantly lower cost when compared to buying a ready-made telescope. A classic guidebook on telescope building is “Build Your Own Telescope” by Richard Berry. Telescope building is also a very popular subject on astronomy-themed forums on the Internet. There you can find detailed instructions on building a telescope illustrated with photos of the process.

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"Do telescopes provide only black and white images?"

An image observed through a telescope eyepiece is usually color, but not always. The image will have colors if you observe terrestrial objects, as well as the Moon and planets. You can also see the colors of some stars. At the same time, weak deep-sky objects such as galaxies and nebulae are seen through a telescope as grayish clouds.

If you observe with a large telescope of 250-300mm objective lens diameter, you can notice some colors in the brightest deep-sky objects. Besides telescope aperture, much depends on observing conditions (mainly light pollution level), dark adaptation of your eyes and your individual eyesight features. But even with the largest professional telescope, you won’t be able to see deep-sky objects during visual observations (with your eyes only) as brightly and as colorful as we see them in astrophotography images.

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"Can I see a UFO or the American flag on the Moon?"

Unfortunately, the flag is too small to see from Earth. It would take a telescope with mirror diameter of hundreds of meters. At present, a telescope with such aperture doesn’t exist. As for UFOs, you don’t even need a telescope for those. The only difficulty with a UFO is to understand whether what you see is really a UFO or a real, explainable and very identified object. Most amateur astronomers can confidently recognize objects they see and, as far as we know, none of them has seen any UFOs yet.

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