Telescope experiences to help with a first purchase

Our two boys (5 and 6 years old) are taking a keen interest in all things astronomical and I’d like to get them a telescope for christmas. As I’m a complete numpty and don’t know what to look for can anyone help with advice or even recommendations for a starter 'scope?



Fantastic. I work with an amateur astronomer. Ill report back!

Any idea of budget all?

First thing is it depends where you live & how dark your sky is. Although summer evenings can be interesting, it doesn’t happen until way past bedtime for 5 & 6 year old’s. Suitable darkness for them will mean autumn thru spring & cold brings on boredom quickly at that age.

Also consider where you live, cities & towns are not good for star gazing.
The difference between a town back garden & a real dark sky area is truly amazing.

First thing I would do with them is to learn & explore your sky with just what you can see unaided, the constellations, the planets & how they change & move, the significant stars, the way everything changes with the seasons.

An astronomy telescope magnifies a very small area of sky, some show mirror-imaged and/or upside down & that can be very confusing. And reasonable cost beginner grade 'scopes don’t collect enough light & you end up limited to moon & the larger planets.
So for kids at that age I would only go for binoculars, they show a view that’s right-side up and straight in front of you, making it easy to see & understand where & what you’re pointing at. They show a wide field of view, will collect far more light than a lower cost 'scope & for a 6 year old give a far better appreciation of what they are actually looking at.
Bino’s can be used hand held as well as 'pod mounted, using it both ways all helps keep interest levels up.

I would go for a one of the popular sizes with x8 or x10 magnification & an object lens of 42mm These will have numbers of 8x42 or 10x42. If you can get a larger object lens such as 50mm, so much better.

Take a look at Meade or Celestron website. They have plenty of telescopes for beginners and they are easy to find. Dark skyes!!!


good point, of course, that would help wouldn’t it…

I was thinking up to the £150 mark seems to present a wide range of options but am unsure what this kind of money gets you in terms of performance

Essentially the analogy I would draw is that I’d like to purchase something that does its job like a NAC72 which has a very pure purpose and does it very well, without the bells and whistles…

Hi Chris,
That’s a great adventure you and your boys can take together. I bought a table-top Dobsonian telescope eight years ago for my boy and we have used it together to see the Moon, Rings of Saturn, Jupiter and its moons and the Orion Nebula. This kind of scope is purely manual and uses a mirror to capture light. You use a red-dot finder to line up your target and focus using a low power lens, then shift to higher power if conditions allow. You would need some sort of solid support, a table or we use a wheely bin. The model I have is an Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector. Current cost is 184 pounds. But I soon bought better lenses.

If you go this route, you will need a star-hopping book to learn the night sky, then you can point out the constellations to the boys. ‘Turn Left at Orion’ is good. There’s a free program, Stellarium which will show you the night sky from your location. Stargazers Lounge is a good place for advice.There’s a getting started section. You will want a red torch, or paint a torch with nail varnish so as not to spoil your night vision. You will need a moon filter as the full moon is very bright. I think this is still a good beginner scope, though if you have a dark site then a bigger dob would show more stars and detail. Skywatcher Skyliner 200P is 289 pounds. A pair of binoculars is good for learning the night sky too. At their age holding binoculars is tricky, but an inexpensive 7x30 that wont mind too much being dropped is good.

One thing to say at the outset is that aside from the moon, everything seen in a scope is tiny and your won’t see colours. So this isn’t like the NASA or Hubble images. But it is still exciting. Mars is a challenge. It is red, really small and with this size of scope you will be lucky to see the poles. Magnification doesn’t matter, all stars are simply points of light. But a bigger scope means bigger mirrors and more light capture to see fainter objects. The more you observe the more you will see, so wrap them up warm. If you have a local astronomy club then they will let you use their dark site and you get to look through some expensive gear. (Personally I’ve not explored astro photography) I do have a refractor (bought second-hand - secondhand gear is often good value) but this long traditional telescope with lenses is more difficult to set up, needs a heavy tripod and more awkward to use. Buy your gear from a specialist shop, online is fine.

The route I didn’t take was to buy an all-singing-all dancing computer controlled scope. Celestron and Sky-Watcher are decent makes. But I found it empowering to find my own stars and not struggle with the orientation and set-up, power tanks and mess with computers. And at 16 now he can find stars and planets for himself.

Light pollution is the real limiter to what you can see. For us a walk down the canal with binoculars will show constellations and meteors at the right time. Really dark skies will show you the Milky Way which is amazing. A frost night after the rain will produce a good night sky. Saw the Pleiades last night through binoculars - an amazing view.

I guess it depends if astronomy will become your hobby too, and how much you are prepared to spend. A good computer controlled set up if you put the time in on set-up could show your boys instant stars without having to find them. But the stars will always be points of light and the nebulae will be misty patches, seeing them at all is a thrill. Being with you and learning the night sky and being out in the real dark will be a thrill if our experience is anything to go by.

All the best,


This is my orion mini Dob.

It is a tube on a swivel with a concave mirror. Hence a reflector.

The other sort works without mirrors and is a refractor (You will need a tripod)


Thanks for the insights, that’s very helpful

We’re quite fortunate in that we live out in the sticks, about a mile form the nearest village and just half a dozen neighbours, we have no street lighting so have pretty dark nights with little or no light pollution

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Lucky you!

Ideal situation with dark skies at home. Ok just seen the budget. Skywatcher Heritage 100 for 99 pounds leaving a margin for book, filter and a pair of binoculars you don’t mind being dropped?


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I bought a chaep Celestron scope a few years ago - it doesn;t see much use as we’re in the City but have taken it away when staying in holiday cottages etc.

Perhaps someone can advise how to stop the thing misting up with condensation when taking it outdoors at night! Maybe leave in the car/outbuilding to stay cool but dry?

Hi Alley Cat,

I put my scope outside to chill to the ambient temperature for an hour or so before observing. Depending on the weather you may need to cover with a bag or the cap - and watch it doesn’t rain or blow over if it is light. One advantage of a Dob is that the mirror at the bottom of the tube tends not to dew up. Does your Celestron have a dew cap which projects beyond the lens at the front? If not, you could make one out of vinyl, flexible plastic etc or extend the existing cap to about 3 cm. A more hi-tech solution is a dew heater which could run off the existing power supply if you have one or a separate battery.


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I went for a Meade; this 20 years ago. Sadly it was nicked when I using it during an eclipse, but I loved it. It was an ETX, they still are made and once set up they will take you to what you want to look at. If you are ever in London take a trip to Telescope House on Farringdon Rd. I hope it’s still open.

It’s worth going in and talking to them as they give good advice. The online shop will give you a good idea of what is available at a range of budgets.
The Dobson is a good choice, and a mirror based system gives you more detail than a refractor.

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Thanks Derek - I don’t think it has a dew cap I’ll have to take a look.

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Nice scope, Huw.

That’s a miserable thing to happen.

I think Telescope House are not in London any more though they appear to have a shop near East Grinstead. SCSAstro sold me my first scope and First Light Optics are reliable too.


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Yep looks like they have moved on …
Good website, but worth finding a specialist dealer.
When I studied astronomy at school, Prof. Beet recommended binoculars for star gazing, especially for moon watching.

Binoculars invaluable I agree. I guess there’s a magic though to having Dad set up the scope so you can look and see Rings of Saturn or a good crater. I used binoculars for years until I bought my first scope for my son. With such young children a small pair would be better to hold than 10x50 perhaps? I like my views of the moon through a filter these days. Binoculars an essential complement to a first scope perhaps.

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Agree - good mentor makes it special. Prof. Beet was the key for me; my old man was not interested. To this day it’s hard to get better than looking at the moon, or spotting a satellite.
Perhaps a tripod for the binoculars?
I’m not up to date on software, but there must be a good guide?
I use Starwalk on the iPad/ phone, but something on a bigger screen would of benefit.

I can recommend the Kowa YF 30 porro prism binoculars. They are designed for small hands and the optics are excellent.

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Stellerium is good and you can set it to your location. (You can also set it to night view - red light and use it to guide your scope.) But I just look at the screen indoors to see where things are before I go out. You can chose what to display and it is open source.

Well done Prof. Beet. Never had a binocular clamp or bins that have a screw thread though. Essential with bigger bins because of the shake.