I got my first telescope last year for Christmas, and I was so excited. It is called the Funscope, and can be had for less than $75. (Click each image below for more details).
As I tuned it in on Jupiter, I was stunned to see four tiny moons in a straight line. These moons were first discovered by Galileo, and are now known as the Galilean moons. They go by the names Ganymede, Io, Europa, and Callisto. It amazed me to see them so clearly on such a small inexpensive telescope. This telescope has a laser finder that helps you find things, and though it is limited in size, it is a great beginner telescope.
I quickly advanced to a pair of Celeston binoculars, which I picked up in early spring for a good price. The nice thing about binoculars is that they see things as they are, so finding things is easier. Most telescopes are Newtonian Reflectors, which means they use a mirror, so up is down, right is left, and you have to reverse all your adjustments to find things. (This is true of the telescope above.) But binoculars don’t do that. The binoculars I got were 15 x 70, which is a little more powerful than the Funscope, so I could pull in some of the deep sky Messier objects. I even got a Messier checklist and started to search the sky for each one.
One thing that is crucial if you buy binoculars like these is to spend a little money on a nice tripod. I found this one for $30, and I really like it. It is easy to use and goes to a height of 70 inches. You need a tall one like this, because when you are looking at certain angles with the binoculars tilted, you need extra height. The entire set up can be had for around $100, though. If you’re buying for a kid, go for the Funscope. If you’re buying for an adult, go for the Celestrons with the tripod.
Celestron seems to be the telescope of choice, and they’ve got a ton of varieties for all levels of users. I’ve done quite a bit of research, and my friend even bought this baby:
It makes the rings of Saturn pop right out. You can see nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters. Of course, it tracks things in the sky and finds them automatically with the push of a button. There are a lot of bells and whistles, too. You’ll have to be a really serious astronomy buff to spend this kind of money, but if you do, give me call!