....Oakland, California - Stargazing since 1924


The hobby of astronomy has certain pitfalls and problems which can endanger one's pocketbook, and even one's physical well-being. Here are some short descriptions of common problems that astro-newbies should know about:

BAD TELESCOPES: There are a lot of bad telescopes available for purchase out there, very often sold from department stores for between $50 and $200, that boast magnifications of 300 - 600 times, which is ridiculous. Don't fall for the hyped-up advertisements! Getting a child a bad telescope can actually quash their interest in astronomy, because bad telescopes are hard to work, they're wobbly, and they have muddy, fuzzy views (especially at those hyper-inflated magnifications). A better choice for a budding young astronomer would be a good book on constellations and a decent pair of binoculars. There's an awful lot of neat things to be seen with binoculars in the night sky, and they're relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Here's a very good link about choosing your first and second astronomy binoculars.

WRONG TELESCOPES: There are some very fine computer-controlled telescopes out there that sound very sexy and gee-whiz-bang, but they're not always the best choice for absolute beginners. The advertisements or salespeople will practically wax poetic on the virtues of their high-priced, high-tech wonders, but in reality, if you don't know at least a few basics about the night sky, its structure and contents, you're likely to flounder. Then that expensive, fancy-cool, three-legged, one-eyed marvel will sit in your garage or closet until the End of Time (or until you clean up that garage or closet - whichever comes first). If you've already gotten one, you have three options: seek help, learn the basics, or AstroMart (the on-line classifieds for selling/buying all things astronomy). If you haven't gotten one yet, go for something simpler, like a dobsonian or an alt-az short-tube refractor; you'll get a lot more bang for your buck. Don't worry: that goto computerized monster will still be there with its 35,000 object database (of which you will realistically only be able to see a mere fraction of).

STARS FOR SALE: "Buying a star" to be named after someone is a perfectly legal business, and would have been a very nice gesture for the person to whom the star was being named, except that it is only registered with the US Copyright Office. The name is not recognized by any official astronomical publication, and is not assigned to any star charts used by real astronomers, anywhere. So, if you still want to blow $50 bucks for a star chart and a certificate that is recognized by nobody except the US Copyright Office, knock yourself out! Real astronomers tend to loathe this rather opportunistic practice, so whatever you do - don't buy your loved one or favorite astronomer a star!

VIEWING THE SUN: Don't even attempt it before you know exactly what you're doing. You could burn your eye out - literally. Different filters exist for solar observation, but only use the ones that fit on the front end of the telescope - never just at the eyepiece end. A solitary "solar filter" attached to the eyepiece may crack from the concentrated beam of sunlight pouring in from the front lens, and it would just about vaporize your cornea in a split second. Don't mean to scare you too much, but you definitely need to know that solar observing is no light matter; pun not intended.


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