The original observational astronomer, Galileo Galilei!

Telescope Buyer’s Guide

As promised in my recent video, “The $50 Gift That Made Me A Scientist”, I wanted to give you a few telescope options for budgets ranging from $50 to over $250.

While my first telescope, obtained in 1984, cost about $50, inflation (and not the cosmological kind 😀) has taken those costs to over $100 but at least with some of these instruments come with features scarcely imaginable 37 years ago, like ‘smart phone adapters’ and GPS receivers!

Here’s a quick list of options starting with the least expensive, but still fine for beginners.

$55: This is the absolute cheapest option I will recommend. It’s compact, but I can’t vouch for much more than that. It comes with a smart phone adapter and has a decent number of 4–5 star ratings on Amazon.

For $55 this is what you can get nowadays!

$65: This scope is the closest to the one I used as a 13 year old kid…no frills, but a lot of fun!

$78: Slightly bigger and better than the scope above is this one, from Walmart: Celestron AstroMaster LT 70AZ. This comes with a Bluetooth Remote!

$200: The Celestron — PowerSeeker 80EQ Telescope —is a Manual German Equatorial Telescope for Beginners with a 80mm Aperture. It is Compact and Portable — and comes with BONUS Astronomy Software Package

$270: This is an amazing instrument, but a lot more expensive than the previous options: Orion 10022 StarMax 90mm TableTop Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope

$400: This instrument, the Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ Smartphone App-Enabled Newtonian Reflector Telescope is a serious 6" diameter refracting (using a mirror, instead of lenses). It has a ton of features not available on the budget scopes above…and the price reflects that!

Once you have your new telescope in your little one’s hands, check out this ‘beginners’ guide to using your telescope’ from my friends at There’s even a helpful video you can watch while you wait for the sun to go down!

Lastly, for older kids, say 12 and up, make sure to get a simple “lab notebook” so your budding young astronomer can record his/her observations. Have them use good practices. A lab notebook is a complete record of procedures (the actions they take), the steps and tools used, the observations they make (these are the data), and the relevant thought processes that would enable another scientist to reproduce their observations. This generally includes an explanation of why the observations were done, including any necessary background and references.

It could even be closely scrutinized if it documents your kid’s claim to a new discovery. Long after your kids have moved on from the their first forays, their notebook will remain and may be referenced, eg by younger siblings! Others will be building on the research that you are doing now and it is imperative to treat what they do such that others can replicate what your kids have done. A proper notebook will allow those who come after you to do that. A poorly kept notebook will not. Ultimately, your lab notebook is how you will be remembered during this time in your career!

Send me a message — how did your kids (and you) react the first time you saw the moon or planets through your new telescope?



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Brian Keating

Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor at UC San Diego. Host of The INTO THE IMPOSSIBLE Podcast Author of Losing the Nobel Prize.