My first telescope

Looking to buy your first telescope but don't know where to start? Read our guide in the April issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.
Credit: iStock


What was your first telescope?

Mine was a very small 30mm aperture 20x fixed magnification table top item that just about managed to call itself a telescope, but was all my parents could afford at the time.

Taking it apart today, it is clear that there is an ‘aperture stop’ and additional small corrector lens in an inner tube extending upwards from the fixed eyepiece end, which probably means there was only about 20mm of aperture available.

So in reality the scope was a 20mm, 20x mag refractor.

Stopping down the aperture does occur in many cheap telescopes and indeed, as BBC Sky at Night Magazine's binocular expert Steve Tonkin will attest, in binoculars too, so it’s worth looking down the tube to see if the full aperture is actually being utilised.

My first telescope was effectively a toy and as such only the Moon showed anything worthwhile.

I tried it on Jupiter and Saturn but at 20x magnification and stopped-down aperture it didn’t really show much apart from a tiny disc.

I can’t even remember seeing the Galilean moons with it!

It got put away as my own interest took a different direction and for a while focused on archaeology, before being reignited by a chance remark from a school friend.

He had a 60mm refractor on something called an "equatorial mount on a tripod".

I was intrigued so we arranged for me to visit one clear evening.

This was in the days of my youth when I rode a moped. I visited him, he duly set up the scope and explained that the plastic EQ mount had a crack, so wasn’t too stable.

However, we did see Jupiter – it had bands! There were indeed also dots of light, which were the Galilean moons.

Saturn had rings that were clearly visible. I was amazed and a little envious. Then he asked me if I wanted to buy it.

The price was too high but a few weeks later when I again visited him for another view, he dropped the price to a whopping £5!

I snatched his hand off and we packed it away in its box and I had the most unusual journey back home with an unwieldy long box straddling the petrol tank of the moped. 

It became my prize possession and later, once I had joined the local astronomical society, I found out they thought the views of Saturn were impressive.

I would go on to find around seventy of the Messier objects, showing that even the humble 60mm cheap old refractor had the power to transport me out into the Universe.

I still have it in my garage in a poor state minus the tripod, but one day I reckon I’ll renovate it for old times’ sake.

The rest, as they say, is history. That little scope changed my life.

If you're looking to take your first steps in astronomy but don't know where to start, in our April issue Tim Jardine reveals all you need to know when buying your first telescope.

The issue also features the usual pull-out sky guide, space news and of course our outstanding reviews section, so make sure you pick up a copy!


The April issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine is on sale 21 March.



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