Starter telescopes
My name is Andy and I am a 33 year old dad that is completely uneducated when it comes to telescopes and astronomy. Fortunately I have been blessed with a very bright child who is coming up for his 11th birthday and has a fantastic interest in science and wants to become an astronomer when he is older.

I am hoping that you do not mind answering a question for me please; is the following specification any good for 11 year old boy starting out in astronomy. Unfortunately we cannot afford much but the following has been offered to me (new) at £40 - and I am always sceptical about cheap items. Any advice would really be appreciated:

• Aperture: 76mm
• Focal Length: 700mm
• Faintest discernable stars: 12 M (approx. 1,000,000 stars visible!!!)
• Dawes Limit: 1.82 arc seconds
• Focal Ratio: 1:9
• Accessory threads : 1.25" (31.7mm)
• Magnification:  SK4mm/175x, SR6mm/117x, H12,5mm/56x, H20mm/35x
• Magnification with Barlow Lens
 SK4mm/350x, SR6mm/234x, H12,5mm/112x, H20mm/70x
• Mount: Altazimuth
• Weight: about 10kg
• Suitable for astrophotography, motor fitting and usage of filters
This offer includes:
• 1x Seben Big Pack 700mm Reflector-Telescope
I have not tried one of the Seben telescopes, but all I can say is that they are being sold on Ebay very cheaply and there is probably a reason for this. I have yet to hear of someone saying 'I have a Seben telescope and it is great'. They are made in China, which is not in itself a bad thing as the Chinese are now making very good telescopes. But I strongly suspect that the performance of Seben telescopes is not as good as one would like, and if you are hoping that your son's interest will increase they are probably not a good buy at any price.
  A good starter telescope but one with limited capabilities is the Infinity 76, sold by various people for £50-£65. This will give nice views of the sky but does not have enough magnification for good views of the planets. Get the model with two eyepieces, giving magnifications of 15 and 30, as the extra eyepiece is worth having for the money.
  The Bresser Skylux 70/700 EQ Refractor for around £90 offers a lot but the telescope is not brilliant and the mount is made of plastic. It is probably better than the Seben one, though I don't have a lot of faith in the Bresser brand in general. There are some rubbish telescopes with their name on. The Skylux was being sold in LIDL supermarkets before Christmas for £50 which is very good value so keep an eye open for special offers.
  SkyWatcher refracting telescopes are good -- the Mercury series from between £75 and £99 depending on what you go for are probably worth having.
   If you really want a telescope that will show a lot of objects, and will allow development in the future it would be the SkyWatcher 130M, which is a motorised 5-inch telescope. Currently £160 plus delivery on www.warehouseexpress.co.uk -- excellent value. The same people are doing a 6" Dobsonian for only £99 [February 2006] but I have my strong doubts about it.
   In my experience a poor telescope is not worth having at any price. It is better to get a small telescope that performs well than a big one that doesn't give a good image.
  A few sources:
www.warehouseexpress.co.uk (cheap box shifter). Some telescopes eg the SkyWatcher Mercury and Infinity 76 are on their price list but not mentioned on their site, so ring them to check stocks.
www.dhinds.co.uk (import Celestron and know what they are talking about)
www.telescopehouse.co.uk (ditto Meade)
And there are smaller companies around -- always best to visit one or two if you can.
You can see a few starter scopes including the Infinity 76 and the Bresser Skylux at:
http://www.greenwich-observatory.co.uk/acatalog/Starter_Scopes.html

Always a good idea to join the Society for Popular Astronomy -- at £16 a year, excellent value. www.popastro.com.

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