As you begin your quest for the best telescopes for beginners prepare for an onslaught of new terminology. Familiarizing yourself with a handful of key terms will help you make a good decision about which scope will work best for you. At TopTenREVIEWS We Do the Research So You Don t Have To. 

Telescope Types

A telescope s type is determined by the type and configuration of optical components it uses to gather light and form an image of distant objects.

Reflector: A reflector uses a mirror to gather and focus light. Some of the best telescopes for beginners feature this optical design.

  • Dobsonian: A Dobsonian telescope is a type of Newtonian reflector telescope that features a very sturdy and simple mount. The Dobsonian is known for being inexpensive and easy to use.
  • Newtonian: A Newtonian is the most common reflecting telescope, which uses a specially curved, dish-shaped primary mirror in the bottom of the telescope. A small diagonal secondary mirror bounces light from the main mirror to the side of the optical tube.

Refractor: A refractor uses a lens to gather and focus light.

Catadioptric: A catadioptric or compound telescope uses a combination of lenses and mirrors to gather light and form an image. They are known for their relatively compact size.

  • Maksutov-Cassegrain: Often called the Mak-Cass, this telescope is a type of catadioptric that folds light using a series of mirrors.
  • Schmidt-Cassegrain: The Schmidt-Cassegrain is a popular type of catadioptric that is known for being compact and easy to upgrade.

Telescope Mount Types

Telescope mounts have many names but all fall under two basic types.

Altitude-Azimuth: Sometimes called altazimuth, or simply alt-az, these mounts move up and down and right to left.

Equatorial: An equatorial mount can track targets as they appear to move through the sky.

General Terms

Achromatic Lens: The achromatic lens is designed to minimize the effects of chromatic aberration, a type of distortion that results when only some colors come into focus.

Aperture: The aperture is a measure of the diameter of its main optical component (a lens or mirror). The aperture determines a scope s light gathering ability, or how bright an image appears, and its resolving power, or how sharp the image appears.

Barlow Lens: A Barlow lens is concave and designed to magnify the power of any telescope when it is placed between the objective lens or mirror and the eyepiece. Invented by Peter Barlow, this popular accessory can double focal length.

Caldwell Objects: Celestial objects designated and named by Sir Patrick Caldwell-Moore are often referred to as Caldwell objects. The list includes many bright, deep-sky objects.

Collimate: A telescope s mirrors and lenses are aligned at the factory but rough handling, and even regular usage, can jostle them enough to necessitate realignment. Collimating a telescope is the process of aligning the optical elements.

Deep-Sky Objects: Star clusters and other objects beyond our solar system are referred to as deep-sky objects.

Focal Length: The focal length is the distance from the primary optical component to the image it forms. It can be different from the length of the optical tube at times because some telescopes bend the light on its way through the optics.

Go-To: This term is used to describe telescopes with small motors and computers that are designed to find celestial objects for you by moving the telescope into position. Experts disagree as to whether this feature is helpful in telescopes for beginners.

Kinematic Mount: A type of alt-az mount, the kinematic mount was designed around the principle that it takes three points to form a plane. This mount features three points of contact in both horizontal and vertical planes.

Light Pollution: Artificial light, such as the light provided by street lights, may lessen the viewing capabilities of your telescope. Combined light sources that lessen the contrast between stars and galaxies and the sky are sometimes referred to as light pollution.

Messier Objects: Galaxies and nebulae designated and named by astronomer Charles Messier in the 1700s. Their names are often shortened to  M,  for Messier, followed by a number.

Plossl: The Plossl is a type of eyepiece invented by Georg Simon Plossl that features two sets of paired achromatic lenses. These lenses are known for good color correction and a wide field of view. 



More Top Stories