I have a Celestron "Celestar 8" telescope for sale to a friend/colleague for $300 (if you've stumbled on this page and don't know me, the price will be higher and won't include shipping). I'm selling it because after 20 years, I've finally admitted to myself that I'm not a night owl.
This is an 8-inch Schmidt-Casselgrain. See http://www.company7.com/celestron/products/sch4.html for more specs. The manual for a somewhat newer model is at http://geeky-boy.com/celestar_8.pdf (and I have a paper copy of the original manual). Here's some more info on maintenance: http://www.celestron.com/media/795984/1297801919_telescopemainte.pdf
Ebay had almost my exact unit that sold for $730.
In addition, I have a bunch of nice accessories that I'll throw in.
Why to buy this scope
- You or a family member has a high interest in astronomy, and you think that you would enjoy looking at planets, star clusters, and even the odd galaxy. There's something awe-inspiring about looking at the pale smudge that is the Andromeda galaxy and knowing that you are actually looking at 2.5 million year old light. Personally, my favorite destinations were always star clusters, partly because they can be seen through light-polluted sky.
- Given the quality of the scope and the accessories, it is a STEAL at $300. I saw almost this exact scope on ebay over the weekend that sold for $730.
- I'll train you on its use. If you want night-time training, then I'll ask that it be at my house, but you can learn 80% of what you need to know during the day. (As with any hobby, practice makes perfect.)
- An 8-inch scope is pretty damn good. It will cost you thousands to get a (new) bigger scope, and that scope will be much less portable.
- Motor drive. While this one doesn't have "goto" technology, it does have a motor drive to track objects, which is very nice when using high magnification, and should also be fine for photographic exposures of ... oh, I don't know ... a minute? Ish? I don't have experience with astrophotography, I've just read a few reviews that complain about this scope and long exposures.
- Lots of good accessories worth hundreds (new).
- A 1.25" 25mm SMA eye piece that came with the scope.
- A 2" TeleVue 55mm Plossl eye piece that will make you feel like you can step right into the Milky Way. This is my workhorse eye piece, and is wonderful. It costs over $200 (new), but mine does have a speck of something in it, so it's not "like new". But that speck is not noticeable when using the scope, and can probably be brushed away by somebody brave and skilled enough to disassemble it.
- A 1.25" TeleVue 11 mm Plossl that will give you nice close-ups of planets or "split" binary stars.
- A 2" TeleVue Barlow to double your magnification. This is another bit that costs about $200 (new).
- A 2" TeleVue "diagonal", essential for viewing things at high angles. Wow, this costs over $200 (new) also? Man, I don't remember this or the Barlow costing this much.
- A much improved 50 mm finder scope.
- Three motion-damping feet to reduce vibration.
- A few filters that aren't actually all that useful except for viewing the moon. I also have a "light pollution" filter that I was never able to see any benefit from.
- A nice "lipstick"-style optics brush.
- An intentionally-dim flashlight (to not ruin your night vision). It is not red, which is claimed by some to be better for conserving night vision, but I've found it perfect.
- Some misc tools that fit the various nuts and bolts.
Is it good for kids?
I personally believe that kids with hobbies are happier kids, and grow up to be happier adults. If you give your children no other gifts, give them the gift of a hobby.
And I think that astronomy makes a GREAT hobby. I suspect that a kid under 10 might have some trouble with this scope, but a teenager would have no trouble.
BUT!!! You need to be prepared to spend a bit of *your* time helping your child, at least for the first few weeks. Here's why. Ttrust me on this one; I speak from experience.
Here's some information about helping a child get started with Astronomy. I suspect that a lot of that info would be useful even for adults just getting started.
Why NOT to buy this scope
- Not well-suited to long-exposure (many minutes) astro photography, mostly due to vibration and inaccurate tracking. If you want to get into long-exposure, you'll need a much better scope. But this scope should be fine for short-to-medium exposure astro photography.
- So-so portability. The scope plus tripod is almost 40 pounds. I consider this scope to be a good tradeoff between portability and size, but it's not a great scope if you are a spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment kind of person. For most people, this will take 2 or 3 trips to carry the scope and its accessories to your viewing area, and it takes between 5 and 10 minutes to set up. Compare that to a pair of nice binoculars that takes 2 seconds to remove the lens caps. But you won't see Saturn's rings with binoculars. :-)
- No "goto" technology (automatic pointing). Many scopes have a computer on board where you tell it which planet or galaxy you want to look at, and the scope springs to life and points itself at that object. This scope requires a bit of time and effort to *find* the thing you want to look at. Some people would find it tedious and frustrating. HOWEVER, with many hobbies, the process is the point. Think of knitting, woodworking, or playing a musical instrument; the *doing* is usually more important than the final product. The process of "star hopping" your way from a known sky position to a nebula or a double star can be far more enjoyable than just pressing a button and staring at the final destination.
- Its 20 years old, and its optics are consequently imperfect. Not that I personally can notice, but I doubt this scope produces as brilliant an image as a new 8-inch would. (But this one would be far superior to, say, a brand new 6-inch scope.)
- The rubber boots on the tripod legs are damaged, and the metal leg bottoms could scratch your floor. This should be easy to fix by somebody who is a bit handy.
In my opinion, none of those are particularly bad. By far the BIGGEST reason not to buy this scope is:
- Maybe astronomy is not a good hobby for you or your family. Even though this scope is priced VERY well, $300 is a lot to spend for something you end up using 2 or 3 times. You'll be surprised how many nights are cloudy in Illinois. And if you aren't prepared, you will be disappointed in what you see in the sky. The pictures of planets and galaxies you see are taken by professional equipment; you won't see anything like that. The few galaxies that you can see in light-polluted skies will be pale smudges, not majestic spiral arms. (On the other hand, if you *do* take up astrophotography, this scope will produce pretty damn good images, FAR better than any other scope under a thousand dollars.)
So, what CAN you see?
If I've lowered your expectations, don't worry, there's plenty to look at.
1. Moon. Absolutely spectacular. No, you won't be able to make out the Lunar Landers from the Apollo missions, but you'll think you can. Seriously, I can spend an hour exploring the lunar surface without getting bored.
- Mercury and Venus are pretty, if rather boring. They have phases, like the moon does, but are featureless white. Fun to look at, but not interesting to study.
- Mars is a little better; you'll see a reddish orb with faint features sometimes and no features other times, depending on the Martian weather. Seriously! No clouds, but dust storms can make large swaths of the surface pretty featureless. Even during periods of calm, the features are vague and hard to make out.
- Jupiter. Wow. On a good night, I can make out 3 ... maybe 4 of the cloud bands. About 5 of Jupiter's moons jump out as obvious moons, although you cannot see any disk, just points of light. But those points of light line up with like little soldiers. If you are really patient make some drawings, you can see the moons change slightly between early evening and late night. For sure you can see the moons having moved a lot from night to night. Make sketches of what you see!
- Saturn. Always a crowd pleaser. Moons, and its famous ring. I can't make out any cloud bands, but some people are able to. Depending on the orientation, you can see the shadow the rings cast on the planet.
- Uranus and Neptune. I'm told you can see them, but I never worked very hard to do so. I think they just show up as tiny bluish orbs.
- Asteroids. You'll only see them as points of light, not as "objects". But you can track them against the starry background from night to night if you are so inclined. I never was.
- Comets. There are very few "naked eye" comets -- maybe only one or two in a lifetime -- but there are nice comets within this scope's reach every year ore two.
3. Stars. White dots. Boring. Unless we're talking about "special" stars. I once spent most of a night looking at "carbon" stars that range from yellowish to ruddy red. It was cool to see color in a sky that is usually black or white. Also, binary stars can be a hobby to "split" them. Most true binary stars are too close together for a scope like this to resolve into two, but there are plenty that are right at the border. This is not an area that particularly interested me. And some very dedicated amateurs use CCD cameras to take accurate brightness measurements of variable stars and submit the data to real astronomers for actual science.
3. Star clusters. I love these. They are the main things for me.. Easy to find, easy to see through light pollution.
4. Nebulas. Some are small and compact ones are easier than diffuse ones. It's all about light pollution -- if you have dark skies, you'll see much more. The Orion Nebula is fantastic, the Ring nebula is cool, My skies have always been too light polluted for me to spend a lot of time on nebulas.
5. Galaxies. Same problem as nebula, but more so. But in spite of the difficulty, they're worth the effort. They're freaking galaxies, for goodness sake! Worth a trip to darker skies.
6. Daytime use. Probably not the best for wildlife since it's not very portable, but if sure produces amazing views.