I've used a 20" (!) Dobsonian and as an experience it was pretty meh, aside from the novelty value. Space simply doesn't look that impressive that through a telescope - not even a huge light bucket. And a small affordable scope will be even more disappointing. You can see Saturn's rings and craters on the Moon and the satellites of Jupiter with some rough impression of banding, but most nebulae are faint, small, and not at all spectacular.
Instead, I'd consider astrophotography. It's not a cheap hobby, but it's also not as cripplingly expensive as a high-end scope. And you can produce genuinely stunning results by layering the sharpest and best images with software. This sidesteps the problem of poor seeing (optical distortions caused by air movements) which limits good direct viewing to large objects and cold nights.
The amazing thing about modern astrophotography is that amateurs are easily outclassing the images produced by professional astronomers fifty years ago. And you can start without a telescope at all by fixing a DSLR to a tracking telescope mount. There's also a lot to learn so you can start simple, produce some decent visual results, and then continue to be amazed as your skills improve.
Also it's better to start playing with a telescope sooner so that you get used to the particular problems of telescopes regarding IQ, like the ugly "bokeh" from the spider and the (lack of) chromatic aberration.
A good telescope you can look through is a smoother gateway into this than a DSLR for some people.
A cheap body+wide lens can do astro-photography, if you can easily get away from light pollution. If you want to look at things from a suburban backyard, a decent telescope is the way to go, maybe one with some sort of a camera attachment.
My point is you'll need a tracker with the long lens, worry about light pollution with a wide lens, and worry about neither with a telescope because human eyes aren't limited to ISO6400 and can stack in real time.
> Instead, I'd consider astrophotography.
I mean, the same logic is true for astrophotography. Unless one is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and years practicing and willing to build a remote observatory on some land at a dark site, there is no picture one can ever take that isn't already taken in far superior quality here https://welcome.astrobin.com/
But it's fun to see things with own eyes and take photos with very own camera.
That said, I think you're underselling the experience of seeing these objects with your eyes in real time, and overselling the accessibility (in price and in difficulty) of setting up astrophotography.
With this in mind, the best telescope you can get for the price is a Dobsonian.
Dobsonians are extremely mechanically and optically simple.
This makes them long, and bulky.
It also makes them cheap.
It also makes them rather easy to point.
They have a lot of mass and inertia, and a large moment of inertia.
This makes them easy to move and point slowly and carefully.
Dobsonians are ideal beginner telescopes.
Easy to point, cheap, good resolution.
This is the model I have (8" aperture, $450): https://www.amazon.com/Orion-8945-SkyQuest-Dobsonian-Telesco...
They're also rather easy to construct, if you are of a DIY mind.
Here's a 90 minute youtube video on how to build one, with John Dobson himself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snz7JJlSZvw
I hope that doesn't deter the "makers" among you from building a Dobsonian for the experience of it all, but if you want to get from zero to observing as cheaply as possible these days, you're probably better off just buying a Dobsonian similar to the one the parent comment linked.
I bought an 8" SC myself used for 550€ including a mount with tracking.
The nice thing about binocs is they are easier to bring out than the scope. Plus they give the wife something to look at while I find cool stuff with the scope.
Or on a more serious note, binoculars do come with pretty large objectives, but they get to be expensive when you get past 100mm. Here's one with 150mm objectives. And since binoculars have two objectives, that has the light-gathering capability of an 8-inch telescope.
Seems to me the field is wide open for someone to come in and solve it using off-the-shelf hardware. Maybe tapping the CCD and detecting the minuscule changes ... servo to rotate the CCD, servos to adjust pitch, yaw ... a feedback loop that blips the servos and decides if the image error is increased or diminished....
You certainly wouldn't be the first to build a motorized tracking mount for astrophotography. There are plenty of existing products for manually-aligned star-trackers, and several still for "autoguiding" trackers that use the position of fiducials in the image plane. (These can use either a mirrored split in the optical path of the main imager "on-axis", or use a piggy-backed guidescope imaging system on the same mount.)
Check out high-gain, high-sensitivity imagers like the ZWO ASI290MM Mini, controller like the ZWO ASIAIR Pro, and tracking mounts like the iOptron CEM25P or Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro.
These are expensive, carefully engineered solutions, though. They don't really exist in the same market space as Dobsonian telescopes, and it wouldn't make any sense to make those tracking solutions twice as complicated and twice as expensive using by non-equatorial mounts.
More basic tracking dobs are used for planetary and lunar astronomy though due to the shorter exposure times.
(That said, I ignored the advice because really wanted to do photography more than anything else.)
The hobbies are more parallel than sequential.
Perhaps. In the South Bay they still have many of the sodium street lights because of Lick Observatory in the hills. I'm always amazed at how well you can see the stars from my driveway. I don't recall it being as clear in the midwest when I lived there.
If you're broke, get on craigslist and get a used 6" or 8" dobsonian.
If you have the budget, my advice is to get on craigslist and look for a used name brand telescope with at least 6" of aperture and an equatorial or computerized fork mount, and a pile of eyepieces and other accessories. This will probably be a Celestron 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain (there are a number of models, and there have been even more) and will cost $500-$2000 depending on its age, condition, accesories, etc. Yes, new ones more or less land in that range but expect to get a good deal on the bundle of accessories. It's not what I chose, but they're popular because they're at a sweet spot of portability and versatility.
There are many other options. I like the approach in the book Real Astronomy with Small Telescopes, but I live where it's usually cloudy and like to be able to bring a small telescope with me when I travel.
Also, you'll need a planisphere or star atlas (or app), and a red torch so you don't ruin you night vision.
The Messier objects and some of the nebulae are just awesome.
If the binoculars can also be used for wildlife I'd be willing to spend a bit more for them.
Binoculars are very nice on a tripod, especially with a parallelogram mount, but being able to use them without a tripod opens up many more observing opportunities.
Even if you live in a heavily light polluted city, you can do something astronomy-adjacent with binos: satellite hunting! HeavensAbove has a really nice free android app for it. Satellites are mainly visible at dusk or dawn, and dusk is a lot easier than staying up late depending on your schedule. Plus it's like a race, they may only up for less than a couple minutes, so you have to have a keen sky-sense to pick them out. It's cool being able to know what they are too -- "huh, that's some Soviet rocket booster from the 70's"!
> So, I suggest people don't buy a telescope. (How un-commercial of me.) Instead I suggest attending star parties, joining an observing group or club and looking through many scopes before you spend any money.
> .. But before you buy a scope you never looked through, you should probably know the meanings of the words: dobsonian, apochromatic, equatorial, servo drive, periodic error, star test, collimation and shipping damage claim.
Beautiful places are still beautiful in bad weather. Often less crowded to boot. If things get really bad, the car is dry and has a heater and there are lessons for proper equipment needs for next time.
I mean it's a multi-year project. Statistically, the weather isn't going get much better, nor is six month forecasting tied to a specific weekend.
Camping skill is the only practical area for improvement. The only one in a camper's control...and to be cliche, most of that skill is mindset.
Short of lightning strikes, grizzly bears, and freezing, I'll live through the weather. Good weather is nice, but it's not a need unless I need something to worry and complain about.
There's satisfaction in a tent that keeps the rain out and a bag that keeps the warm in that is harder to find at home with its running water, electric range, and shingled roof. Maybe it's I don't much think "you'll live" there. Because I don't have to pay much attention.
Same with weather.
Even if it’s not wrong, Yellowstone is still Yellowstone...so to speak.
Anyway if you go to the Hoh Rainforest, you might get rain...I paid the dumb tax on that. I lived.
As for weather, turns out it changes a lot! That's sort of the nature of weather. :) Unless you're mired in a stubborn stationary front, or a deep low that came from the ocean, you'll have different weather on night two.
If you want the good sites, you have to reserve early. The system works great for old rich retired folks who have nothing better to do than call and find open campsites, and for whom the $20 fee for a no-show in their $200,000 RV doesn't matter at all, so I think it's unlikely to change to a lottery system or similarly more fair alternative any time soon.
If you're not willing to deal with the system, more rustic sites are often available. No electric (use solar or a quiet inverter generator), no water (but often close enough to a full-service campground you can fill your fresh tank, drive in, and drive out to empty your grey and black tanks before making the long drive home), but generally less crowded.
Seriously though, if you have appropriate gear for the potential range of conditions, you'll likely always be fine. This only gets complicated/expensive/(even risky) at the extremes.
May this pandemic wind down..
Which equipment is best for you also depends on what you want to get out of the hobby, your budget, and what you have space for. I'd recommend joining the forums at cloudynights.com and reading through the myriad of threads asking the same question, and you'll start to get an idea of what the trade-offs are. Also, find a local astronomy club so you can meet like-minded individuals who are eager to share their knowledge. Many clubs organize public viewing nights. If you can attend one of those, you'll be able to look through other people's telescopes to see what resonates with you.
If you're really itching to buy some equipment right away, I'd recommend a pair of 10x50 binoculars. Binoculars on a parallelogram mount and a zero-gravity chair is a very comfortable (and inexpensive) way to enjoy the night sky. And the equipment is portable enough to take with you on a camping trip. Binoculars and a zero-gravity chair is how I was observing the moon last night, even though I have the refractor and SCT. The setup time is nearly non-existent, which makes it easy to pop outside for a quick view.
Edited to add: You asked about books. I think you're smart to ask about reading material, because learning about what's in the night sky brings more joy to the hobby. (Equipment isn't everything.) One thing I'd recommend in addition to books is the Astronomy League's Master Observer program: https://www.astroleague.org/al/obsclubs/master/master.html. It will introduce you to a breadth of objects. I like to read about each object (usually on the internet) as I'm checking them off the list. I learn more about them when I pair observing with reading.
However, if you're ready for the telescope, my advice is to spend as much money as your budget has on getting the biggest aperture you can buy.
More light = more better.
Auto-tracking is nice, but learning how to find objects in the night sky is a fun and worthy exercise, and if you have a big aperture you'll actually be able to see the things your telescope points to.
A few things to keep in mind:
* You're not going to see DSOs (Deep Sky Objects, like nebulae and galaxies) from the middle of a major urban area. You need access to a dark site. (Search for "light pollution map") Planets are easy to see from anywhere, cities included (though the viewing is always better the darker the sky is).
* Many objects in the night sky will look like little fuzzy gray spots to your eyes, no matter how awesome your telescope is. Don't expect a Hubble experience from a 6" scope (or 8, or 12+).
* Don't expect to take photos through your telescope, either. You might manage to get some cool shots of the moon (which looks _amazing_ in a telescope, btw), but true astro photography is a whole 'nother beast (both fun and expensive).
With all that as background, I'd recommend a 6" or 8" Dobsonian if you've got the budget. Something like an Orion Sky Quest XT8 or XT6.
My favorite book, by a light year, is "Turn Left at Orion". It'll help you find thousands of cool things in the night sky, and it's great for beginners on up. — https://www.amazon.com/Turn-Left-Orion-Hundreds-Telescope/dp...
P.S. Definitely checkout r/telescopes for additional advice and info.
My place is right next to a brightly lit pool (which I hate with a passion ;), and M42 is visible just fine. Even with the naked eye. Same goes for photography - I've got a few pictures of M42 that are pretty darn cool, with a single exposure and a Canon DSLR. I've collected excellent single-exposure shots of Jupiter & Saturn during the conjunction.
No, it's not as spectacular as the stuff you see when you look at images you find online, but it's still a "holy shit" moment the first time you manage to.
You should just be aware that you'll quickly learn the limitations, and getting a taste for DSOs/star photography means you'll likely develop a desire to do more. ("I wish I could see X"/"I wish I could take better pictures") And that starts getting expensive. (But that's true for any hobby that requires you to buy things, there are always more toys ;)
Also, here's some photos from the stargazing outing => https://photos.app.goo.gl/oCamaWZwfH2HwykBA
La Palma is the 2nd best place in the northern hemisphere to put a telescope, and it's well worth a visit. The island itself is beautiful, amazing actually. And it's super cool to go on tours of the telescopes. I got a chance to visit the Isaac Newton Telescope & the Gran Telescopio Canarias.
Telescope visit photos => https://photos.app.goo.gl/JcD1bCUb1asU9VcE8
This one looks like it works with binoculars too: https://www.amazon.com/Photography-LUXUN-Mount-Quick-Smartph...
If space observation is for you, the quality of the telescope won't matter because to a first approximation all of the limitations will be in your experience. You won't drive far enough away from city lights. You won't get the tripod level enough. Not closely aligned with the Earth's pole. The clamps won't be tightened tight enough. The eyepiece won't be optimal.
I mean, you'll have trouble finding the full moon.
No matter how much you spend.
Want to get good?
Set up the telescope right outside your front door and leave it there.
Use it every day.
But what if something happens to it?
It's cheap. Buy another. They're cheap.
Because something will happen to your telescope if you use.
It will fall.
You will drop it.
Knock it over.
You will forget it's leaning on the rear bumper when you back the car up.
All better than sitting in a closet.
The way to tell if space observation is for you is by a your willingness to be bad at it.
Being bad is being a beginner.
Mastery is reserved for masters.
Being into it is all the space in between.
I'm someone that over-analyzes every purchase even if it's at a price I'll never notice. This is great advice. The thought-hours and calories I've spent on "finding the best choice" for things that turn out to be less interesting is horrendous.
I've been following this thread because my 6 year old has expressed several times that astronomy is interesting to her. I've been wondering what the right choice of telescope is to support her, while realizing a 6 year old is fickle especially after bedtime. That hasn't made me pause at the rec's of a $700 8" Dobs, which it should.
I don't think binocs are great for little kids, as you can't point and then show and they have stability issues, but you're absolutely right that a cheap Amazon telescope will give us the moon (literally) and maybe some more, and then we can follow the interest from there.
And to me, a small pair of non-toy binoculars is a great gift for a child. The sort that lasts a lifetime by virtue of being a general tool.
To me; two pairs of binoculars is better than one telescope. It allows “parallel play.” Looking at the night sky together but with individual agendas seems a great way to spend time together.
Maybe in a few years upgrade to a telescope. Children grow up quickly, yet not so much that there’s a rush to do things.
And with two pair binoculars, there’s also birdwatching.
It's a fascinating hobby for people fascinated by it. Most people won't be fascinated enough to turn it into one. The idea of shopping for gear is typically more than the idea of using it. That's why this page is a shopping question not a use question. Shopping is easier.
I think you have the right mentality about making sure you enjoy the hobby and what to understand how to use a scope, but maybe the better advice (modulo COVID precautions) is to seek out star parties or observatory public outreach events. These are free, aren't fraught with the pitfalls of cheesy equipment, and will show you as much as you can expect to see with a scope given several years of experience and several thousand dollars of investment. Was it inspiring or disappointing? Would you drive an hour out of your way to stuff your hands in your pockets and do it again?
But I know that’s not really it.
It’s that though it was cool to see the moon and planets and such, it didn’t make me want to solve telescopic problems in the dark.
Better equipment doesn’t change the types of telescope problems that need to be solved in the dark. It just changes the grain. The mount and optics will always be nothing but compromises. The weather will never be controlled. Light pollution will be there. Objects will rise and fall on their own schedule.
For me, those are mildly interesting. Not interesting enough to pursue ever more difficult problems. To find ever more rarely seen astronomical objects.
Going out to an event is a good alternative to a movie. But just as going to a movie isn’t a good indication of an interest in solving cinematic problems, looking through someone else’s telescope probably doesn’t indicate much about solving telescope problems ones self.
A cheap telescope is the simplest thing that might work. It is the most direct path past “maybe.” It is the least guilt option for a telescope sitting in the closet. And it is the easiest excuse for being bad...which all beginners are.
I am a very infrequent hobbyist but have bought quality equipment through astromart. Good quality telescopes have very good resale value if you take care of it.
The best telescope for the beginner is the one they can take out easily into the field and use it often.
A good quality 7x50 binocular is good to start with and then move onto something a little bit more substantive like a 3" refractor or an 8" reflector like a dobsonian or a newtonian with a tripod.
Also install a good piece of astronomy software like Stellarium or similar to virtually navigate your night sky and become familiar with constellations and the bright stars that you can see with the naked eye.
Beware this can become quite an expensive hobby if you fall into the rabbit hole.
I sold my telescope and bought a microscope - now that was fun. You can see everything just like you see pictures of, worlds within a drop of water. Because microscopy is limited by how much you can see due to light wavelengths. Spending a few hundred gives you the best of anything in the world, if you wanted to go nuts, a thousand will give you something that will be as good as anything else around.
I recommend to anyone who wants to try it out: get a phone app with VR so that you can easily spot where a star you want to see is, by waving it over your head. This will give you a transparent Earth and you can start to get a bit of a cadence for when stars are rising and setting.
Tracking the sun with a VR app as it sets, even if sitting inside your house on a chair, is such a cool way to sew together some concepts that sound obvious but only may be after this improvement to your vision. Seeing the orbit of Venus dotted around the setting Sun, you will quickly understand why we call it the Morning/Evening Star as it barely scopes above the visible horizon.
Learning why we call it the Dog Days of Summer is also a delight that a VR app can sew together for you as well.
I'm a novice, an absolute one - I love this hobby regardless. Spend 4.99 on a nice VR app and see if it only entices you further to open your wallet for a telescope.
Don't think it's the phone, it's a fairly new one etc (has all the AR bells and whistles on it).
I've been meaning to dive into ARCore, and on my list was a constellation based compass & gyro calibration app.
My first scope was a 6" dobsonian that I bought on craiglist for $120. It was a great first experience, because I was able to see some amazing things. But it's size was a big downside. I couldn't fit it and a passenger in my civic coupe. It was also so heavy that I often didn't feel like taking it outside. If you're already in a dark place and can store it somewhere that's easy to get to, then I think it'd be great. If that doesn't apply, I'd try for something smaller.
I've recently been thinking about getting an Orion StarBlast 4.5 inch dobsonian, or ST130 (though this requires a mount). They're inexpensive and portable. Not nearly as much power as a 6 or 8 inch, but the portability trade off is worth it for me.
One other side note: if you get something with a tripod, it's gotta be at least decent. I also have a ST80 telescope, which I wouldn't really recommend it this case. But it has taught me how important the tripod/mount are. The tripod that came with the scope was unusable. I got really frustrated on forums, because so many recommendations were for $700 tripods, specifically to use with this $100 telescope. I've been happy enough with an $80 Orion Tritech II; it isn't great, but it isn't $700 ;)
6" f/8 newtonians like the typical 6" dob are really at a sweet spot of aperture, size, optical quality, and cost. They've been the classic beginner's telescope for generations for a reason. I wish I'd had one on a pier-mounted equatorial when I lived under dark skies.
If you are unsatisfied with the f/5 ST80 I don't know if you'd be happy with another fast (low focal ratio) telescope. See if you can find someone local to you to let you look through a telescope similar to the ones you're thinking about.
It's interesting to learn just how important tripod and mount are. I think the frustrating thing for a beginner is that they really just need a setup that works, whereas experienced users often describe really finely tuned expensive setups. And to the beginner it can sound like this is the only option.
A used equatorial (EQ3 type or similar) with a clock drive would be a big step up for your ST80, and shouldn't be too expensive if you can find one.
I got into star gazing by accident a few years back because I found $250 entry-level telescope, unused new-in-box for $60 at a garage sale. So look for a used scope for your starter because it is cheaper and very common for people to buy expensive equipment then get out of the hobby. Once you get your sea legs you can upgrade knowing what you want to see and the right equipment to do the job.
I also went on line and learned how to use the scope and then went to some local "star parties" which were fun. Do a search for your area and go because you'll learn a lot faster by talking to others. The local club did a field trip/tour of a (small) observatory at a local community college which was great. Another benefit is some of these gazers have dropped a ton of money on advance systems and at the star parties they are more than happy to let you take a peek and look at all sorts of objects that a beginner scope can't see but it was fun to see the planets and the moon, etc. with my own scope too.
Going to a star party allows you to meet experienced backyard astronomers who can show you these objects and talk to you about the hobby. That way you have some idea of what you can expect (especially at an entry-level). It’s a wonderful hobby, but it helps to know what you can expect to see (also realizing that the more you look through a lens, the better you’ll get at actually spotting objects).
 The other thing that doesn’t always get noted is how damn frustrating it can be to find objects without some experience. My first hunt for a Messier object was a profanity-laden experience. So, having someone present who knows how to navigate to those objects can make it more enjoyable!
Of course, quite good Chinese-made Maksutov-Cassegrains are available if that's your thing and a Questar is out of the budget. They are not beautiful, and they are not exquisitely machined, and they are probably not good to lambda/20, but they cost about what it will cost you to have a Questar collimated and otherwise serviced.
For visual astronomy with tracking a good CAT for small field, planetary, or a good Newtonian or for more money a Refractor. Each type of telescope has its pros/cons.
Visually you won't see much color, maybe on planets or some stars. Normally you will see everything grey. Deep Space Objects like clusters, nebula, etc...look like blobs of smoke (well the ring nebula does look like a small ring and others are unique). The Orion Nebula in winter is incredible (but it is cold outside)
For astrophotography a really good mount (Expensive). Mount is the most important, then depending on what you want to do: for large objects/DLSR, for smaller dimmer objects, 70mm APO refractor plus dedicated CMOS imager plus star tracker (even a good mount has tracking errors).
Ultimately the issue with Astrophotography is that it is quite expensive and even after you have all of the dedicated hardware you need software and image processing/stacking to get any good images...after all Deep Space Objects are really faint.
Yes, it's a rather small aperture, so you're limited in deep space objects. (But I still took pretty amazing pictures of various nebula, so it's still pretty cool)
It's compact - which was a large point for me. I don't have a giant thing sitting around. It's also able to travel in a (slightly large) carry-on, if we ever get to travel on airplanes again.
It's not-too-expensive ($650 when I bought it. Not cheap, but not a $5K tube either)
The autotracking is good enough for long exposure shots, calibration is super easy.
But all that said: Get a good pair of binoculars first. Get a star map. Learn your way around the sky. That time investment is well worth it.
For one, it means that for many objects you can skip all the calibration noise and just dial them in like the ancient pre-2000 people: By hand. Calibration is more setup, it's boring, I still dial in by hand when I can. And it's fun when you can just look at the night sky and know where stuff is.
Caveat: Astronomy is ultimately a very opinionated hobby. All of the answers I gave might be wrong for you.
$1,500 sound like the right ball park?
Almost all binoculars can focus on things that are far away, which is usually the case for astronomy (and in those cases when it isn't, you are too busy running from the asteroid that is about to hit you to be making observations...).
But how close they can focus varies a lot. I've seen good recommendations for the Celestron Nature DX  series as a good but not too expensive binocular for critter watching.
The 56 mm models can focus down to 3 m, and the smaller models down to 2 m. I have the 8x42 model, and it has been great when I'm at my desk in the living room next to a big window, and see a critter I want to take a closer look at sitting on the rail of my front deck. I can just pick the binoculars up and get a good look right from my desk. With my old binoculars (50+ year old Tower Optical binoculars that my family had when I was a little kid), I had to back up to the opposite side of the room to focus on something on the deck rail.
If you want to wear glasses while using binoculars, make sure they have an adjustment for that. The rear binocular lens is supposed to be a certain distance from your eye. There needs to be a mechanism that allows you to get closer to the lens when wearing glasses, to compensate for the added distance glasses add.
For the Celestron Nature DX, you simply twist the eye cups. They are on some sort of threaded mechanism that can move them in or out as you twist them. Move them all the way out to use without glasses, and move them in when using glasses.
I believe I've seen some where you swap eye cups to switch distances, which seems like it would be inconvenient.
The advice I would like to give you is to start your journey with the question, what do you want to do with the telescope?
- Look at stars planets etc.. - Buy a Reflector based telescope
- Also want to look at animals - Buy a Refractor based telescope
- Do you want to make it a new hobby and take it with you to friends - Buy a Compound based telescope
- Already in photography - Buy a telescope with a camera mount NO phone mounts
- More interested in the journey of making things and testing it - buy a telescope kit
- Do you have more then 400 dollars to spend - buy a cheap one first and then buy a good one with the money that is left after a few months.
I hope that will help you with your journey.
If you have a pair of binoculars already, get some kind of tripod for them, or improvise something with a reclining lawn chair -- anything that can stabilize the binos and let you point them upwards comfortably. It's surprising how much you can see with medium-quality binocular if you can keep them rock-steady.
A six or eight inch Dobsonian telescope is a good next step. The entry-level models are cheaper than they look, and the optical reach greatly exceeds that of cheap department-store refractors. Last I checked, pandemic reality had made them hard to find new, but they occasionally go for a song on Craigslist.
Look up a forum called Cloudy Nights for much, much more info.
I used one similar to this on my honeymoon: https://www.rei.com/product/155737/mountainsmith-trekker-fx-...
If you do decide to buy, pay attention to the tripod and mount. Get something with heft that won't wobble when you breathe on it - no matter how good the optics, if the scope is bouncing about you're not going to have a great experience.
A word of warning, it was really hard to find any of the lower price ranges telescopes that they recommend without it being overpriced. The demand is high.
I'm going to be in some of the darkest parts of the US very soon (Big Bend national park, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce) so can't wait to use it!
Next, read books on astronomy/star gazing and watch a some videos on stargazing, using a scope, general astronomy, etc. You don't need to have a PhD or anything, but a general working knowledge will serve you well. Also, before you lay out the $$, see if there is a local astronomy club near you (I'll bet there is). Clubs usually host a public stargazing night which is a perfect opportunity for you to get a little scope time and ask questions (and make some friends/connections in the hobby).
If, after all this, you still have the bug it's probably safe to plunk down your hard-earned cash on a wonderful 6" or 8" dobsonian scope. I bought mine about 30-ish years ago and I still have it and use it from time to time. Orion 8" dobs used to be the standard for starting out. You can still pick one up for about $450.00.
Magnification "power" is pointless nonsense. If you see advertisements about "100x magnification" or some such, run. That's the mark of a poor telescope you'll hate. What matters is the size of the aperture: The bigger the better.
You'll see lots of recommendations for Dobsonians, because reflectors are the least expensive way to get big apertures, and Dobsonians are the least expensive reflectors. Dobbies have one disadvantage: They cannot be used for long-exposure photography because they cannot track the sky. (Well, they can be outfitted with computer-controlled motors but that's going to add so much cost you might as well just buy a Newtonian reflector on an equatorial mount.) If you don't care about astrophotography this is a non-issue.
Refractors use lenses instead of mirrors and cost a great deal more for a given aperture than an equivalent reflector. (Any refractor that does NOT cost a lot more than an equivalent reflector is absolute garbage.) Refractors are great if you want to look at terrestrial objects in addition to space objects, because you look through them rather than through a hole in their side, and the image will be right-side-up. Right-side-up doesn't matter with space objects. Reflectors are almost always better for most people nowadays than refractors. Don't spend a lot of money on a fancy refractor until you're sure you really need one.
You'll see some discussion about buying lenses for Dobsonians: That's about eyepieces. Every telescope needs an eyepiece and all eyepieces are lenses. The "lens vs. mirror" debate is only about the main optical element in the 'scope which determines the aperture.
Besides aperture, the other thing to look at is focal ratio. Generally, you'll want a low focal ration like f/5 for looking at large, dim objects like nebulas and galaxies, and a high focal ratio like f/9 or so for looking at small, bright things like planets.
I'm in sort of a weird telescope situation in that over the years I've collected three garage sale telescopes of various sizes, and they're all right around f/5. I also live in a city, so they're all optimized exactly for looking at the things I can't see unless I travel pretty far out of town where the sky is dark.
My two bigger scopes are made by Coulter Optical. Coulter is an interesting company. As I understand it, back during the 80's or so, you just couldn't buy a large aperture telescope for a reasonable price. So, Coulter came along and figured, "why don't we make a telescope where we put most of the manufacturing effort into a high-quality primary mirror, make the rest as cheaply as humanly possible, and sell the result? The result was the Odyssey 1, with a 13" primary mirror. It looks like large home-made waterheater, and is about as portable. Later on they made the Odyssey 8, a smaller version with an 8" primary mirror. The tube is made of cardboard, and the focusser is just a pvc slip fitting. The base is made of painted chipboard. That's the telescope I use the most, and it works great. I wouldn't recommend the odyssey 1 unless you live out in the country somewhere where you can set it up and use it without having to load it into a car and drive somewhere else.
Many telescopes come with one or two eyepieces, and you may want to get a few more in various focal lengths. Generally, the tradeoff is long focal length: everything is small and bright, short focal length: every thing is small and dim. So, generally you start out with a long focal length to find the thing you're looking for, and switch to short when you find it and want a closer look (assuming it's something small and bright like a planet).
There are also barlow lenses, which are sort of an adapter with lenses that increases the magnification of whatever eyepiece you're using. They're occasionally useful.
Most mid-range telescopes have standardized on 1-1/4" diameter. Cheap/older telescopes sometimes use 0.96" and big telescopes sometimes go with 2". Adapters are available to mount DSLR camera bodies to the telescope without using any lenses at all, which is a great way to go on a Dobsonian because there aren't any lenses at all in the whole optical path to introduce chromatic aberration, only mirrors. (I don't have a DSLR camera, but in the past I've had a bit of fun taking the lenses off of old USB webcams and adhering them to the focusser shaft with poster putty. I was able to get some decent low-resolution footage of an extreme-close-up of the moon that way.)
Another thing that might be useful sometimes is something you can use to cover most of the telescope aperture, for cases where you want maximum image clarity and are willing to sacrifice light-gathering. That can be handy for looking at the moon.
I haven't tried using filters, but those can also be used to bring out contrast in certain things.
The images aren’t like NASA’s but that’s not the point. Seeing—-suspended in space—-planets, comets, nebulas, galaxies with your own eyes is a joyful experience. Personally knowing the sky intimately is a joy.
The first is portability and your personal transportation options. You will want to travel around to observe.
The second is imaging, what camera can you connect. Looking through a telescope is ephemeral and personal, but being able to preserve and share your experience makes it better.
You can move the 8" Dob around with one person and fits across the back seat of a small car. You manually push it around so you learn to star hop, and learn the constellations more than you would with an electronic GOTO.
Only last year upgraded the eyepieces to Baader Morpheus. Gives good claer views of Saturn & rings, cassini division, Jupiter & great red spot, equatorial bands, Uranus, Neptune, Messier objects etc etc.
A 6" dob is a good option for planetary viewing too and arguably better than 8" in some regards (a bit smaller and more forgiving on cheap eyepieces). 8" is better for deep space objects of course.
Consider a 10" dob for deep space, but they start to get a bit large to move around.
Buy a Newton (reflector/mirror) telescope with Dobsonian mounting - as opposed to the classic refractor with a tripod.
That's my 3 cents.
Every time I've read so much that I know for sure what type I want, I read something else that makes me question what I want. So it's a complicated decision!
Install http://stellarium.org/ and get to know the stars from your location. Even if you end up getting a "goto mount" (where you enter the desired object and it finds it for you) you still have to align it so you'll still need to know and be able to find the stars it needs! So learning the constellations and stars is a must, you can get started on that before buying anything.
Join https://www.cloudynights.com/ forum and read lots. There's a beginner area there as well. It's a very active forum.
If it wasn't for covid, join a club and go to watch parties to actually test viewing through all kinds of telescopes.
Consider carefully where you'll keep it and where you'll use it. If you have a yard where you can keep it in a shed and roll it a few feet away to use you may not care about size and weight. But if you'll be carrying it down stairs and commuting to a darker view site on a bicycle, priorities are entirely different.
Seems like a Dobsonian is the overwhelming suggestion in this thread. Do consider that for example the Orion 8" Dobsonian is 41 pounds and over 4 feet long. Does that fit with your storage, transport and usage location constraints?
Whatever you buy, don't get something so cheap that the quality is so terrible it makes you give up. What this calls the "category 1": http://www.scopereviews.com/matrix.html
If, against all advice, you want to do astrophotography, this flips some of the requirements. For photos, spend most of your budget on the mount, not the telescope. In fact you don't really need a telescope, just a good mount and a DSLR camera (this is what I've been doing the 18 months I've been shopping for a telescope!)
(I did finally get tired of analysis paralysis and ordered a telescope last month. A StellarVue 80mm triplet refractor. There are long lead times these days for telescopes so it'll be a couple months before I actually receive it.)
Congrats on the new scope! Excellent choice. Welcome to the hobby. :)
They've got a bunch of telescopes based around the world which you can try out.
You might^ be able to infer the characteristics of a telescope you like, and the types of astronomy you enjoy by using their service.
^I'm a total newb here. But I did do my highschool work experience at Sydney Observatory. I could imagine that there are factors that might mean that you get better results on their service than in real life.
If you are a complete beginner, a challenge I'd recommend you setup is observe the rings of saturn. Observing those was one of the early highpoints for me.
I got a Celestron reflector with an electric mount. Aligning it is a bit of a pain, and you absolutely need full batteries to keep tracking, but it’s a requirement if you’re looking to take photos.
One other thing, it seems most astrophotography software is Windows only, so ymmv
Secondly, I‘ll go against the grain and suggest you don’t start with a binocular or manual dobsonian, but with a motorized goto telescope. They come in many varieties and for a start, pretty much all of them are good. Celestron has a series of telescopes called Evolution and if it’s in your budget, an Evolution 6 will be a good scope for a long time. They also have smaller & cheaper scopes with Go-To that will work well too.
What’s Go-To? You tell the telescope what you want to look at, and it drives right to it and keeps the object centered within the eyepiece. The last part is quite important as even at average magnifications, objects tend to move out of the center (where it’s sharpest) quite fast. Many scopes can also be controlled via your phone with an app such as SkySafari - sometimes that requires an extra adapter for the scope though.
Why this path? I followed the usual advice of getting a binocular, then a small dobsonian and barely ever had the drive to use them due to finding objects to observe in city skies being hard. The scopes just collected dust for the majority of the year.
I just made the jump to a bigger scope with Go-To to a) make visual observations more interesting for me (more observing, less searching), and b) pursue a newly discovered interest of mine called Electronically Assisted Astronomy. Think Google‘s night photo mode but for a telescope, allowing you to see galaxies and nebulas in all their glory from home!
You can then see sunspots and can watch eclipses unfold.
Books: Again, depends, but Turn Left at Orion and Cosmic Challenge are good ones.
Refractor telescopes are extremely expensive to get a good one, otherwise the image quality is awful, and either way they are so limited in aperture and weight that you'll be able to see very little through them.
Don't buy anything off Facebook saying they've used some computer technology to make an amazing telescope. Yes computer technology helps some scientific applications but consumer wise it's all BS.
Reflector telescopes can be okay in theory and can be a good middle ground between the price/aperture of dobsonians and pricier options (my first scope was a reflector so I have a special place in my heart for the image they provide!) But you may as well save your money and get the dobsonian instead, because if you wanted to use a reflector for computer tracking and astrophotography you'll spend so much money on the mount and cameras and add ons that you may as well have bought the pricier option in the first place.
Don't get a fork mounted Celestron CPC. It's the same issue; more expensive, not as good as a dobsonian, you get computer tracking but can't use it for astrophotography.
That just leaves schmidt–cassegrain telescopes. If you want to do imaging you may as well jump here and try to buy a package that has it all including a really really good mount. The only downsides are that you'll be spending $10k-$20k. If you weren't interested in those things... may as well get a dobsonian.
One thing I wanted to mention that everything bar the dobsonian is going to be extremely heavy. For the reflector and Schmidt's you'll be carting a 25kg mount, 25kg of weights, then trying to hoist a 25kg scope onto the mount with one hand and slot it into a tiny rail in the dark while your other hand fumbles for a tiny screw clamp that holds it in place. There's a reason people get into the hobby and then give up.
A dobsonian you basically lift the tube and plop it anywhere onto the base and you're good to go. So unless you're fit, don't bother even getting started with anything except the dobsonian.
As dobsonians are cheap, they're easy to buy and sell, and so if you don't hang around in the hobby then you'll be able to exit quietly and not feel much of a loss. If you do become an enthusiast and jump to the top end there's no loss either, because it'll be such a nightmare to set up, you'll still be using the much larger and better dobsonian for all of your normal viewing.