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The NexStar User's Guide II - Excerpt from Chapter 1

Are GoTo Scopes Appropriate for Beginners?

Many seasoned amateur astronomers have expressed disdain with the advent of entry-level computerized telescopes, even though many of them own more expensive, advanced scopes of the GoTo variety. They criticize that one of the joys of astronomy is learning our way around the sky and that the money spent for the computerization would be more wisely applied towards better optics. These seem to be valid points, but the more experience I have with budding amateur astronomers and these new scopes, the more I tend to disagree.

First, it is a mistaken assumption that using a computerized scope alleviates the need to learn the night sky. It is still necessary to look at star charts or fire up a planetarium program in order to decide what to look at. The beginner still learns the sky, they just donít learn to star hop - jumping from one known star to another until you have found your quarry. Granted, some will not follow through in acquiring even this computer-assisted knowledge, but would they have taken the much steeper path by learning to star hop? Especially now that most of us live under urban light domes with so few guide stars? I have seen beginners with GoTo scopes exhibit a higher rate of continued interest compared to beginners with more conventional introductory models. It seems that the GoTo beginners are seeing more and it keeps them interested.

In most cases, these entry-level computerized scopes cost about $100-150 more than a non-motorized scope of similar quality. Throw in the usual $60 clock drive for a non-computerized scope and the price difference doesnít amount to much. I will agree that the least expensive of these scopes are suspect as astronomical instruments, but in particular I find most of the 80mm and larger scopes quite up to the task of starting an amateur astronomer on their lifetime journey.

This new breed of entry-level telescope has gained popularity unlike anything in amateur astronomy that came before. With this comes an unprecedented level of firsthand awareness about the wonders of astronomy. In the end, astronomy is about expanding our awareness by learning and observing. These are phenomenon a computer-assisted tourist can experience just as well as the star-hopping navigator. We need to embrace this expansion of technology and guide beginning amateurs in appropriate new ways. I hope this book is a step in that direction.

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Michael Swanson
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