Picture, if you will, the astronomer: an older, spectacled lady sitting on top of a mountain for years, culminating one day in the extraordinary spotting of a cosmic supernova. Now picture some old fogy in New York City, keeping a judgmental eye on the domestic scene of his neighbors across the street. While only one of these people might be changing the course of science and thus human history, it's not out of the realm of possibility that they're actually using the exact same telescope.
OK, it's kind of unlikely unless that the old guy in New York has a multimillion-dollar telescope. But the truth is, an astronomer can find some astounding sights with some fairly standard equipment. Consider the case of 10-year-old Canadian Kathryn Gray, who discovered a supernova from her own backyard. About 240 million light-years away, Gray's find guaranteed her a place in astronomical history (not to mention an excellent "special skills" section on future resumes) [source: Matas].
But with scopes ranging from $50 for a department store offering to somewhere around $1 billion for the most expensive telescope in the world, you can be forgiven for not knowing where to start when trying to pick out your own scope [source: Satherley]. We'll explore not only the different technology that telescopes use but also which ones might be a good fit for you.
And as technology advances, it's not just spotting cosmic activity that has become easier. With smartphone apps, digital imaging and simple software programs, we'll also give you tips about what accessories you can team with your telescope to capture images and stream video.
So let's turn our eyepieces to the next page to learn a little about the two main types of telescopes you'll find yourself in the market for.