When choosing your first telescope, the most important quality to look out for is the aperture diameter rather than the magnification. You should avoid any telescopes that are small but claim that they have some great magnification power, of 400x or even 500x, at all costs.
To see faint objects your telescope needs to be able to collect as much light as possible and so the wider the aperture (the wider the diameter of the telescope tube), the fainter the object that you can see. The minimum aperture that you will require will be around 100mm for a refracting telescope and somewhere around 100-150mm for a reflecting telescope like a Dobsonian. Just what type of telescope that you wish to purchase depends on what you wish to observe.
A refractor telescope, which uses an objective lens to concentrate light into the eyepiece at the viewing end, gives better images of the planets and Moon. A reflector telescope, on the other hand, which uses mirrors to bounce incoming light through to a eyepiece lens, will be great at picking out dimmer objects such as galaxies or nebulae. A good beginners’ telescope should cost in the region between £200 and £500.
Don’t forget to check out our feature for beginners in issue 7 of All About Space where you can get some advice on choosing your equipment (we have picked out our top three beginner telescopes, eyepieces and binoculars), your first night of observing, naked eye astronomy and learning your way around the night sky.