So, you want to buy a telescope but you really aren't sure what you need. That can be a scary situation for someone in your shoes. One quick search on the Internet and you'll soon find out that there are literally hundreds of options out there for your stargazing needs. Well, I am here to tell you that it doesn't have to be such a daunting task if you are armed with the right information. There are some questions that you can ask yourself to help narrow your search.
First, for what purpose do you want the telescope? Is it for educational purposes for yourself or a child? Or, is this you embarking on a career? Do you plan to go into astronomy as a profession or a hobby? Could be you just want it for the occasional glimpse in the sky or for taking with you on you outdoor adventures. Basically, if the answers that you come up with from these questions lead you to the conclusion that you only want the telescope or casual use or for events such as the occasional comet, then choosing something that is lightweight and low-cost with a wide field of view and good optics is a sound choice.
If you decide that without doubt, this is something that either you or your child is going to stick with, you're going to want something a bit more substantial that will stimulate the interest, not stump it. If this is the case, spend a bit more and go for better optics.
Second, Do you have a budget and what is it? Telescopes as you have probably figured out by now aren't cheap. Good ones range from $200 and up. The more you spend the more options you get, but like with cars, options cost extra and don't necessarily make the telescope work better. Basically, pay for what you'll use, not for a bunch of extras that you don't need. For a beginner, I wouldn't recommend paying $500 or $600 if you aren't absolutely sure that the telescope is going to be used frequently.
Third, what do you need it to do? What magnification capabilities do you need? Basically, an aperture is a hole or slit that lets light through. The more light that comes through, the better optical, more clear definition you will have. Long story short here folks, get as much as you can afford here if you're serious about astronomy. You won't be sorry.
Fourth, where do you live? Are you in an urban area where there are lots of lights at night time or are you in a rural area where you can see stars for miles? If you are in the city, then you will definitely want to put money into the aperture. If you're in a rural area, you won't have as much difficulty seeing at night time.
And finally, ask yourself, after all of this evaluation, how serious are you? What is your knowledge base? Could you identify where any of the planets are? Is astronomy an active hobby of yours or a fleeting thought? Can you name and identify the constellations? If you live and breath it, if it is something that you are passionate about, then go for it.
Some good sites to go to for additional information are: