Refractor Telescope

What is the difference between a refractor and a reflector telescope?

My son wants a telescope for Christmas, but we're pretty uneducated as to which kind to get. He is 10, but extremely smart and interested. We don't want a piece of junk, but yet we want something good enough to support his interest. Advice??

I'm a big fan of dobsonians (I've got 2) but they're not that good for young children! They're designed to be easy to move and kids tend to hang on to the 'scope and move it when it should be stationary. Not only that, but dobs are undriven, so they have to be moved by hand to follow the object you're viewing- I've yet to meet a 10 year old who can do that. You can obviously get motorised mounts which will track the object for you (more expense!), but I've found another problem with youngsters - some of them look across the eyepiece rather than through it!

I'm passionate about teaching astronomy to children but I'd want to be very sure they could actually use and enjoy a 'scope before spending a lot of money on one.

But let's assume that a telescope is the right thing for your son. Reflectors give you most bang for the buck, but the eyepiece will be quite high off the ground - maybe too high. Decent refractors are a lot more expensive, but the eyepiece is lower down, and when used with a star diagonal (which puts the eyepiece in a more comfortable position) are much more usable for short people. There's a third type of 'scope, catadioptrics, which use both lenses and mirrors. There are some quite affordable ones, but I think the sub $500 ones are too small to give enjoyable views - there's no "gosh wow".

Whichever you choose, please remember that they take practice to use, and you're never going to see things like the Hubble pictures!

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