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I'd like to get the kids involved with appreciating the night sky, and science in general. What sort of equipment should I be aiming for? I am completely clueless, as far, as specs, but I don't mind spending a fair chunk of change.

Thank you in advance for your suggestions. :yesway:
 

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OK having run public stargazing for over a decade I feel kind of qualified.

First off what I would recommend is going to this website. The Astronomical League
Find a local club or other organization and visit and make some friends. Look through their equipment and get a good idea of what the equipment does and how the kids are going to be able to handle it. A telescope that's a pain in the ass to set up and use doesn't get used. So look around and talk to people.

Also goto the library and look through the astronomy section for observing guides. My personal favorite is Binocular Astronomy by Crossen and Tirion. I know it's a binocular guide but the objects look great in any instrument and the star charts in back are very good at helping you find things. The best guide for learning constellations is http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0395248302/skymaps. Also there's a boatload of good planetarium software out there and even apps for cell phones that can help you learn. I'm a book man myself.

Also get a good pair of 10x50 binoculars if you don't have one. I own these. They are awesome for observing big objects like the Andromeda Galaxy, the Pleiades and just sweeping through the Milky Way. Sure you can go bigger and I have a pair of 15x63 binoculars that I adore. But the 10x50s will show you a lot and are multitaskers. You can use them for other purposes like going to ball games or hiking or whatever. So if the kids get bored with astronomy you still have a good pair of binoculars.

This is as good as starting advice as any and when I get a few minutes later I'll write up a long-winded essay on the advantages and disadvantages of various telescope type and accessories.
 

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I'm trying to do the same at my house with my 6-year old twin girls. I picked up one of these last Christmas and it seems to work pretty good for being dirt cheap. I just need Leon (and Eirc apparently) to come over and show me where to point the thing. I'm going to check out "The Astronomical League" because it sounds like a group of superheroes.
 

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OK here's the rest of my what qualifies as advice.

Telescopes, for amateurs at least, come in three categories: reflectors, refractors and compound telescopes.

First is refractors these are what most people of think of when you mention telescopes. Like this.

Refractors use a series of lens to focus the light.
There are two adjectives tossed around with this design, achromatic and apochromatic. Apochromatic refractors are designed to correct for an optical artifacts called false color. False color is a halo of light around a very bright object. Achromatic telescopes do not correct for this. Personally I fail to care most of the time. If however you are dropping big money on a refractor is better be and apochromatic one.
The upsides of this design is the usually give sharp images and are super easy to maintain. Also if you choose to use it to take pictures they are awesome for that as well.
The downside is larger sizes are very expensive. A 160mm Astro-Physics will run you about 9 grand for just the telescope without a mount. Of course there's a wait list to get on the wait list for one of these. No I'm not joking. Yeah there are cheaper options than the very best like Astro-Physics but they still are pricey.
Most of these telescopes come on an equatorial mount meaning one its axes is pointed at the celestial pole allowing the scope to easily track objects.

Reflectors are next type. Most of the commercial ones you see will look about like this.

The reflectors use two mirrors to focus the like.
This telescope is on what's called a Dobsonian mount. This mount is very simple and allows you to simply push the telescope all over the sky. Unlike equatorial mounts these are not aligned in anyway and don't track anything. However these mounts are very simple to setup and use and very rugged. They're kind of the Telecasters of the telescope world.
Upsides are that they simple to use and you can get a lot of telescope for not a lot of money.
The only real downside for this type is that occasionally you have to collimate the telescope, meaning you have to align the mirrors for the best performance. This is no worse than occasional guitar maintenance like keeping it in tune. So it's not a major hassle usually.

The last type is the compound telescopes which use both lens and and mirrors to focus the light. There are a few types of these out there but Schmidt Cassegrains are the ubiquitous ones and the what I will talk about.

The upside to this design is it is fairly compact and usually comes on mounts that can find objects and track them. These mounts rule for photography if you choose to do that.
Downsides are that any size larger than 8" weighs about as much as a 4x12 cabinet and the front lens, called the corrector plate, is very prone to dewing over if you have any humidity in the air. There are electronic and other fixes for the dew issue though.

Here are some good places to do a bit of research and some window shopping.

Orion Telescopes: Save on Telescopes & Binoculars! - Telescope.com

Stellarvue Refractor Telescopes

Meade Telescopes, Celestron Telescopes and Telescope Accessories - OPT Telescopes

Telescopes for Sale and Telescope Accessories at Telescopes.com

This is a really brief overview and really basic advice. Feel free to ask any questions.
 

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Thoughts on this?

Amazon.com: Celestron NexStar 6 SE Telescope: Electronics

I'd want a kit to get it to my laptop as well (that's one of the biggest things that I need), so that if I bring my parents out for a peek, they're not bending over looking into the eyepiece. Basically something that can display what the eyepiece sees on a screen.
I've never used one nor can I find anyone that has. The online reviews seem pretty solid and it should suit you just fine. For the love of Dio though make sure you get a dew shield or something else that keeps dew off of the front lens. These things just go from bone dry to sopping wet quickly on a damp night so get something to make your life a thousand times less frustrating.

Something like this will show you bright stuff on a laptop fairly well.

Orion StarShoot USB Eyepiece | Orion Telescopes: Astrophotography
 

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Is there something that will do video out the eyepiece, instead of just pictures? (Basically just project what's there)
 
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