Astronomy is a lifelong skill that can be practiced whenever there is a clear sky. Informed stargazing really doesn’t require anything more than the naked eye and a will to learn, but a telescope brings even more rewards to a patient observer. From the moon’s stunning surface features to easily identified planets, star clusters, nebulae, and even nearby galaxies, a starter telescope literally opens up new worlds. The choices can be confusing, so here are a few basics to keep in mind as you shop for a toy that can light up a lifelong passion in your child.

Refractor Scope

Refracting telescopes are ideal for observing the moon or tying to zero in on distant planets. Gskyer

A refractor scope uses glass lenses to bend light and concentrate it on the eyepiece. Because refractors actually magnify light, they have a smaller-diameter aperture and tube, making them more compact and portable. They are great for observing the moon and planets.

Light Buckets

Telescopes with large apertures are able to let more light through to the eyepiece. Celestron

A reflector telescope (aka light bucket) relies on its large aperture and a series of concave mirrors to focus light on the eyepiece. Because of their ability to gather light, a reflector is better for viewing deep-sky objects such as nebulae and galaxies.

Star Charts

Use a smartphone adapter that fits over the eyepiece to take photographs of your discoveries in space. Celestron

A scope sold with study materials will ensure that your budding Galileo has an easy-to-follow guide to the night sky. Once a young astronomer figures out some basic guideposts, it won’t be long before they are making discoveries on their own. A scope that includes a smartphone adaptor allows them to document and share their celestial adventures.