The Celestron “FirstScope” Telescope: Official Product of International Year of Astronomy

Article written: 27 Apr , 2009
Updated: 26 Apr , 2016
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One of the most important goals of the International Year of Astronomy is to “promote widespread access to the universal knowledge of fundamental science through the excitement of astronomy and sky-observing experiences.” What’s the objective? “Enable as many laypeople as possible, especially children, to look at the sky through a telescope and gain a basic understanding of the Universe.” And how is this going to be facilitated? By the “number of laypeople, especially young people and children, viewing the Universe through a telescope at street astronomy events, star parties, professional observatory webcasts etc.” and the “number of ‘cheap’ new telescope kits produced, assembled and distributed.” Well, the Celestron FirstScope Telescope hits the mark perfectly as aimed at anyone, able to view the Universe and inexpensive, but it’s anything but cheap…

In 1609, world-renowned Italian scientist, Galileo Galilei, introduced an elementary telescope to the growing astronomy community which sparked interest into the mysterious night sky for centuries to come. Four centuries later, in celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, Celestron offers the portable FirstScope Telescope. The FirstScope pays tribute to Galileo Galilei and many of history’s most notable astronomers and scientists by displaying their names around the optical tube. We honor the contributions of these men and women, who brought us one step closer to understanding the universe around us.

When I first read the introduction and saw the first images of the Celestron Firstscope Telescope, I knew that I’d have to get my hands on one. They are a unique little altazimuth reflector – a tabletop model that bears a strong resemblance to the dobsonian design. Of course, I read the specifications, and I knew that a 76 mm (2.99 in) aperture reflector optical tube with a 300 mm (11.81 in) focal length wasn’t going to be a whole lot large than a tennis ball can, but I’ve learned that small telescopes are quite capable of performing some amazing feats when put into the right hands. According to what I’ve read the Celestron First Scope is a nice, fast focal ratio of f/3.95… and from what I know of Celestron telescopes, it should behave quite nicely. But there’s only one problem.

They aren’t available on the market yet.

So who would be the kind of person to wander around NEAF confronted with telescopes worth tens of thousands of dollars, but would be the one to take off to neverland with a kid’s telescope that cost less than $50? Yeah. You’re right. Me.

celestron-firstscope-1From the moment I laid eyes on the little black sonotube covered with the most famous names in astronomy, I was charmed. The mount is absolutely made out of enamel covered pressboard and its bearing is basically a big locking nut… But, hey. So am I. I took the whole thing apart and put it back together again (sans removing primary mirror cell, secondary and focuser – because I didn’t want to have to go “borrow” a laser collimator) in a matter of minutes and I found it surprisingly well constructed. Both the base and the bearing are going to hold up to use… And I don’t mean just casual use… I mean good, hard, honest-to-goodness kid use. Unlike a dobsonian, the side bearing needs to be loosened to move the telescope in its “up and down” path and re-tightened to hold position, but the user is faced with two options. The bearing is machined well enough that it can be placed to the “just snug” point where friction holds it in place and allows for minor movements (such as slight tracking adjustments) and it is quite strong enough to allow for thousands of tightening (and overtighenings) as the years go past. If something should strip out? These are common parts. It can be replaced with trip to the hardware store.

Now for the optical tube…

firstcopeGood old sturdy sonotube. I used to be afraid of “cardboard” many years ago, but I’ve learned with time. Despite what you might think, it holds up to dew, cools down to ambient temperature like a dream, and really has its advantages – like not dinging easily. The 1.25″ rack and pinion focuser on the Celestron FirstScope Telescope is very standard and a tiny bit stiff, but we’re not talking cotton candy here. The focuser is surprisingly quality, well-machined, and is going to withstand use and abuse. It has excellent clearance from the secondary and more than sufficient enough backfocus to allow for a wide variety of eyepieces. What’s that you say about eyepieces? Oh, yeah. Again, Celestron has outdone themselves by providing two 1.25″ eyepieces – a 20mm and a 4mm. Did I hear you groan? Yeah. Me, too. A 4mm is simply too much magnification for a scope that size, but when testing it on a larger, more stationary target (like the Moon) I found it wasn’t too bad. Again, surprising quality because the eyepieces and focuser alone were worth what the telescope cost!

How did it perform? If you aimed the Celestron FirstScope at something large, you’d be doing fine if you were a beginner, but like most small optical tube assemblies – it isn’t offered with a finderscope. While reflex sighting along the tube isn’t too hard to do, I can also see where that could be extremely frustrating for someone a bit more new to the game. So… I asked for a solution. Guess what? Celestron telescope had one that fit the criterion – inexpensive, but not cheap.

first_scope_accessoriesEnter the Celestron FirstScope Telescope Accessory Kit. People? For under $20 I just got handed a 1.25″ Celestron 12.5 mm eyepiece, 6mm eyepiece, moon filter, nifty little carry bag for the whole outfit, and get this… a 5X24 finderscope and bracket. No kidding! A real, honest-to-goodness optical finderscope… Not one of those “red dot” marvels that accidentally get left on and whose batteries run down and end up being totally useless next time you go out unless you have spares. Folks? You can’t even buy a moon filter for under $20, let alone a finderscope, eyepieces and… and… what’s this? Why, there’s even a CD ROM in here called “Sky X” that teaches you, prints maps, runs a planetarium program and more.

Am I impressed? Yes. I will give you fair warning that the Celestron FirstScope telescope is not the Hubble. I will stress to you repeatedly that you are not going to see majestic sweeping spiral arms on tiny galaxies – nor are you going to resolve globular clusters or reveal intricate planetary details. But, what you can expect from this telescope is far, far more than Galileo saw 400 years ago. When put on a steady surface, the Moon will display its tortured surface and Jupiter its moons. Bright, open star clusters will become things to marvel over and the Andromeda Galaxy will look like it truly is next door. Just as the rings of Saturn “disappeared” on Galileo so long ago, you will only see a fine line now to mark their place until the tilt changes again… But who cares when the summer skies are filled with bright nebula to explore, fuzzy globular clusters to capture and the Milky Way curls across the sky like a swarm of fireflies? Do it for your kids… Do it for your grandkids. Do it for yourself as a momento of IYA 2009. You won’t be disappointed.

It’s small wonder the Celestron FirstScope telescope named was Official Product of International Year of Astronomy 2009, for the FirstScope truly pays tribute to the men and women who brought us one step closer to understanding the Universe around us by putting an affordable “real telescope” into the hands of anyone who wants one. It won’t be long until they’re available at Celestron dealers everywhere, and you’ll find them for under $50 (and the accessory kit for under $20) at premier Celestron dealers like Oceanside Photo and Telescope, Scope City, High Point Scientific, Adorama and Astronomics.

Reminder to Universe Today Readers… Don’t forget! While all premier Celestron dealers will offer the FirstScope at the same price, you’ll get a discount for being a Universe Today reader if you enter our name in the Club Affliliation section if you chose to order a Celestron FirstScope from OPT.


7 Responses

  1. HelloBozos says

    Thats neat looking little scope..i use a celestron8SE,first year with it’s been amazing,bought it apirl 08..i use it offen

  2. Member
    The Open File says

    I just ordered 4 of these little scopes from OPT, and as indicated in your review, by mentioning that I was a member of Universe Today, I received a 2% discount on my order (not including shipping).

    Many thanks for your review. This will be the perfect gift for my friends, all who love the sky but never wanted to spend what they considered a lot of money for a nice starter ‘scope.

  3. Member

    thanks for posting, open file! i wanted to be fair to all the companies who are premier celestron dealers – because all of them will offer the Celestron FirstScope and the accessory kit at exactly the same price. but i also know a long time ago i went way out on a limb to get OPT to accept us as an astronomy club so our readers could get a club discount, and even 2% is appreciated these days.

    i want to tell you how much i admire your IYA 2009 spirit by providing your friends with telescopes – because the Celestron FirstScope is so very easy to use and so very easy to set up and carry around, it will become a treasured friend – just like you.

  4. Jon Hanford says

    Tammy, thanks on behalf of stargazers everywhere for your direct involvement with the OPT-UT readership discounts! Even though I have a fast 4.25 inch reflector, I’m considering purchasing 2 of the scopes to remount them as a 3 inch f/3.95 binocular telescope. For low power sky sweeps, this combination of fast optics and a wide field of view at low magnifications is ideal for picking up large, faint MW nebulae (e.g. “California Nebula”, “Rosette Nebula”, “North American” & “Pelican Nebula”, etc) I’m glad to see some company (I love Celestron reviving the long-forgotten ‘richest field telescope’ design meant to be used at low power for sweeping the sky.) manufacture these optics inexpensively.

  5. Member

    wow… i never thought about pairing them up for binocular scopes! what a great idea…

    and then my mind starting thinking – what if i connected the celestron skyscout and the speakers to them, too?

    😉

  6. Jon Hanford says

    Properly mounted, 2 of these scopes provide a cheap alternative to conventional binoculars, and 3 inches of aperature at f/4 with a choice of eyepieces and filters makes this combo all the more attractive. Adapt 2 to a Go-To mount. A Skyscout, or heck, a wireless palmtop with installed astrosoftware, go hog wild. 1 1/4 inch field flatteners may be needed to properly utilize narrowband filters, but just think of the views. Wide stereo panoramas of crowded galaxy fields in Virgo, Coma Bernices, and Leo or starclouds of Sagittarius, Scutum, Cygnus, sign me up. Thanks for a great eye-opener, Tammy.

  7. Tostati says

    I have one since few days.
    As an italian amateur astronomer, i must have a “souvenir” of this IYA… hehehe…
    it is for my 7 years old kid, Gabriele…
    tomorrow we’ll start observing together…
    it seems to be quite cute, but it’s remain nothing more than a kid’s scope…
    a f/3.95 is “too hard” for a cheep scope…
    not good for Moon and Planets, i’s really funny in Rich Field,
    with a small WA eyepiece, of course, like a 20mm SWA, made in China, obviously… 😉

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