The Amazing $20 Telescope

Editor's note:

As of November, 2010, the price of the Galileoscope has increased to $49.95. At that price, we feel that better options are available for people who want an off-the-shelf telescope. However, the Galileoscope is still a superb educational kit, highly recommended for people who want to understand the inner workings of telescopes.


Sky & Telescope has reviewed innumerable telescopes, and only a handful of the ones that we've tried and liked cost less than $200. Now we're going to recommend a telescope that's selling for $20, and your response is going to be "you're kidding, right?" No, we're not!

Tony Flanders
It's largely a matter of design goals. The typical cheap scope sold in department stores has one very clear goal in mind — to separate you from your money. The fact that these scopes are totally unable to deliver on the 486× that they promise is beside the point. The Galileoscope has a completely different purpose: to provide a usable telescope at a price that anybody can afford. It's a brain-child of IYA2009, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first paradigm-shattering astronomical discoveries.

C. E. Odden / Phillips Academy
S&T Editor Emeritus Rick Fienberg, a key organizer of the IYA, has always insisted that one of its primary goals should be to get as many people as possible to look through a telescope. Public star parties are one great way to achieve that goal, but they can only serve a modest fraction of the population. Harnessing people's curiosity and pride of ownership by marketing a genuinely inexpensive telescope is likely to reach far more people. And if the IYA can recover the development and production cost for this telescope, so much the better.

How good is the Galileoscope? This little 25x50 scope has very good optics, but no 50-mm scope can match the performance of our favorite $100 3-inch reflector, the cheapest scope that we've ever recommended before. On the other hand, it's far better than Galileo's own scope — and look how much he accomplished with that!

The scope's biggest limitation is that it has no mount, so you will either have to attach it to a good photo tripod or jury-rig your own mount. That's harder than it might be, because the scope lacks the 90-degree diagonal supplied with most refractors. The straight-through viewing angle requres that the scope be mounted higher than your head.

Tony Flanders
Take a look at the Galileoscope's specifications and then decide if you don't want to order one for yourself.

17 thoughts on “The Amazing $20 Telescope

  1. Nathaniel Sailor

    My major question is durablity. If it’s not durable it’s not worth it. I did skim the specification, and they do look promising. I just hope it’s very durable.

  2. Mark Kelsey

    At that price, give one away and when your grandkid comes back and says it’s broken, hand over #2. At that point your grandkid will know how to handle it so you probably won’t have to worry about handing over #3 or #4. Those can go to the next grandkid.

  3. killoran

    The original goal was a $10 scope. With S&H it’s now closer to $25, and you have to assemble it yourself. (But that can be educational.) Still, it seems like a good deal. I like that it takes the 1.25″ eyepieces, so if you have any they’ll work with this telescope. You use your own tripod as well. A wobbly stand will still give a wobbly view. I’m getting one, but strongly suspect the 2.4″ I picked up for $20 at a yard sale will remain the better telescope. (Not at department store prices, however.) I’ve seen firsthand how kids get frustrated with small refractors. I always recommend the Astroscan (and similarly designed telescopes)to parents looking for a decent telescope for their child. It takes less than a minute to teach them how to use it, and they’re pretty durable.

  4. Greg Simpson

    Rather ambivalent about this. The intention is good, but we amateurs who set up our scopes for public viewings are always asked to recommend a “good first telescope”; I hear this all the time. Yeah, $15.00, or $25.00 with S&H–whatever–seems like a bargain, but a 50mm refractor is still a small, frustrating toy-like instrument. This telescope was conceived to take advantage of the hype over the IYA. With tens of thousands ordered so far, that means when the hype is over later this year, countless thousands will be left with little more than a toy.
    Why not purchase a REAL “first scope” for the budding astronomer–the Celestron 76mm “FirstScope” reflector advertised on this page is a perfect example! $49.95 is more than $15.00 (or $25.00) of course, but a real starter scope will be much more beneficial: bigger aperture, no need to supply a tripod, etc.
    The IYA shouldn’t be a reason to promote cheap, plastic telescopes, but an opportunity to promote decent astronomical equipment.

  5. Jeff

    Greg the people that this scope is intended for (I mean donations) could not afford a telescope period. A ‘good’ scope seems to be at the $150USD level. There are children around the world that could never, ever, in their lives afford $150USD. For some they’d think they were ‘rich’ with $150. Those kids now will have a real telescope to try. We can not look at it from a Western perspective (yes I know there are plenty of poor in the west as well!).

    I totally agree that we don’t want to promote the crappy telescopes. But if this scope is anywhere near as good as claimed, I bet it will handily beat the crappy scopes. With any luck it might inspire those who buy these garbage scopes to return them for a refund! After all “A $15USD scope shows more!”

    If they are decent scopes, I look at this more like my advice that I give out to those that want a scope but don’t have more than $200USD to spend, “Wait till until you do! But until then, buy a pair of binoculars”. Well now we can say, “Got $15 bucks? Give your kid one of these and see if they are really interested.”

    My 2 cents

  6. Don

    Jeff, I agree with you. Maybe Greg just didn’t see it, before writing and submitting his post, but I hope he understands, now, that this program and this scope is meant for the millions of underprivileged people (especially children) all over the world who would never otherwise be able to have a chance to look at the wonders of the sky through a telescope. Hats off to the founders and volunteers of this program! Maybe, just maybe, with this program, thousands if not millions of people will become so hooked on astronomy that there will finally be a major outcry (and thus major actions taken) against what I believe is one of the top ten biggest ecological problems today – LIGHT POLLUTION! Of course, it is stated that this scope will work even from light polluted urban areas. Oh well…I’ll still be keeping my fingers crossed!

  7. Don

    Jeff, I agree with you. Maybe Greg just didn’t see it, before writing and submitting his post, but I hope he understands, now, that this program and this scope is meant for the millions of underprivileged people (especially children) all over the world who would never otherwise be able to have a chance to look at the wonders of the sky through a telescope. Hats off to the founders and volunteers of this program! Maybe, just maybe, with this program, thousands if not millions of people will become so hooked on astronomy that there will finally be a major outcry (and thus major actions taken) against what I believe is one of the top ten biggest ecological problems today – LIGHT POLLUTION! Of course, it is stated that this scope will work even from light polluted urban areas. Oh well…I’ll still be keeping my fingers crossed!

  8. RayK

    I’ve been evaluating the available online “Gallilean” telescopes for a club project I’m pretty excited about. Most are less expensive (in bulk about the same as the >99 price here)

    Our idea is to offer classes to the public on Gallileo and how he was able to revolutionize astronomy with a small instrument. You can actually get some very similar small optics in cheap cardboard tubes with fixed lenses that will rival the degraded views he was subject to, but this one (and possibly others) would be much more satisfying for the budding astro nut.

    What I’d like to know is the exact construction of the tube (cardboard?), whether the objective is a doublet or single lens, and what eyepiece is provided. Also, is there any way to stably mount it? If not, I’d like to find a reasonable way to hold it steady. Maybe a tripod adapter? Some kind of 1/4-20 nut on the bottom? Or is that already there?

    I’d say its a win/win. It’s cheap enough and if the construction is adequate, and the optics are good enough it could build more advocates for our hobby in more places. The way LP is killing interest it won’t be long before nobody is looking up.. Time to get people motivated. Plus they learn how a refractor works and is constructed, and how exciting it is to find hitherto invisible objects with their own telescope (with verbal warnings to NOT use it on the sun).

    I can get fantastic views of Jupiter’s moons and actually see the shape of Saturn’s rings in my 15xs70 binocs. This one will be pushing 25x so I’d expect to get some better views on bright objects. The moon should be killer. I’ll be ordering one for myself. If it pans out I’ll be ordering our first hundred or so for our club event. Pretty exciting stuff when you think about it. Here’s a tube that is no worse than a half a binoc, and it allows you to change eyepieces. If it has a mount for a tripod it’s a great deal. What’s worse than hand holding binocs for a long period of time?

  9. Tony Flanders

    RayK wrote: “What I’d like to know is the exact construction of the tube (cardboard?), whether the objective is a doublet or single lens, and what eyepiece is provided. Also, is there any way to stably mount it?” All of this information, and much more, is available if you follow the hyperlink for “specifications” in my story.

  10. Edie

    Have they started to ship the telescopes? Waiting patiently but would like info on when shipping will start.

  11. Finally!

    Here in Jordan, it is impossible to find any store which sells telescopes. All my life I wanted to own one but I couldn’t. Even If I wanted to buy one through the net, they either do not ship it to my country, or even if they would, the shipping costs twice the price of the telescope. Even the starter telescope would cost (500$ including shipping) which is equal to my two-month salary.

    So yes to the Galileoscope, It is a dream which has come true. Me own my own telescope and look to the night sky :)

    Wish you all recognize how important this project is for all of us here in the 3rd world countries. It allows poor folks like us to enjoy the night sky despite the low aperture.

  12. Julian Aucken

    Got a problem. Ordered 3 in May. They arrived July 20. Assembled ok, BUT one of the 25x eyepieces had 3 of its 4 elements badly scratched and scuffed. Useless. Wrote to Galileoscope on July 20. No reply, even now (September 28). Phoned them on September 10, left recorded message including verbatim readout of my letter. Asked them to contact me by phone or mail. No reply. On September 19, emailed S&T to see if they could help in any way (Weekly Bulletin of March 27 was where I’d first heard of the scope). I know they’re busy at S&T, but no reply yet from them either.

    Surely I’m not the only customer with a dud component.

    Surely they have a mechanism in place for replacing dud components.

    Can anyone help please? What am I doing wrong?

  13. Pagandeva

    I heard a rumor that this telescope is no longer for sale due to the overwhelming response. And, most importantly…does it work? Or is it a plastic cheapie like Tasco? I’d invest if I can actually get some views.

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