All telescopes are not created equal. There are telescopes to see planets and stars clearly, telescopes to view the dark expanse of deep-space, and telescopes that are more suited to viewing distant objects here on Earth. If you’re interested in mapping out the planets but haven’t been having much success, the problem could be with your telescope.
It’s recommended that you take a look at other types of telescopes and find one that works better. To help you, we’ve reviewed 5 of the best telescopes for planetary observation, complete with a list of their advantages and disadvantages. Keep reading to hopefully find one that will help you reach your goals.
If planetary viewing is what you’re after, the two specs on a telescope that make the most difference are the aperture and focal length. Having a larger aperture allows the telescope to see more clearly while increased focal length will allow for greater magnification.
There are, however, limitations as to how much useful magnification you can get out of a telescope based on the aperture.
The calculation to determine the maximum useful magnification is 50x per every inch of aperture on your telescope. For example, if you have one with an 8-inch aperture, the maximum useful magnification is 400x and trying to go any higher than that will cause the image to degrade.
Therefore, the recommended telescope to use for viewing planets is a Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope. This is because it usually has longer focal length, produce clear images similar in quality to refractors, and you can buy a large-aperture telescope for a lower price than a same-sized refractor.
Refractors are the secondary option, being that they can tend to get quite expensive at larger sizes and are bulky, making them difficult to carry around.
For your third option, Schmidt-Cassegrains are good enough to view planets, but they have a shorter focal ratio than Maksutov-Cassegrains.
Below are 5 telescopes that are ranked from 1-5 and include Maksutov-Cassegrains, Refractors, and Schmidt-Cassegrains.
We’ve included a good mix of telescopes with two suited for beginners, one at the intermediate range, and two on the high end of the spectrum. This will give you better flexibility in terms of your options based on your budget or other constraints.
5. Celestron PowerSeeker70EQ Telescope
Our number one pick is the PowerSeeker 70EQ model by Celestron. It’s an affordable telescope that offers a great balance between features, power, and quality. It’s easy to use and often quoted as a beginner scope but finds much use among intermediate astronomers as well.
This refractor is compact, easily assembled/disassembled, portable, and provides exceptional value in proportion to its size.
The PowerSeeker 70EQ has a 70mm aperture, a focal length of 700mm, and a focal ratio of f/10. The highest useful magnification power is 165x and the entire product weighs about 13.9 lbs. when assembled.
The dimensions are 39 x 13 x 10 inches. The optical components are covered with high transmission coatings that work to enhance their properties. The telescope also has a couple of useful accessories that are included in the box and serve to increase its value further.
A 3x magnifying Barlow lens is provided to give some extra power if you need it. The included tripod is a bit shaky in the wind but otherwise serves its purpose well. A typical accessory storage tray is also built into the tripod.
The scope uses a German equatorial mount with slow motion controls for easy manual tracking of celestial objects. The two included eyepieces measure 20mm and 4m.
VERDICT: The best planetary telescope choice with a price of less than $100. It’s an excellent starter scope and works well up to the intermediate level too. Even though it has a smaller aperture, the price more than makes it a worthwhile choice.
4. Celestron Omni XLT 102mm Refractor Telescope
The next scope on our list is made for beginners as well, but don’t underestimate its power. The Omni XLT 102 is a beastly instrument and has a cool, sleek appearance to boot. Its 102mm-aperture tube is more than enough for viewing planets, although it only uses one 20mm (0.98 in.) eyepiece with 40x magnification.
Focal length is 1000mm and the focal ratio is f/9.8. Each lens and mirror inside is hand-picked and adjusted to ensure only the highest quality of glass is used. As if that wasn’t enough, Celestron then coated it with StarBright XLT to provide it with the maximum light transmission.
All telescopes in the XLT series utilize a new CG-4 German equatorial mount to ensure that you’ll never have a problem with tracking objects in the sky as they move. The completed instrument is easy to assemble as no tools are required. The highest useful magnification level is 241x, while the lowest level is 15x.
To complement its excellent specifications, the Omni XLT 102 also has plenty of accessories which increase its value. The included tripod is made of stainless steel and has an accessory tray. The finderscope is 6×30 and made of plastic.
The good news is, Celestron includes a 2-year warranty on this scope – so if there are any defects you can just get it replaced.
VERDICT: A solid and balanced scope for beginners, the Omni XLT 102 gives plenty of features for its size. It may cost a little more compared to other starter scopes, but its planetary viewing power makes up for it.
3. SkyWatcher ProED 100mm Doublet APO Refractor Telescope
The beginner-intermediate models are a sweet spot for planetary telescopes, as they don’t cost too much and still retain the power of larger scopes. The SkyWatcher ProED APO is a prime example of such a telescope that can see planets with ease.
This refractor gives a good bang for your buck with its 900mm focal length and f/9 focal ratio. A dual-speed 2” Crayford type focuser is utilized for clear images while an 8×50 viewfinder gives quality vision. Two eyepieces (1.25” 20mm and 5mm) are included with the scope.
Unlike other 100mm instruments, the SkyWatcher ProED isn’t considered to be in the “grab and go” category but can still be set up easily and painlessly.
The glasses used in the lenses are special types – Schott BK-7 and FPL-53. They provide an extra-low dispersion. This gives good color correction for an ED doublet lens and virtually eliminates all chromatic aberration that normally occurs in 2-element achromatic lens designs.
Additional accessories included to aid you on your planetary explorations are a foam-lined carrying case and tube-ring attachment hardware. Viewing Saturn, Jupiter, the Moon, and other planets will be a breeze when using this scope.
SkyWatcher scopes have been on the market for more than a decade so you can be sure that the manufacturer expends every effort to ensure the construction of quality parts.
VERDICT: The ProED 100mm won’t let you see any further than any other type of 100mm telescope, but it has the best value for any apochromatic scope on the market. It’s not the absolute best type of planetary telescope but it’ll do for someone that’s on a tight budget.
2. Celestron NexStar 4 SE Telescope
Celestron is renowned for its versatility in a wide range of telescopes and the NexStar 4 SE is a prime example of that. It provides a stunning view of the night sky and is inexpensive to boot.
The attractive orange design may be familiar and will serve as a reminder that it’s a Celestron product. The fork arm mount that it uses allows for a quick and easy setup and auto tracking of celestial bodies. Optical coatings are taken care of courtesy of Celestron’s trademark StarBright XLT.
NexStar 4 SE is fully computerized and can be controlled via a hand controller. SkyAlign technology utilizes a 3-point alignment system which will ready the telescope for viewing and auto-location of targets using the scope’s 40,000-object database. The package includes a StarPointer finderscope to provide accuracy during stargazing sessions.
The scope is a Maksutov-Cassegrain, has an aperture of 102mm, a focal length of 1325mm, and a focal ratio of f/13. Highest useful magnification power is set at 241x and the product weighs 21 lbs. after assembly. The dimensions of the telescope are 32.4 x 27.2 x 13.4 inches.
One of the issues that this telescope has is that it does not include rechargeable batteries for the hand controller. You’ll also need to purchase an AC adapter separately as there isn’t one included in the box.
VERDICT: The Celestron NexStar 4SE is large, powerful, and has excellent optics. It’s a fun-to-use scope for novices and professionals alike, with something to offer for both groups of hobbyists. It costs more than a basic scope but it’s a good step up for serious astronomers.
1. Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ Telescope
The last scope on our list is the Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ which is a Newtonian reflector measuring 33 x 17 x 11 inches and weighing approximately 21.38 lbs. upon assembly. Its aperture is 127mm and it has a mid-range 1000mm focal length.
An f/8 focal ratio and with 300x highest possible magnification strength round off the telescope’s specifications. It uses a German EQ mount with a 20-inch long optical tube.
While the Powerseeker 127EQ isn’t the most powerful telescope around, it provides good value for your money and is a better choice than a couple of other similar-sized scopes from other brands. Celestron has a good track record with manufacturing decent telescopes so you can have peace of mind knowing that with some care, this product should last a while.
Included accessories are a 3x Barlow lens, aluminum tripod with accessory tray, and “The Sky” Level 1 planetarium software.
VERDICT: The PowerSeeker 127EQ rounds off our top 5 picks and is a great alternate choice if the other scopes mentioned above aren’t readily available.
Telescope Buyer’s Guide
Using a telescope to view the stars and planets can be a lot of fun. However, a lot of people rush into the hobby either buying a very low-quality scope or one that’s overpriced and provides more than what they need. It’s quite easy to go online and find amazing and clear pictures of beautiful galaxies, thinking that you can just grab any old telescope and camera to achieve the same results.
The reality is, that’s not what you’re going to see when you look through your backyard telescope. If you’re really serious about astronomy and want to save yourself from a lot of wrong decisions and wasted money, we have a few tips for you to keep in mind when shopping around for a new scope.
The size of a telescope isn’t really an indicator of how powerful it is or how far it will be able to see. Let’s take the Moon for instance, as it’s a natural first target for newbie astronomers.
Even a small telescope with 30x or 40x magnification will easily allow you to see the dark regions and craters of the Moon. You’ll be able to see the changing phases of Mercury and Venus, an orange-hued disk that is Mars, the four moons that orbit Jupiter, Saturn’s rings and its moon Titan, as well as the bright star-like points that are Uranus and Neptune.
On a telescope with higher powers, the view will only get better. If you want to see more, this is where the importance of buying a quality telescope comes into play. Higher magnification levels will allow you to view the surface of Mars, the reds pot on Jupiter, Saturn’s rings and Cassini’s division, and Uranus will appear to be a small blue-green disk.
And that’s all within the city. Try observations from a dark area far from bright lights using a powerful telescope and you’ll be able to see beyond the Milky Way.
Choose your type of telescope from the three types that are available – refractors, reflectors, and catadioptric or compound telescopes.
Refracting telescopes use a convex lens called an “objective” and an eyepiece at the other end for you to look through. They’re considered to be the original telescopes, going back to when Galileo used it in the 1600s. Refractors give a better image contrast than reflectors but become more expensive as they increase in size.
Reflecting telescopes use mirrors instead of lenses. Light enters through the front and hits a primary mirror, bounces to a secondary mirror, and from there proceeds to an eyepiece which you can look through. Reflectors are easier to manufacture which is why they are much cheaper than refractors.
Compound telescopes are a combination of both. They use a lens and a mirror to capture, bend, and redirect external light until it reaches an eyepiece that you can use to view the scene. These types of telescopes are usually more expensive and aren’t typically used by entry-level astronomers.
From here on, it’s simply a matter of choosing the right type of telescope for your immediate needs. Most beginners start off with an inexpensive refractor telescope, then they begin to enjoy the hobby; and then, they switch over to reflectors when they feel the urge to use something more powerful. This is usually the best approach to take for an amateur astronomer.