The universe is massive. It is massive in a way that makes the brain ache. No one knows how astronomically big it truly is, but they do know that it is still expanding. The universe continues to push outwards infinitely into the unknown.
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The Milky Way contains roughly 100 billion stars in addition to countless clouds of gas, nebulas, and star remnants that are sprinkled throughout. This is visible to the naked eye in extremely dark places and is a breathtaking sight all to itself. But our galaxy is simply one of many.
Estimates for the number of galaxies are up to about 200 billion – more than the number of stars in our single galaxy. Each of those galaxies contains hundreds of billions more stars, each of which can contain its own solar system of planets and other matter. And it is all expanding outwards at an accelerating rate.
The universe is mind-bendingly big. There is a lot to see out there. A lot.
If the mysteries and vastness of the universe seem appealing, then you are going to want a telescope capable of peering deep into space. Not all telescopes are great at looking far beyond our local Milky Way neighborhood. Our solar system is a great place that has been fascinating people for centuries, but the universe is so much larger than that.
For those of us who are interested in the beyond, there are plenty of great telescopes that can fill our need for deep space goodness.
With the right telescope and proper setup, anyone can have a powerful backyard telescope that is able to stare into the distant cosmos. Here is a complete guide to deep space telescopes.
Most Important Numbers for Deep Space
Telescopes come with a lot of numbers like focal length, aperture size, focal ratio, magnification, and more. All these numbers affect different things about the telescope, and most telescopes fall within a general range, but there are certain numbers that are important to optimize a deep space setup.
Primary Aperture: Bigger is Better
One of the most important determining factors in choosing a great deep space telescope is the size of the light-gathering apparatus. This is usually denoted in millimeters or inches, but for this application, bigger is better.
The deeper you want to look into space, the fainter the objects are going to be. This means that a larger light collecting array is going to be needed to see the farther objects. A telescope’s ultimate magnification level and effectiveness are completely reliant on how much light it can gather and focus for you to view.
The telescope could be the greatest setup in the world, but if its primary aperture is too small to focus on the objects you want, then the point is moot.
The very minimum size you should consider for a deep space telescope would be a primary aperture of no smaller than 4.5″. There are telescopes that can get much bigger, upwards of six, eight, and even ten inches in diameter. Bigger is better, and the smaller diameter telescopes will not be able to showcase many objects in deep space.
Every telescope’s specifications are going to mention the aperture size and note the diameter of the primary light-gathering area. Pay attention to this number when searching for a deep space telescope. The bigger the aperture, the more light it can focus, and the farther it will be able to see.
Focal Ratio: Smaller is Better
A telescope’s focal ratio tells you how focused the view will be. A higher focal ratio will mean a tighter scope and a more focused image on a smaller area. A higher focal ratio is good for looking at specific objects such as planets or single stars. A lower focal ratio is good for scanning the sky and capturing large swaths at once.
For deep space viewing a lower focal ratio is better. The wider the viewing angle, the more sky is captured, and a broader picture can be seen. Usually, deep space objects are too faint and undefined to be focused on properly, so people generally like to see a wider field with more objects in it than a tighter, less focused spot.
Most amateur astronomers get less familiar with the universe as they look deeper into it as well. The nearby objects usually have friendly names like Andromeda and Orion, but the farther out you look, the less familiar it becomes. Once the objects are depicted by a string of letters and numbers, most people have lost the plot.
This is to say, there are fewer specific things to find and focus on in deep space, and most people want to simply scan and try and see what they can see beyond the Milky Way. A lower focal ratio lends itself to this kind of broad, deep-sky viewing.
As a rule, when browsing for telescopes, magnification is not as important as the advertisements want you to think. If you get a telescope with an appropriate focal ratio, aperture size, and focal length, then the magnification will sort itself out.
For example, if you get a telescope with an 8inch aperture, use the included eyepieces, and it has a focal ratio of f/4, then there is no way you are not going to get a good magnification level. For deep space, usually, the higher the magnification is, the better, but this is usually a function of aperture size.
In short, do not fret about the magnification. Pick a telescope with a good primary light gathering ability and a solid focal ratio, and it will work the way you want for deep space viewing.
Once you have a telescope in mind with the parameters you want to get for optimal optical night sky viewing, what kind of mount should you consider? Deep space telescopes are usually larger, heavier, and bulkier than their more modest cousins, which makes the mounting system that much more important.
There is nothing wrong with a standard tripod mount. Those are familiar, tried, and true, but in today’s world of technology and innovation, there are many more modern options that can really enhance your deep space telescope setup. These are some of the great mounting systems that are most overlooked by people getting into astronomy.
Go-to mounts are a modern upgrade that should be strongly considered for a deep space telescope. Since deep space objects are unfamiliar and hard to find, especially in areas where the sky is not super dark, a go-to mount can be invaluable.
These are modern-day mounting systems that use motors to move the telescope to specific points in the sky automatically. This can take the hassle and frustration of endlessly searching the depths of space for something that seems just out of reach.
Go-to mounts really bring telescopes into the twenty-first century. It is incredible to watch them smoothly scan the sky and land right where you wanted it to.
The downside to go-to mounts is that they require their own separate power source, which can limit where the telescope can be used. These power sources can also be sold separately, meaning you will have to purchase another component on top of the telescope itself in order to use it fully.
If the power situation is not a strong deterrent, then a go-to mount should be considered a strong feature for any deep space telescope being considered.
The other mount that is not often thought of when considering telescope is the Dobsonian mount. These are large and weighted mounts that sit flat on the ground giving larger telescopes a very sturdy base. They are not seen as a traditional mount, but they have been gaining popularity recently for large backyard telescopes.
These are perfect for reflector telescopes with large primary apertures, which are the kinds of telescopes that are considered for a good deep space setup.
The heavy design of the Dobsonian mount makes it perfect for larger tubes. They are hard to knock over or bump out of alignment, and they can accommodate telescopes that could not fit on a tripod or other more traditional mounting systems.
The drawbacks to the Dobsonian mount are that they are heavy and large. Unlike a tripod that can be easily folded up, stored, and then taken along with you, the Dobsonian mounts require disassembly and are a lot bulkier. This means they are not as portable, and they take up more space while assembled as well as in storage.
Other than the size, Dobsonian mounts make for the easy and smooth operation of larger telescopes. Tubes that could be unwieldy handle like a dream with a proper Dobsonian mount.
A Quick Word on Eyepieces and Filters
If sweeping vistas of bright deep space objects is your goal, then there are a few things that you want to consider when looking at eyepieces for your telescope. The best views of deep space are given with wide fields of view and lower power.
This may sound counterproductive considering that the objects are much farther away than say, Jupiter, but a low powered eyepiece with a wide-angle is the best for getting the kinds of breathtaking views you are imagining. Higher magnification will only distort the scene and narrow the field of view.
This is all in general as there are no universal eyepieces that will work with every telescope for every night sky, but if getting large chunks of gorgeous deep space goodness is the goal then a low powered eyepiece with a wide-angle field of view is what you are going to want to lean towards.
Similarly, filters are not going to be as useful for deep space viewing. Many eyepieces and filters are advertised for in solar system views but serve a little function for peering off into deep space. The only filters that might enhance your view of the sky will be a light pollution filter.
Best place to view the deep sky?
Deep space and objects outside of our galaxy are best viewed under extremely dark skies. This is not always achievable by people living in a modern bustling world, so a light pollution filter might be handy. These filters work to cut out some of the glow from man-made lights and show the stars beyond more clearly. Many filters are colored for nearby stars and planets or white light filters for looking at the moon and other bright sky objects and will do little to help see distant galaxies.
Deep space has some of the most amazing sights and mysteries in the whole universe. Peering deep into space is a wondrous activity, and getting the setup right can make or break your experience in seeing the universe’s beauty. Now that we have gone over the basics, here are some of the best telescopes for deep space viewing.
Best Basic Deep Space Telescope:
Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian
This telescope oozes power and simplicity. The SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian telescope features a wide 8” aperture that is perfect for deep space viewing and none of the complicated hassle of unnecessary bells and whistles.
This telescope is perfect for a novice or intermediate astronomer who wants to get a scope to clearly see objects in deep space. Once assembled, it is ready to go. There are no fragile pieces, motors, or expensive add-ons required to get this telescope running out of the box.
The 8″ aperture is fantastic for letting in the right amount of light to see as far as you want. At 8,” this telescope is two to three times larger than most standard telescopes which let in exponentially more light than the smaller scopes on the market. This is the key to getting clear images of distant objects is a great light gathering capability which this telescope has in spades.
The SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian is perfect for anyone who wants to hit the ground running and get a hands-on telescope that is easy to use. This Dobsonian setup will give you valuable experience in scanning the sky and finding neat objects on your own. The mount is easy to use, smooth and accurate for the novice and advanced users alike.
The people at Orion obviously had deep space viewing in mind when they put this kit together because it comes with a low powered 25mm eyepiece that is perfect for scanning the sky. This eyepiece is the kind of wide-angle, low powered one that is perfect for getting great deep sky scenes from the backyard without any hassle. This really shows that the people at Orion know what this telescope is geared for and makes it easy for the user to get going quickly.
What eyepieces fit the Orion SkyQuest XT8?
This telescope also has the ability to accept both 1.25” and 2” accessories for the eyepiece. This is an extremely useful feature for anyone who wants to keep this telescope in the stable for a long period of time. Most telescopes are limited by having to choose between 1.25″ and 2″ addons, but this telescope can host both.
This telescope is a steal for a powerful Dobsonian setup, but it might not offer the kind of advanced features that some people look for in a deep space telescope. This is a very basic setup. It is a point and shoots with full manual control of the view. It doesn’t come with any flashy or groundbreaking accessories. This is the deep space equivalent of a standard tripod telescope for viewing the solar system.
If that is what you are looking for, then this telescope is perfect. It got rave customer reviews and was featured in Astronomy magazine as a highlighted telescope. This is a great all-around setup that is perfect for anyone looking to get into deep space astronomy.Check Latest Price
Best Big Budget Dobsonian:
Orion 10135 SkyQuest XT10G Computerized GoTo Dobsonian Telescope
The Orion 10135 SkyQuest XT10G is a complete package deep space Dobsonian telescope. If the basic model Orion Dobsonian telescope appealed to you, but you are looking for the best version of this model, then look no further.
This telescope has a large 10” aperture that is capable of gathering plenty of light to see the most distant objects possible from the backyard. This maximum size will really give you as much power as possible for a backyard telescope.
In addition, this kit also includes the stable Dobsonian mount to hold up this bulky, powerful optical tube. The big upgrade for the Orion 10135 SkyQuest XT10G is the computerized Go-to system that comes included with the mount. This computerized mount can track objects and align themselves without any human input.
The go-to mount also comes with a computerized database that allows this telescope to find and automatically keep track of more than 42,000 objects in the night sky. This is an incredible wealth of information that is perfect for anyone who wants to get the most out of this telescope’s power.
The combination of the computerized go-to mount and the database means that this telescope will be able to find and show you thousands of objects without the hassle of finding them yourself. This can be very entertaining or educational, depending on the purpose of the viewing session. This makes the Orion 10135 SkyQuest XT10G an ideal Dobsonian deep space telescope.
Extra’s that come with the Orion 10135 SkyQuest XT10G
In addition to the great tech features, this telescope also comes with some very useful accessories to flesh out the deep space viewing capabilities. These include Orion’s DeepView eyepiece, which is specifically designed with deep space viewing in mind. This is nearly a one-hundred-dollar value on its own, which is a great addition to this kit.
The other impressive addon included with this telescope is the EZ Finder reflex sight and the illuminated crosshair eyepiece. These illuminated accessories are great for pinpointing small and distant objects in the vast array of the sky. With the power that comes included here, the field of view is often going to be filled with many stars and celestial objects. Having an easy way to focus and spot these objects within the eyepiece is very valuable.
The drawbacks to this telescope are the price and the necessity for a hefty power source. While you should expect a complete telescope kit of this quality to come with a sizable price tag, sticker shock might deter those who are not willing to spend a lot of money on their telescopes.
The other drawback is the requirement for a 12-volt power source to power the telescope. This does not come included in the setup out of the box, which can be annoying considering the price and complexity of the telescope already. Without the additional power source, all the best features of this telescope will be nonfunctional.
All in all, the Orion 10135 SkyQuest XT10G is a complete kit that is ready for the best deep space viewing money can buy. It is powerful, comes with all the best accessories, computerized database, and a stable easy to use mount. This scope is ready to show you the wonders of the universe.Check Latest Price
Best Overall Value Deep Space Telescope:
Celestron NexStar 8SE Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope
If Dobsonian telescopes are a little too bulky or out of the norm for your taste, the Celestron NexStar 8SE Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope is an amazing all-around telescope that is packaged in a more familiar shape. Celestron has delivered a Schmidt-Cassegrain model that comes with a fully mechanical computerized go-to mount system that is attached to a traditional tripod setup.
In terms of size, this telescope is much smaller than the massive Dobsonian tubes but still offers a similar level of power. It is a wide and compact system indicative of the Schmidt-Cassegrain designs which combine the best properties of refractor and reflector telescopes.
Celestron’s deep-sky focused telescope also comes with a computerized go-to mount and a massive database of celestial objects that it can find and track for you automatically. The difference here is the extra technology that Celestron adds to their package over the competition.
This includes the SkyAlign program, which allows the telescope to align itself using three bright objects in the sky. If the moon, Venus, and a bright star are all visible in the sky, this telescope will be able to align itself and begin tracking objects almost instantly. This takes the last hassle out of manual telescope use by removing the user almost completely from the process.
Watching this happen is truly amazing and really shows how far technology has come in the past decade. You do not have to be a night sky expert or cartographer to get this telescope ready to roll.
There is more included…
Also included is a touring feature. This makes it so your telescope can give you a guided tour of the night sky, which can be tailored and customized for specific objects as well as different locations on the planet. This is perfect for anyone with kids or an educational bent in mind. It can be used for group settings to truly give a great experience to friends, family, and students alike.
This telescope makes for a great deep sky backyard setup as it is not too big, comes with all the features you could want in terms of automation, and is able to see distant galaxies and star clusters outside of the Milky Way galaxy.
The other benefit of this model is that it runs on AA batteries, which eliminate the need for a nearby outlet in order to run the electronics. This is great for anyone who wants to take their telescope out to a darker location to escape the lights of the backyard.
In terms of accessories, they are pretty standard. It comes with a 25mm eyepiece as well as a finder scope and a flashlight. It is not the most robust accessory kit around, but it gets the job done.
In terms of price, this telescope will still be quite a bit more than a mid-ranged telescope, but it comes in a chunk less than the Orion Dobsonian. For the power and technology that comes with the Celestron NexStar 8SE Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope, this is truly the best value on the market. The dollar to features ratio is truly out of this world.Check Latest Price
For those who are drawn to the infinite wonders of the deep sky, there are telescopes out there for you. It is possible to get a solid backyard setup going on a budget, or you can spend more and truly get a gem that is able to search the night for unseen marvels.
Deep space is one of the most advanced and mystical things to observe as an amateur astronomer, and these telescopes truly offer you the best experience and capabilities to do just that. They can show you things you didn’t even know were out there, and the databases and technology will make it that these telescopes can keep your attention for years if not decades to come.
There is a lot of universes out there to see; you just have to start looking!