There are many amazing things to be seen in the night sky, but sometimes the best sights are the ones closest to home. The planets have long captured the attention of stargazers. They used to be called wandering stars and have had a sacred place in the pantheon of the sky for centuries.
The planets can be extremely rewarding, providing some of the best sights the solar system has to offer, and some telescopes can provide these views better than others. If the planets are what you want to focus your attention on, these are the Best Telescopes For Viewing Planets.
But what makes a telescope specifically good at seeing the planets? What are the features of a good telescope viewing telescope?
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Planetary Logic: Bigger Is Not Always Better
The planets are the closest things to Earth in the whole universe. They are like our siblings in that there is nothing that can be as similar or as close to Earth as the planets in our solar system. This closeness means that a large telescope is not required to get a good view of them. All telescopes advertise that they can see the rings of Saturn and the bands of Jupiter and so on, and this is true of almost all telescopes because any decent telescope should be able to see our closest neighbors with relative ease.
This means that the largest, most expensive or fanciest telescopes do not necessarily need to be considered if looking at the planets is the most important goal of purchasing a telescope. Some of the larger telescopes with a lot of magnification power can have lower focal ratios and, therefore, lower overall quality for objects like planets. There is more to it than simply magnification and light gathering ability.
What is important for viewing the planets?
An Important Formula: F/x
When it comes to getting a great view of the planets, the focal ratio is much more important than magnification. A focal ratio is a number devised by dividing the focal length by the diameter of the objective lens or aperture. The focal ratio determines how wide a field of view is obtained by the telescope during normal viewing.
A higher focal ratio means a narrow field of view and a sharper image within that field. A focal ratio is a number denoted by f/x, with x being the ratio number. A focal ratio of f/10 or larger is considered a high focal ratio and will give a narrow clear field of view.
Many people prefer a lower focal ratio for their telescopes as that gives a broader, more expansive view when stargazing. This is great for deep space viewing or long-form viewing of objects such as galaxies, star clusters, and nebulas, which is a big draw for most people. Many stargazers start on the planets but then move onto to the wider universe.
When looking around the universe in general terms looking for interesting sights, a lower focal ratio is preferred as it gives you a larger chance of catching distant objects in your field of view so you can find them and see them. For objects that are nearby, this is unnecessary because they are usually easy to find and do not require such a wide view.
So what about planets?
For this reason, a higher focal ratio is preferred for viewing the planets as it gives a narrow, crisp view of the objects, which is perfect for say Saturn. Telescopes with a higher focal ratio will not be able to see a distant nebula very well, but they can see the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. If the planets are your main focus, then higher focal ratios are going to be preferred to lower ones.
The planets are a narrow focus of astronomy and therefore are going to require narrower preferences for the telescopes being used to view them.
Planetary Optics: A Personal Preference
Whenever there is a narrow focus in the stargazing community, it can touch off a discussion about which optics are best for viewing said object. Like everything in life, everyone has their preference when it comes to this question, and there is nothing wrong with that. Both reflector and refractor telescopes have been around for hundreds of years, and each has its pros and cons.
In this day and age, one is not better than the other, even when the scope is as narrow as this. Refractors usually have a higher focal ratio, while reflectors gather more light. This means that it will depend on each situation.
If you live in an area with a lot of light pollution and few dark skies, then you might need a reflector telescope to gather extra light to get the images you want. Someone who lives out in the sticks might be able to get away with a narrow refractor tube with low light gathering ability but a high focal ratio. It all depends on personal preference and personal scenario.
There is one caveat, though. Some people have claimed that the Maksutov-Cassegrain is the best optical configuration for planets.
This is a telescope configuration that uses both mirrors and lenses to create its images. They are not super common on the market, but there are a host of very good Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes out there. Critics of the Maksutov-Cassegrain design say it has too high of a focal ratio for their liking, which is exactly why some people like it for planet-hunting.
Many of the telescopes on this list are of the Maksutov-Cassegrain variety because they are the ones most suited for the combination of light gathering ability and higher focal ratios which allow them to key in on single objects extremely well. They are popular overall but not as widespread as straight refractors or reflector telescopes but for our purposes, they check all the boxes for planet-hunting astronomers.
Normally, Maksutov-Cassegrain’s power, combined with their narrow field of view, can make them frustrating to use when looking for specific deep space objects, but for planets, this setup is perfect for giving amazing images of the planets. It could even be picture perfect.
Their combination design and more complicated optics mean that these telescopes usually come in at a higher price than a straight reflector or refractor. However, for the right purpose and the right buyer they can be the perfect all-around telescope.
Say Cheese Saturn
The planets are a popular subject of astrophotography, which, as the name suggests, is photographing the heavens and generating high-quality images of stellar objects. People who are looking for telescopes that focus on the planets are usually looking to get into astrophotography.
Starting with the planets is a great way to get into astrophotography as it is a high level and difficult hobby. However, with the right telescope setup and determination, astrophotography can be learned.
Many of the telescopes on this list can be used for astrophotography as they feature easy viewing modes, high-quality images and high focal ratios for single object image capture.
If astrophotography is the angle that you want to pursue, there are a couple of things you want to keep in mind. First is the mounting system. To do good astrophotography, you will need a mount that tracks objects across the sky.
Like any other kind of photography, sometimes the perfect shot takes a while to manifest. This means that a single object will need to stay in focus for long periods. Some telescopes can do this for you automatically, but others will need to be set up to track objects manually slowly. This is not super difficult to do, but it will require a little extra forethought.
The second thing will be the focal ratio. To get great pictures from your camera, the telescope is going to have to produce great images to photograph. Since astrophotography is essentially taking a picture of a picture, the image quality must be very high to create a good final image.
What to consider when making a purchase…
When looking at these telescopes with astrophotography in mind, remember that objects will need to be tracked over a long period and that image quality for narrow fields of view is key to success.
Most of the telescopes on this list can be used for astrophotography and can produce some stunning images of the solar system. If done right and with enough patience and determination anyone can get some attention-grabbing photographs of the planets.
These can be sold online or posted to social media to really wow your friends and family. Astrophotography is a more complicated offshoot of astronomy, but these telescopes offer a great starting place to get into it and the planets are excellent subjects to pursue.
Best Low Budget Telescopes for Planets
Celestron PowerSeeker 70EQ
The Celestron PowerSeeker 70EQ has everything a planet seeking astronomer could want at an extremely low price. This telescope is a 70mm refractor telescope with a focal length of 700mm. This setup is great for seeing objects in our solar system.
While an overall good telescope on a budget, the Celestron PowerSeeker 70EQ offers some features that are perfect for looking at the planets specifically. Those include its focal ratio of f/10, which is on the higher end. It comes with an equatorial mount with micro-adjustment capability for manual tracking of objects. It is a simple and light refractor design, which makes it easy to set up shop and find some of the planets from wherever you are.
The German equatorial mount is great for planet tracking. Once it is properly aligned, it is easy to find and focus on the desired object. With the smooth controls, it is easy to keep that object in focus as it slowly wanders across the sky throughout the night.
This telescope also comes with two eyepieces for two different levels of magnification. The lower magnification might be great for some of the larger or closer planets, but the higher magnification can be used to spot more distant and elusive planets.
Beyond the basic…
The downsides are that it is not a very advanced telescope overall, so if you want to look at the planets this month but next month you suddenly get the urge to search out distant nebula this telescope will not transition very well. If basic astronomy focusing on planets, nearby stars, and other singular bright objects are what you plan on doing for the long term, then this telescope is a great device.
For the price, this telescope comes with all the basics someone needs to start finding and viewing planets. It has decent magnification options and a focal ratio that is good for looking at single objects. It is light and easy to use and can be a great telescope for anyone interested in finding the planets.Check Latest Price
Best Medium Budget Telescopes for Planets
Celestron NexStar 90SLT
With the Celestron NexStar 90SLT, Celestron has attempted to introduce a computerized telescope at an affordable price to mixed reviews. The Celestron NexStar 90SLT is a 90mm Maksutov-Cassegrain design with a focal ratio of f/14. It checks all the boxes for a great planet spotting telescope. It also comes in at a comparatively low price compared to other computerized telescopes.
This telescope boasts Celestron’s suite of automatic stargazing technology, including the motorized mount, large database, and SkyAlign technology. This means that finding good views of the planets is as easy as aligning the telescope properly, programming the object into the computer and waiting for it to adjust itself.
However, there are more than a few reviews that say the computerized portion of this telescope does not work as intended. There are a lot of reviews saying it works perfectly, but the amount of reviews mentioning faulty electronics is a cause of concern.
Electronics aside, this telescope is still set up for manual planet viewing. It is light, easy to set up, and comes with a host of accessories. The focal ratio of f/14 and magnification levels of 50x and 139x are all great metrics for solar system viewing.
The price is still in a spot where it might be worth gambling on the electronics in this device. If the Celestron NexStar 90SLT comes out of the box with the automatic sky tracking and the rest of the features all working, then this telescope is a great deal for planet hunters.Check Latest Price
Celestron NexStar 4SE
For an upgrade in price, the Celestron NexStar 4SE is the evolution of the NexStar 90SLt and avoids most of the issues that come with that unit. They are very similar in their setup and design. Both are Maksutov-Cassegrain designs with high focal ratios and computerized mounting systems.
The Celestron NexStar 4SE has a focal ratio of f/13 and a magnification of 53x. The difference here is none of the reviews mention faulty electronics like they do with the 90SLT. This means that you can get the full effect of Celestron’s technology without any issues and the reason I purchased this telescope over the 90SLT.
The SkyAlign technology makes it so that the telescope can find itself by simply logging three bright points in the sky and letting it do the calculations for you. The Go-to system will then find and track planets for you. This is perfect for long term viewing of specific planets as they will no longer require manual adjustments as they rotate out of view.
On top of all of that, this telescope is also just a great overall telescope and is not limited to just giving great views of the planets. With the massive database of over 40,000 objects, it can find and track all sorts of deep space wonders for you to view at any time.
For a reasonable sum of money, the best of Celestron’s computerized telescopes can be yours with all the bells and whistles for getting those stunning views of Jupiter and more.Check Latest Price
Meade Instruments 205005 ETX125
The Meade Instruments 205005 ETX125 is Meade’s answer to the NexStar 4SE. It has a similar design philosophy and features as the 4SE. It comes in at a higher price but offers a couple of features that differentiate it.
Meade offers its computerized telescope software suite. The database is a little smaller, coming in at 30,000 preprogrammed objects. Meade has upped the game a little bit by offering four hours of audio that plays alongside a guided tour of the stars. This is like having a real-life planetarium in your backyard.
It also features a flip mirror feature which allows for two objects to be viewed simultaneously. This can be fun for a large group or family to spot two different planets at the same time. This is a neat feature that is not included in very many telescopes and could be fun for the whole family.
These features make this telescope geared for the family or teaching environment. It will find and track the objects with its Go-to mount, but it also has the option of playing an educational recording as it spots objects for you. It would be perfect for showing kids, novices or a class about the planets and could be a great investment for anyone with an educational focus.
The Meade Instruments 205005 ETX125 is a Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope that boasts a super high focal ratio of f/15, which is perfect for planetary viewing. It also has a large 125mm aperture for enhanced light gathering. This will make it easy and clear to spot planets from high light pollution areas or can boost the overall viewing quality of deep space objects in a dark sky environment.
Is this the right telescope for me?
The reviews of the Meade Instruments 205005 ETX125 are pretty good but a little mixed. Some people complain that there are better telescopes on the market for the money. That might be the case because not everyone is going to enjoy the dual view scope and the guided audio tour that comes included with this model. This is going to have more of a niche audience. If those extra educational features do not appeal to you then you are probably better off simply sticking to the NexStar 4SE.
If the price and features sound like they are right for you then this is a very versatile telescope perfect for viewing the planets or deep space wonders. It comes with Meade’s timeless, sleek look and dark blue colored tube and stylish fork mount. The whole thing just looks great.
It is up to you whether you prefer Celeston’s take on the medium budget computerized telescope or Meade’s, but they are both quality telescopes in their own right.Check Latest Price
Best Big Budget Telescope
Celestron NexStar 8SE
If you have money to burn and your pockets are just stuffed to bursting to wait to buy your next telescope, then look no further than the Celestron NexStar 8SE. It comes in over a thousand dollars, but if it is in the budget, then it is worth every penny.
The NexStar 8SE comes with a massive eight-inch primary aperture. This is double the size of the NexStar 4SE and adds massive amounts of light gathering ability. Celestron lists its highest theoretical magnification at 480x. That’s crazy!
It still has a decent focal ratio for individual object gazing at f/10. I say that because a telescope of this magnitude can spot much more than individual planets, including binary stars, distant galaxies, and other bright singular objects in the night.
It combines the amazing database of more than 40,000 objects with one of the best optical setups that Celestron offers to create a forever telescope. The overall quality of the focal ratio and magnification paired with the light gathering ability means that this telescope truly has the chops to make full use of that 40,000 object database. This could truly be the last telescope you ever buy.
If you looked at ten different objects a night, every night, this database could entertain you for over ten years. Ten years of celestial wonders to look at and learn about. That is amazing.
For the extra money, this combines the best features of all the other telescopes on this list and maxes them out. It is computerized, perfect for spotting nearby planets and distant objects. The massive light gathering capability means it can be used anywhere to see almost anything.
Is this a huge telescope?
This power and versatility do not come in a large package like some of its competitors. It is very small and very light. It comes in weighing only thirty-three pounds which is crazy considering how much power this telescope comes with. I don’t know if I would travel with my extremely expensive telescope but for those who want to, you can with this one.
It breaks down into separate components for easy travel and storage. These are all features that are usually found on much weaker and cheaper telescopes. Some telescopes in this price range are massive monsters that require tools and planning to assemble and disassemble. Not so with the Celestron NexStar 8SE.
The real draw of this telescope truly is the massive light gathering ability of its eight-inch primary aperture which is at least double the size of anything else on this list. Not only will this telescope show you the moons of Jupiter it can also show you distant star clusters and galaxies without breaking a sweat.
It is light, portable, easy to use, and easy to calibrate for unlimited night sky viewing assisted by the host of technology that Celestron has included. This telescope is truly a marvel, and if the budget can afford the cost, it is one of the best telescopes on the market. Period.
Celestron has truly manufactured a marvel with the NexStar 8SE and I can confidently say that it can be the last telescope you ever have to buy.Check Latest Price
The planets are some of the most popular things to view in our night sky and they have been for hundreds of years. Whether it is the polar ice caps on Mars or the rings around Saturn they have been in our culture for as long as anyone can remember. They were given the names of old gods and still dominate our view of the universe.
No matter what your budget is there is a Best Telescopes For Viewing Planets out there that can accurately portray the planets in stunning detail. Whether you have a small budget and have to get a beginner’s telescope that really nails the planets well but not much else or a large budget that can get a telescope that can see the whole universe as well as the planets there are great scopes on the market for you.
The planets offer familiar comfortable sights. They can be used to wow your friends, entertain your family or educate your students. No matter what the goal, the wonder that the planets instill in us as humans are primal and these telescopes give us the ability to channel our ancestors and get truly amazing views of the wandering stars themselves.