In this guide we’ll look at the best telescopes for viewing planets & galaxies.
We’ve compared image quality, portability & magnification and cost
to give you our top recommendations.
What Are The Best Telescopes for Viewing Planets and Galaxies?
More Detailed Telescope Reviews
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Orion 8974 SkyQuest XT8 PLUS Dobsonian Reflector Telescope Review
This Dobsonian reflector telescope has an 8” aperture, 1200mm focal length, and f/5.9 focal ratio—I’ll explain what those specs mean in the buyer’s guide below. Most importantly: 8” is a good size for aperture, as it allows this telescope to collect lots of light, which leads to crisp, detailed images.
The Orion is a reflector telescope, meaning that it uses mirrors to produce its images. It therefore requires regular adjustments (collimation) to ensure that the mirrors are in proper alignment.
Luckily, the scope has thumbscrew adjustments for the primary and secondary mirrors that allow for easy collimation—no tools necessary! If you get seriously into stargazing, I recommend picking up a laser collimator to make the process even quicker.
The base design features cutouts to reduce weight and increase portability. I recommend transporting the tube and mount separately (they weigh about 21 pounds each) if you find the whole assembly a bit heavy.
With this telescope, you can see enchanting views of nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters. If you’ve been dreaming of seeing the Orion Nebula for yourself, you’ll finally have your chance. This telescope will really bring the night sky to life…Some areas might look like plain velvety black expanses to the naked eye, but with the Orion 8974 SkyQuest, you’ll see all the stars that are out there.
Dobsonian telescopes like this one provide excellent value—lots of aperture at a relatively affordable price. The 8” aperture is a huge asset when it comes to deep-space viewing. And this telescope is also very effective at viewing brighter, more distinct objects such as the Moon and planets.
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Sky-Watcher ProED 80mm Doublet APO Refractor Telescope Review
Featuring a 3.15” (80mm) aperture, this APO refractor telescope is a high-quality, versatile scope that will get a lot of use. It has a 600mm focal length and focal ratio of f/7.5.
The Sky-Watcher is an apochromatic (APO) refractor. This means, first of all, that it uses lenses instead of mirrors to collect and focus light. Refractor telescopes sometimes have issues with visual distortion, known as chromatic aberration. Apochromatic refractors are designed specifically to avoid these issues.
Other advantages of apochromatic refractors include: They are durable and hold up well in the elements. They tend to be relatively portable and compact. And they yield amazing images.
Weighing in at 22 pounds, the Sky-Watcher is relatively lightweight, making it easy to grab and head into the backyard.
It is capable of providing a wide field of view that is excellent for observing larger phenomena—for instance, you’ll get stunning views of the Andromeda Galaxy.
Finally, if you’re interested in astrophotography, then this telescope makes a great choice!
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Orion 9005 AstroView 120ST Equatorial Refractor Telescope Review
The Orion 9006 AstroView is a refractor telescope with a 4.7” (120mm) aperture, 600mm focal length, and f/5 focal ratio.
This telescope offers a wide field of view that is ideal for viewing dim, deep-sky objects. It features an equatorial mount that facilitates smooth celestial tracking. Equatorial mounts are designed specifically to move with the rotation of the Earth; they allow you to track celestial objects across the night sky with greater ease and accuracy.
If you want to invest further in your astronomy hobby, you can upgrade to automatic tracking by purchasing an electronic drive.
Once fully assembled, this telescope weighs around 36 pounds, though you can detach the optical tube from the mount for easier portability.
All in all, this is a solid pick for the beginning stargazer who wants a user-friendly scope with quality optics that yield superb images of dim, distant galaxies and bright planets alike!
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Celestron NexStar 5 SE Telescope Review
The Celestron NexStar boasts a fully automated GoTo mount with a vast database (containing 40,000+ celestial objects); this scope makes it easy to locate and track whatever catches your eye. SkyAlign technology further simplifies the process of aligning your scope and getting started.
This scope has an aperture of 4.92” (125mm), a generous size that that collects plenty of light to illuminate dim, faraway objects. It has a long focal length of 1250mm and focal ratio of f/10.
As you’ll notice, this is a longer f/ratio than the other telescopes on my list. This makes the Celestron especially good for high-power observation, such as lunar and planetary viewing. However, you can also spot things like the Orion Nebula—this scope is a good all-around performer.
The Celestron is great for beginners. And, weighing in at only 27.6 pounds when fully assembled, it’s also a good choice for more experienced astronomers who want a convenient, compact, grab-and-go model. It’s portable and can be dissembled into even smaller, lighter-weight pieces.
One final thing to note: This scope is a Schmidt-Cassegrain model. Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes are catadioptric and use both mirrors and lenses to produce their images. Why choose a Schmidt-Cassegrain? Because they yield fantastic images and come in relatively compact, portable packages.
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Celestron 22065 Astro Master 102AZ Refractor Telescope Review
Another Celestron model, the 22065 Astro Master provides excellent value at a reasonable cost. Its aperture measures 4” (102mm), while its focal length is 660mm and focal ratio is f/6.5.
This scope has an easy-to-use altazimuth mount and adjustable tripod. It’s user-friendly, with no tools needed for initial set-up. It comes with an erect image diagonal, which allows for terrestrial in addition to astronomical use.
As a refractor, this telescope has a sealed tube and is thus more durable than a reflector, requiring no collimation. You’ll be able to see brighter celestial objects such as the Moon, planets, Orion Nebula, and Andromeda Galaxy.
Finally, this telescope is extremely portable, weighing only 14 pounds when fully assembled. It’s the perfect grab-and-go telescope that will get you outside observing with minimal fuss.
Telescope for Planets & Galaxies Buying Guide
There are a number of different features that are important to consider when buying a telescope. These include:
- Focal length and ratio
- Electric control
Aperture is one of the most important features of any telescope.
It is a measurement of the scope’s light-collecting area. For a refractor, this denotes the size of the telescope’s objective lens; for a reflector, this is the size of the scope’s primary mirror.
Essentially, a larger aperture allows your telescope to collect more light. This is extremely important, especially for viewing dim, faraway objects like galaxies.
Of course, a larger aperture generally also means a larger (and bulkier) telescope with a higher price tag. I’ve chosen the above telescopes because they strike a good balance.
My list includes telescopes with apertures ranging from 3.15” (80mm) to 8” (slightly over 200mm). This is an ideal range for people who want good light collection—enough to enjoy views of galaxies—without sacrificing portability, convenience, and value.
If your primary aim is to view very dim and distant objects like galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters, then I suggest choosing a telescope toward the upper end of that aperture range. For example: the Orion 8974 SkyQuest XT8 with its 8” aperture.
Focal length and ratio
A telescope’s focal length denotes the distance that the collected light travels as it is brought to focus on a plane. You’ll also often hear about focal ratio, which equals the focal length divided by aperture.
For example, you might have a telescope with focal length 1000mm and aperture 200mm—this yields a focal ratio of f/5.
Why is focal ratio important? There are a few things to keep in mind:
Longer focal length usually means a longer telescope—so if you want a more compact or portable scope, look for a shorter focal length.
With all other factors (like aperture) being equal, a telescope with a longer focal length usually performs better at high magnification.
Large aperture, long focal length telescopes are excellent for viewing bright, distinct lunar and planetary objects in crisp detail.
However, this kind of high-power telescope tends to have a more restricted field of view, so it’s less ideal for viewing more disperse objects such as the Milky Way.
The best telescope for viewing planets may not be the best telescope for viewing galaxies. Luckily, you can view both with just one telescope.
My top pick, the Orion 8974 SkyQuest has a f/5.9 focal ratio. Telescopes within the f/5 to 5/10 range are solid choices for all-around viewing.
Overall, I’ve selected telescopes that are capable of providing stellar view of both planets and galaxies. These options are excellent, versatile telescopes that will suit the varied viewing needs of most hobbyist astronomers.
Astrophotography is even more amazing! The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Astrophotography and these two equipment guides will help you get started:
My main advice about magnification: Don’t be fooled. Magnification is not the most important feature to consider when buying a telescope. High magnification is pointless if the image is blurry.
There’s a quick and easy way to calculate how much magnification your telescope can handle: Multiply the telescope’s aperture (in inches) by 50. This will give you the highest possible magnification that you can expect under good viewing conditions (minimal light pollution).
Multiply aperture by 25 to determine the highest useful magnification under less ideal conditions (lots of light pollution).
The 8” aperture of the Orion 8974 SkyQuest should be capable of around 400x magnification under ideal conditions. Under bad viewing conditions, it may only be capable of 200x magnification (still quite a lot!).
If so, take a close look at the Celestron 22065 Astro Master, which weighs only about 14 pounds once fully assembled.
Many astronomers love the ease and convenience of electric control! If you’re curious about trying an automated telescope, consider the Celestron NexStar, a fully automated scope with GoTo technology. Its enormous database can locate and track 40,000+ objects.
Once you’ve got the hang of operating an automated telescope, the vast night sky will become that much more within your reach.