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4 Best Telescopes For Viewing Planets: Pros and Cons

Looking for a telescope to see planets? And, you’re probably wanting the best telescope for the money, right? The following covers telescopes for planet viewing and this includes Go-To telescopes (i.e. computerized) that are worth a look.

Table of Contents

How Much is a Telescope for Viewing Planets?

The price can vary. For those listed in this telescope buying guide, you are looking at between $400 and $2000 for a new telescope of this type. You’ll find cheaper telescopes in this article I wrote for beginners, but these may not be the best telescopes for viewing planets and galaxies.

best planet telescope
Planets in order from Sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.

What Planets Are Visible?

If you are wondering: what planets can you see from Earth, then you should know that, all seven planets in our solar system (not including Earth) are visible from Earth.

In terms of the naked eye, the visible planets are those nearest to Earth: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn (in order of distance from the Sun). Of these, Mercury is the smallest, followed by Mars, Venus, Saturn, and then Jupiter, which is the largest in the solar system.

In terms of their brightness, Venus is the brightest of the planets visible from Earth and is often referred to as the ‘evening star’. The declining order of apparent brightness for the remaining planets is Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

The faintest planets seen from Earth, Uranus and Neptune, require at least a quality set of binoculars on the brightest clear night, to view, however.

Read on to find out the best magnification to see good views of the planets.

The Best Telescope To Buy To See Planets

What telescope is best for viewing planets? You will get the best views of planets through telescopes equipped to get the right magnification and resolution for that purpose.

Best Telescope For Planets – Resolution

The resolution (how fine the detail of the image will be), first up, will affect your viewing of the planets. With this, consider the size of the aperture.

What size telescope should I get to see all the planets in our solar system?

The larger the aperture the more light it can capture and the brighter the distant planet will appear. The average useful size will differ with type. In refractor telescopes used to observe planets or stars, an aperture of 3 to 5″ will do, while in a reflector telescope, it is recommended that you look for 6″ or larger.

Best Telescope To See Planets – Magnification

Although the quality of the lenses and the aperture size are major determinants, when choosing telescopes to see planets, consider also the magnification.

The maximum best attained for a specific telescope, as a general rule, is just within 50× per inch (or 2x per mm) of the aperture size.

For example, an aperture of 5″ will provide the maximum useful magnification of 250x. This means you can use up to that amount of magnification before the image becomes distorted (this depends on atmospheric conditions).

To work out the magnification you can expect with each eyepiece, simply divide the focal length of the telescope by the focal length of the eyepiece in use. This means that if the focal length of the telescope is 900 mm and the eyepiece is 5 mm, the magnification is 180x.

Focal Ratio – Slow Telescopes

The focal length of the telescope is an important feature as well as the aperture size. Telescopes with high focal ratios (f/) — the telescope’s focal length divided by its aperture size — are best for viewing planets.

These have focal ratios about 10 (f/10 or above) are often referred to as ‘slow’ telescopes. They have a narrow-field and a high-ratio, suited to planet observation.

Extra Eyepieces

Buying extra eyepieces (or a Barlow lens or both) to help with magnification is often a done practice. This is because the best magnification varies between planets and what works best at the time.

For example, in terms of what power telescope to see rings of Saturn: a magnification of 200x to 250x is likely to give nice views on a good clear night.

While, you might need less than 200x for Jupiter, given it is a very low contrast object. Meanwhile, you can use the highest magnification on the Moon and Mars.

The smaller the eyepiece’s focal length, the greater the magnification to expect, but keep in mind the limit (max magnification).

Also, a Barlow lens can double the magnification of an eyepiece — see our information on telescope features.

So, in terms of the best size telescope for viewing planets…

Size up the apertures and the focal ratios (close to f/10 or higher).  

Using GoTo Telescopes To View Planets

Many consider GoTos as being the best planetary telescopes (though standard types or a good set of binoculars are preferred for introducing early entry-level enthusiasts to astronomy).

The GoTo types are automated to find the planets. That is, they automatically go-to the celestial location of the object as a result of coordinate data entered in the inbuilt computer. They have a special mount and software.

This mount can be either an equatorial or an alt-azimuth. The equatorial mount on a GoTo requires the user to align the telescope by hand with either the north or the south celestial pole.

The alt-azimuth mount on a GoTo is aligned on an ‘alignment object’, on which the eyepiece is centered.

The thing to note with a GoTo, is that because of the computerization, it is likely to be more expensive than a standard telescope.

Planet Telescope Reviews

Below are four popular telescopes right now. Three of these are GoTos made by Celestron. Celestron is a Californian company that has been in the optics industry for decades.  


#1. Celestron NexStar 127SLT Mak Review

Click image to see price at Amazon

A Catadioptric (Maksutov-Cassegrain)
Aperture size: 127 mm (5″)
Mount: Motorized Alt-Azimuth
FL (Telescope focal length): 1500 mm (59 in)
f/ (Focal ratio): 12
Eyepiece FL: 25 mm (0.98″)/9 mm (0.35″); – magnification: 60×/167×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 300×/18×; limiting stellar magnitude: 13

This product is a go-to telescope. The SLT stands for star locating telescope. This computerized telescope has a corded hand controller and is attached to a motorized alt-azimuth mount that sits on top of the tripod.

The advantage of an alt-azimuth motorized mount means it can find the point from the entered object’s altitude and azimuth and quickly gather the sights for you automatically, so you don’t waste time hunting for them or having to manually align the telescope.

A mirror size of 127 mm (5″) means this catadioptric telescope is in the range considered best for viewing planets. 

A Maksutov-Cassegrain of this size is highly recommended for lunar and planetary viewing. With this particular scope, you should see rings on Saturn, the bands on Jupiter, and the Great Red Spot on a clear night with sharp enough focus. The view of Mars through the telescope will reveal a reddish hue.

A focal ratio of 12 indicates it is in the high power range for narrower field viewing, suited to viewing planets, binary stars, and small features of the moon.

Adding in an eyepiece with a 6 mm focal length will give you a magnification of 250×, which should help you gain nice views of Saturn on a good clear night. Scroll down for a recommended add-on filter and eyepiece kit.

What is included: Telescope, tripod, control key pad, and two Celestron eyepieces: 9 and 25 mm. Extras included: Finder scope – StarPointer; Star diagonal 1.25; Includes “The SkyX” Planetarium software

Pros:

  • Price is good (for telescopes that can see planets)
  • Ticks all the boxes, with high focal ratio and a good size aperture

Cons: 

  • The technology can be tricky to get to work correctly if unfamiliar to you
  • Not for astrophotography.

Recommended Addons

Car Battery adapter

Buy an adapter that will let you power this scope from the cigarette lighter of your vehicle. An example is the Celestron car battery adapter that is compatible with Nexstar telescopes.

Car battery adapter for when you are on the go. Click image to see details at Amazon.com

Extra eyepieces For Enhanced Views

Get extra telescope eyepieces for viewing planets.

A set of eyepieces plus filters will suit the beginner. Click image to see price at Amazon.

With the Nexstar 127 mm instrument a 6 mm piece is recommended. An eyepiece + filter kit, like the Celestron 14-pc telescope accessory set has one this size, which will improve the telescope’s views of planets. The kit has 5 Plossl eyepieces (6, 8, 13, 17, & 32 mm), 2× 1¼” Barlow lens, 6 colored planetary eyepiece filters, a 1¼” moon filter, and a case. A huge saving for beginners.

But, if you’d rather invest in decent individual eyepieces, have a look at this article I wrote, covering some quality extra eyepieces.


#2. Celestron NexStar 6 SE Review

Available at Amazon — Click image to check out price.

A Catadioptric (Schmidt-Cassegrain)
Aperture size: 150 mm (6″)
Mount: Alt-Azimuth
FL (Focal length): 1500 mm (59″)
f (Focal ratio): 10
Eyepiece FL: 25 mm (1″); Eyepiece magnification: 60×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 354×/21×; limiting stellar magnitude: 13.4

This planet viewing telescope is another automated type. It has a GoTo mount and a database of over 40 thousand night sky objects on which to automatically focus.

Simply use the built-in menu on the hand controller to select the celestial object and the telescope will automatically move and point to that object.

The telescope comes with a sturdy steel tripod.

The optics are superb. The aperture of 6″ (150 mm) is larger than the previous NexStar 127SLT Mak and is expected to give impressive views of the planets in detail.

With this particular scope, you should see faint objects to magnitude 13.4.

A focal ratio of 10 indicates it is a slow telescope in the high power range for narrower field viewing, meaning it is best for observing planets, binary stars, and small features of the moon.

Expect to see spectacular views of Saturn through telescope use with this one, as well as Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. You may even be able to see the outer planets, Uranus and Neptune at a dark site and under optimum viewing conditions.

An eyepiece with a 5 mm focal length would be the best eyepiece for viewing planets for this one, giving a magnification of 300× (50 × 6″).

Extras included: Sturdy steel tripod, finder scope – StarPointer; SkyAlign allows you to align on any three bright celestial objects, making for a fast and easy alignment process; Nearly 40,000 object database with 200 user-definable objects and expanded information on over 200 objects

Pros: 

  • Only one eyepiece included (magnification 60×)
  • Skyalign works well with auto 2-star alignment

Cons: 

  • Relatively short battery life of the 8 AAs used in the mount
  • The mount being an alt-azimuth is not the best for photographing the planets, but you may succeed in capturing Venus, Jupiter, and a few others, with a very high ISO

#3. Sky-Watcher ProED 120mm Doublet APO

Click image to check out latest price at Amazon

APO Refractor with ED Schott glass
Aperture size: 120 mm (4.72″)
Mount: Not included
FL (Focal length): 900 mm (35″)
f/ (Focal ratio): 7.9
Eyepiece FL: 20 mm (0.8″)/5 mm (0.2″); magnification: 45×/180×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 283×/17×; limiting stellar magnitude: 12.9

In contrast to the previous two, this refractor telescope is basic in that it is an optical tube — it does not come with a computerized mount (or any mount) or tripod — but you can buy these separately. It comes with attachment hardware for this reason. 

With this particular scope you should see faint stars to a 12.9 magnitude.

A focal ratio of 8 means it is at the lower end of the high power range for narrower field viewing of planets, binary stars, and small features of the moon.

The maximum magnification of around 283×, based on the size of the aperture and telescope focal length, should allow you to obtain nice view of Saturn’s rings and of Jupiter with the right eyepieces.

The eyepieces included will give you 45x and 180x, but you might need higher magnification, say ~200x to 240x, with really clear atmospheric conditions, for this. See my article on the best dark sky locations.

Other: Finder scope – 8×50 RA erect-image, Dual-speed 2″ Crayford-type focuser with 1.25″ adaptor; 20 mm and 5 mm 1.25, 2″ dielectric diagonal; Tube-ring attachment hardware; Aluminium carry case.

Pros:

  • Schott Glass, an FPL-53 ED glass element
  • Apochromatic ED doublet optics mean superb images — free of the annoying halo of unfocused violet light

Cons:

  • More expensive than the previous two good telescopes for viewing planets
  • The tube is relatively long for free hold
  • You will need to add a mount and tripod (see below for a tripod with a computerized mount that you can add)

Recommended Addons

If you are looking for a tripod for this scope, here are a couple of options…

Tripod with equatorial mount

A Celestron CG-4 German Equatorial Mount and adjustable height steel tripod will suit and easily maneuver this telescope to find the planets for viewing.

Available at Amazon.com – click image for details.

Tripod with programmable mount

A computerized mount and tripod will automate finding planets to view, like this Celestron Advanced VX Mount with Celestron Polar Axis Finder.

Available at Amazon.com – click image for details.

#4. Celestron NexStar 8 Inch Telescope Review

Click image for price at Amazon.com

Catadioptric (Schmidt-Cassegrain)
Aperture size: 203 mm (8″)
Mount: Single Fork Arm Alt-Azimuth
FL (Focal length): 2032 mm (80″)
f (Focal ratio): 10
Eyepiece FL: 25 mm (1″); Eyepiece magnification: 81×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 480×/29×; limiting stellar magnitude: 14

This 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain is in the league of the best telescope for viewing planets and galaxies. It is another fully automated type.

Like the 6-inch version, it has a GoTo mount and a database of over 40 thousand night sky objects on which to automatically focus. 

Simply use the built-in menu on the hand controller to select the celestial object and the telescope will automatically move and point to that object. 

The telescope comes with a sturdy steel tripod.

The optics are superb. The aperture of 8″ (203 mm) is larger than the previous Celestron NexStar SE and is expected to give views of deep sky objects like the Whirlpool Galaxy and Hercules Globular Cluster.

A focal ratio of 10 means this is a slow telescope. It is in the high power range for narrower field viewing, suited for observing planets, binary stars, and small features of the moon.

Expect to see spectacular views of Saturn, as well as Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter and even see the outer planets, Uranus and Neptune at a dark site and under optimum viewing conditions.

You’ll need to buy extra eyepieces to get the best out of this unit. The one provided gives 81× when the highest useful magnification is stated as 480×. Consider extra eyepieces, at least one with a focal length of 10 or 8 mm, which will give you about 200x or 250x (2030 divided by 10 or 8).

Other: Sturdy steel tripod, Finderscope – StarPointer; SkyAlign allows you to align on any three bright celestial objects, making for a fast and easy alignment process; Nearly 40,000 object database with 200 user-definable objects and expanded information on over 200 objects

Pros:

  • Large aperture
  • High useful magnification
  • 2-year warranty
  • Includes a finder scope

Cons:

  • Fairly short battery life of the 8 AAs used in the mount
  • The mount being an alt-azimuth is not the best for photographing the planets, but you may succeed in capturing Venus, Jupiter, and a few others, with a very high ISO

Tips on How to Get the Best View of Planets

Even with the best telescope to see planets, you’ll want a location that’s dark, dry, and possibly elevated for the best experience.

You may need to travel to avoid light pollution. See my article on some of the best places to stargaze, which has a link to a tool showing designation dark sky sites.

No matter what telescopes you use, you will get the best views of planets when they are closest to Earth. When a planet rises at sunset, it is in a position for the best views a few hours after sunset.

Mars will be seen better when it is close to Earth. For Mars, find and study some Martian maps.

Filters

Filters will improve what you can see. Red/orange filters should help you view the polar caps and major landmarks like Syrtis Major and Hellas on Mars. This will depend on what side of Mars is facing the Earth.

Getting hold of a good selection of color filters and having an understanding of the landmarks will also help. As will having the best eyepieces for viewing planets.

Eyepieces

The best outdoor gift to yourself is to get some extra eyepieces. Which are the best eyepieces for viewing planets? I cover the features and metrics to consider in my article of what to look for in telescope eyepieces.

Collimation

Also, collimation might be needed. This is especially important if you are using high magnification – likely for planet viewing.

This is about aligning the optics. In some it is simply a three step process. First, align the main mirror roughly. Second, position the secondary mirror. Third, fine-tune the alignment of the main mirror.

Still, check the specifics for your individual telescope which are often on the website.


What to Expect to See with a Good Planetary Telescope

As mentioned above, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are visible to the naked eye – as bright stars mostly – while Uranus and Neptune require at least using a set of binoculars to detect.  Using a telescope for viewing planets will give you more detail and a clearer view of the planets.

With Mars, you’ll see its polar caps and major dark surface features.

With Jupiter, color and detail and the Great Red Spot can be seen. With Saturn, its six moons are faintly observable at varying times. The moons of the distant planets, Uranus and Neptune, are more challenging to find but are observable once located and with a higher aperture size.

With an 8 inch aperture or higher you should expect better views again. You should see Neptune’s moon Triton and Jupiter in more detail, being able to make out its clouds and belts. The impressive ring around Saturn should be more defined. Pluto may be visible as a faint star.

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3 thoughts on “4 Best Telescopes For Viewing Planets: Pros and Cons”

  1. Hi, thanks for the awesome info!! I’ve been reading about telescope pros and cons would you mind giving me an advise about Meade LX70 M6 6″ f/12 Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope with German Equatorial Mount and 2-Stage Adjustable Steel Tripod, 1800mm Focal Length? I quite like this scope, would you be able to tell me the complete guide and eye pieces to get to use the scope to its maximum potential… much appreciated and thank you very much.

    Robbie

    • Hi Robbie, Thanks for your query. Meade discontinued the entire LX70 range over a year ago. So, I assume that you own a Meade LX70, rather than looking to buy one. I can’t give you exact guidance but rather refer you to the Meade LX70 manual that is fairly comprehensive – here is the link, where you can download the manual from Meade. You’ll find a section on choosing eyepieces on page 11.
      If you are not happy with the eyepieces that came with the telescope…I can’t say for sure, but some users have found 1.25″ 15mm and 20mm eyepieces that give a 68 degree apparent field of view work perfect for this telescope — Much wider FOV being a waste. If you are looking for a fairly inexpensive additional eyepiece, the GSO Superview line is available at Amazon.com – See details. Cheers

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