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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? You’ve already searched through an assortment of beginner’s telescopes but you’re still looking. You’re still wondering what telescopes can see the planets. The following covers telescopes for planet viewing and this includes Go-To telescopes (i.e. computerized) that are worth a look.

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 here, but these are far from the best telescopes for viewing planets and galaxies.

best planet telescope

What Planets Are Visible?

If you are wondering: what planets can you see from Earth, then you should know that eight planets exist in our solar system and all eight 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 these planets.

The Best Telescope To Buy To See Planets

What telescope is best for viewing planets? The best views of planets require telescopes with the right magnification and resolution.

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

Size up the resolution and the magnification if you’re looking for the best views of planets through telescopes. 

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.

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, 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 a useful max magnification of 250x. This means you can use up to that amount of magnification before the image becomes distorted. 

To work out the magnification, 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.

So, regarding magnification, the focal length of the telescope is an important feature. 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. 

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 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. A Barlow lens will double the magnification of the 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 lengths that are high, as much as f/10 or higher.

GoTo Telescopes To View Planets

Many consider GoTos as the best planetary telescopes. These type 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.

Because of the computerization, the GoTos tend to be more expensive than those without automation. And, as a first telescope, the GoTos might not be the best choice as they can be a bit tricky. A standard non-auto type is considered a introduction type option for early entry level users to get used to stargazing.

Planet Telescope Reviews

Below are four popular telescopes right now. Three of these are GoTos.

#1. Celestron NexStar 127SLT Mak Review

This product is a go-to telescope, aka computerized telescope, meaning it will quickly gather the sights for you automatically, so you don’t waste time hunting for them.

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. To get the best view on planets with any telescope, see the section below. 

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 meets the rule of thumb of 50× per inch of aperture.

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. Not for astrophotography.

Specs of this planet telescope:

Type: 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″); Eyepiece magnification: 60×/167×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 300×/18×; limiting stellar magnitude: 13
Extras included: Finder scope – StarPointer; Star diagonal 1.25; Includes “The SkyX” Planetarium software

 

 Recommended Addons

An adapter that will let you power this scope from the cigarette lighter of your vehicle, like the Celestron 18778 AC Adapter.

See the latest price on the adapter

The best telescope eyepiece for viewing planets with this instrument is a 6 mm piece. An eyepiece + filter kit, like the Celestron 14-pc telescope accessory set is one that can improve this telescopes 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.

See the lastest price on this eyepiece + filter kit

#2. Celestron NexStar 6 SE Review

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″).

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

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.  

Specs of this planet telescope

Type: 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

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

#3. Sky-Watcher ProED 120mm Doublet APO

In contrast to the previous two, this planet telescope is a refractor and an optical tube — it does not come with a computerized mount (or any mount) or tripod — but you can buy these separately and 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 240×, 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 eyepiece.

Pros: A Schott Glass, an FPL-53 ED glass element, and apochromatic ED doublet optics mean images are 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. You will need to add a mount and tripod, and a smaller eyepiece (FL) for better magnification.

Specs of this planet telescope

Type: 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″); Eyepiece magnification: 45×/180×
Highest/lowest useful magnification: 283×/17×; limiting stellar magnitude: 12.9

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.

Recommended Addons

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. Click here for the latest prices on the Eq Mount and Tripod
A computerized mount and tripod will automate finding planets to view, like this Celestron Advanced VX Mount with Celestron Polar Axis Finder.
Click here for the latest price on the computerized mount

#4. Celestron NexStar 8 Inch Telescope Review

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.

Pros: Relatively large aperture. 2-year warranty. Includes a finderscope. 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). 

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.

Specs of this planet telescope

Type: 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

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

Click here for the latest price on the Celestron NexStar 8 SE

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 overview of the best places in the world to stargaze.

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, as in 2018.

For Mars, find and study some Martian maps. 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.

How to Get a Better ‘Focus’ of the Planets

Give yourself a gift, and source extra eyepieces for better views of the planets. Which is the best eyepiece for viewing planets? See below for some recommendations:

  1. The Celestron 6 mm Omni Plossl
  2. The Explore Scientific 4.7 82º eyepiece
  3. The Tele Vue 3-6 mm Nagler Zoom
  4. The Tele Vue 5 mm Nagler

Also, collimation may be needed to improve focus. This is about aligning the optics. It is a three step process. First, align the main mirror roughly. Second, position the secondary mirror. Third, fine-tune the alignment of the main mirror. This beginners guide has step-by-step details on collimation.

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 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 get better views again. You will see Neptune’s moon Triton and Jupiter in more detail, being able to make out its clouds and belts. The impressive ring around Saturn will be more defined. Pluto will be visible as a faint star.

Related

Beginners Guide + The Best Telescope Under 200 Dollars

Hi, Jeff Madden here. I’m an enthusiast of the wide open spaces with over 15 years experience in presenting spatial data. I like to research and compare the latest technology available. My writings are about helping others explore and capture visuals of the outdoors.

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