4 Best Telescopes for Viewing Planets: Pros and Cons

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Looking for a good telescope to view planets? And, you are 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. You’ll find cheaper telescopes here, but these are far from the best telescopes for viewing planets.

best planet telescope

The Best Telescope For Viewing Planets

What telescope is best for viewing planets?

The planets visible to the naked eye include Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Uranus and Neptune require at least a set of binoculars.  The best views of planets are achieved using telescopes with magnification and resolution suited to planet viewing.

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

Magnification and resolution are two key functions of a telescope that will affect your viewing of the planets.

Best size telescope for planets

Magnification, as a general rule, is best just within 50× per inch of aperture. To calculate magnification, divide the focal length of the telescope by that of the eyepiece. Including extra eyepieces or a Barlow lens or both may aid magnification (A Barlow lens will double the magnification of the eyepiece — see our information on telescope features).

Resolution is affected by the size of the aperture. An aperture of 4 to 7″ will do. The larger the aperture the greater the resolution limit (how fine the detail of the image will be). In telescopes used to observe planets or stars, you’ll want a larger aperture.

So, two main features in telescopes for planet viewing are fair sized apertures and focal lengths.

While a larger aperture will give you better resolution, when choosing telescopes to see planets, consider also higher focal ratios (correlates with longer focal lengths). Focal ratio is the telescope focal length divided by the aperture size. Those with high focal ratios are often referred to as ‘slow’ telescopes, that is, have a focal ratio of 8 or above. These have a narrow-field and a high-ratio, suited to planet observation.

So, in terms of the best size telescope for viewing planets, consider the aperture but also the focal length.

GoTo Telescopes To View Planets

As well as this, for many, the best planetary telescopes are ones that are automated to find the planets (that is, the go-to telescopes).

#1. Celestron NexStar 127SLT Mak Review

This is a 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: Finderscope – 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 stars 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, 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

#3. Sky-Watcher ProED 120mm Doublet APO

In contrast to the previous two, this one is a refractor. It does not include a computerized mount, but you can buy one separately for your automatic focusing.

With this one, Jupiter will really stand out. Under good viewing conditions, you will see planet detail with colors.

Expected to see both moon images and deep space images better.

This particular scope: faint stars to a 12.9 magnitude.

A focal ratio of 7.9 indicates it is at the lower end of the high power range for narrower field viewing, meaning it is good for observing planets, binary stars, and small features of the moon.

The best eyepiece would be one that had a focal length that could give a magnification of around 236×, based on the size of the aperture and telescope focal length.

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.

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: Finderscope – 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 810× when the highest useful magnification is stated as 480×. Consider an eyepiece with a focal length of 5 mm if sticking to the rule of thumb for magnification of 50× the size of the aperture (in inches).

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: 810×
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.

The four planets nearest to Earth are Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. Of these, Mercury is the smallest, followed by Mars, Venus, and then Jupiter, which is the largest in the solar system.

In terms of their brightness, Venus is the brightest seen 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.

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

You’ll need the best eyepiece for planetary viewing. Which is the best eyepiece for viewing planets? See below for my recommendations:

Celestron 6 mm Omni Plossl Explore Scientific 4.7 82º eyepiece TeleVue 3-6 mm Nagler Zoom TeleVue 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, I’m Jeff Madden. I’m an enthusiast of the wide open spaces. I’ve had over 15 years experience in presenting spatial data and I find it valuable to research and compare the latest technology available. I hope you find my comparisons on the performance of technology useful for exploring and capturing visuals of the outdoors.

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