Best Telescopes for Viewing Planets

The entire night sky opens up when you purchase a telescope. Thousands of celestial bodies from moons and stars, and even other galaxies, can be viewed in greater detail. Some of the best objects to aim your telescope at are right in here in our very own Solar System: the planets. The planets are unique from other bodies since they lie so close to us, and the best telescope for viewing the planets has its own special requirements.

Quick Telescope Comparison Chart

Compare the top 10 best telescopes for viewing planets in under five minutes with this nifty chart, and see below for in-depth specs and reviews.

TelescopeStandout Specs
Celestron 21035 70mm Travel ScopeAffordable refractorPortable and lightSome flimsy parts
Celestron NextStar 6 SECatadioptric with many modern featuresQuality opticsMay be tricky for some to use initially and is expensive
Celestron PowerSeeker 127 EQGerman equatorial mount reflectorWell pricedFinderscope may be tricky to use at first
Celestron NextStar 130 SLTComputerized reflectorGreat specs and opticsSensitive to vibrations
Gskyer 90mm RefractorAffordable refractorGreat accessoriesSetup may be tricky
Gskyer 70mm ReflectorRefractorGreat low pricePossible struggles with axis/ tilt
Meade Infinity 102 mm AZ RefractorExcellent light gathering refractorAffordableSlightly Heavy
Orion 10014 SkyQuest XT4.5ReflectorSuperb value for moneySome plastic parts
Orion 10016 StarBlast 6ReflectorEasy to collimateNot as portable
SkyWatcher 10 inch DobsonianQuality optics reflectorUnbeatable viewsHeavy and expensive

Which Planets Can I See with a Telescope?

Five of the seven major planets we can see from Earth are easily visible to the naked eye. They are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

The planets only reflect the Sun’s light and are very small compared to stars. Fortunately, they are also among the closest celestial bodies to Earth, so we get to view them in beautiful detail using a telescope.

Using a good pair of binoculars can show more general details of the planets, but having a telescope to sweep the Solar System with is where the real magic happens.

Mercury lies quite close to the Sun and special care must be taken when viewing the planet. With a proper solar filter or solar telescope, you can see the rare transit of Mercury in November this year.

Venus is the second brightest object in the night sky after the Moon. The planet is so brilliant that people often mistake it for an UFO! Venus (and Mercury) goes through phases just like the Moon. A good telescope will reveal these fascinating phases from a crescent to a gibbous and sometimes even a full disc of Venus.

Mars is a true treat to examine through a telescope! Amazing surface detail of Mars’ geography can be seen through the right telescope. You can of course observe the red/ orange Martian terrain. The other standout feature to look for on Mars is its polar ice caps which pop out against the rusty background.

Jupiter is the largest of the planets and the third brightest night time object after the Moon and Venus. Pointing a telescope at the giant planet brings its character completely to life. The planet’s bands of gas are easily visible, showing colour and separation. Jupiter’s centuries old storm – The Great Red Spot – is an obvious feature that never gets old to view. The planet’s four biggest moons (Callisto, Europa, Io and Ganymede) are also visible as small points of light either side of the planet. Watching the Galilean moons transit Jupiter is another telescopic spectacle.

Saturn is the jewel of the Solar System with its crowning rings. They show up clearly through quality telescopes, even small ones. Some cloud activity can also be observed, as well as the chance to glimpse Saturn’s biggest moons.

Uranus and Neptune can be seen through a telescope but they show no real detail apart from solid, pale colour. They do make a fun and interesting challenge to find though; a perfect way to build up your skills.

As you can see, getting the best telescope for viewing planets is definitely worth it!

Top 10 Telescopes for Observing Planets

There are many fine telescopes on the market. We have compiled the best telescopes for viewing planets into bite sized specs and reviews for each. Here is our selection:

Celestron 21035 70mm Travel Scope

  • Aperture: 70mm
  • Focal Length: 400mm
  • Telescope Type: Refractor
  • Mount: Alt-azimuth
  • Pros: Very affordable and provides sharp wide field views.
  • Cons: Tripod is very light making it not as sturdy as desired, and the optics contain some plastic parts.

The Celestron Travel Scope was created with convenience and ease of use in mind. It is a very light and portable device and requires little setup to be ready to use. The telescope comes with two handy 20mm and 10mm eyepieces. It has an adjustable height tripod and the mount works smoothly. It fits right into a backpack – which it comes with too – making it the ideal choice if you have to travel to find clear and dark skies. The small aperture is more than capable of delivering great images of the naked eye planets as well as the Moon. It is also perfect for terrestrial use.

Celestron NextStar 6 SE

  • Aperture: 150mm
  • Focal Length: 1500mm
  • Telescope Type: Catadioptric
  • Mount: Alt-azimuth
  • Pros: Quality optics and strong build. Lots of modern features.
  • Cons: Expensive, and the advanced design may overwhelm users who want something basic and straightforward.

This 6 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain design from Celestron is a telescope built to last. You will not only be amazed by pristine views of the outer planets and the Moon, but also of stars clusters, nebulae and galaxies. A telescope of this aperture is all you really need for viewing the solar system. Jupiter’s atmospheric gaseous features and colour truly come to life, and the Galilean moons are readily visible.

The telescope comes with a fully automated GoTo mount. It is programmed to automatically locate and track over 40 000 sky objects. This is a handy feature for any beginner who may be feel overwhelmed by learning to navigate the skies manually.

SkyAlign technology will aid novices in getting the telescope aligned in a matter of minutes. The telescope is just under 10 kilograms, a manageable (albeit slightly heavier) weight to move and assemble for an adult. It also features technology which allows you to control your telescope remotely via your computer.

Celestron PowerSeeker 127 EQ Telescope

  • Aperture: 127mm
  • Focal Length: 1000mm
  • Telescope Type: Reflector
  • Mount: German Equatorial Mount
  • Pros: Reasonably priced. Classic Newtonian design delivers quality and is easy to familiarize yourself with.
  • Cons: Needs to be collimated. Finderscope may be tricky to use.

Celestron’s PowerSeeker Reflector is a great choice for beginner backyard astronomers. It offers a slightly larger aperture without breaking the bank. The telescope is simple to set up and is ready to use within minutes. It comes with a strong and reliable German equatorial mount and slow motion controls. The result is the ability to track the sky smoothly and without any fuss. The PowerSeeker comes with two eyepieces as well as a 3x Barlow lens which increases magnification. Celestron always delivers good quality and the PowerSeeker is no different. It delivers beautiful views of all the naked eye planets and a wide variety of deep sky objects.

Computerized Celestron NextStar 130 SLT

  • Aperture: 130mm
  • Focal Length: 650mm
  • Telescope Type: Reflector
  • Mount: Alt-azimuth
  • Pros: Computerised tracking and good specs on the optics.
  • Cons: Sensitive to vibrations. Needs to be collimated.

The last Celestron featured on our list is by no means the least. This is a mid-priced telescope that delivers as if it were sitting on the higher end of your budget! The NextStar 130 SLT has the perfect aperture for being able to see the Solar System and deep sky objects in crisp detail, while still remaining light weight and portable and retaining a wide field of view. Technology lovers will appreciate the computerized hand control which allows you to operate your telescope remotely. With just the touch of a button you can effortlessly move from one object to the next, exploring hundreds of galaxies, clusters and stars. The telescope produces bright images; ideal for viewing planets in finer detail.

Gskyer Telescope 600 x 90 mm AZ Refractor German Technology

  • Aperture: 90mm
  • Focal Length: 600mm
  • Telescope Type: Refractor
  • Mount: Alt-azimuth
  • Pros: Good accessories, reasonable price.
  • Cons: Initial set-up may be tricky.

Gskyer may not be the biggest name in the telescope industry, but they have been around for over 2 decades and do deliver strong devices that are reasonably priced. The 90 mm AZ refractor is a nice starting telescope with a midrange price. The telescope uses German technology in its build for assured quality. This scope comes with many added extras including three eyepieces (25mm, 10mm and 5 mm), a 3 x Barlow lens and an adjustable tripod too. No tools are needed for set-up, though some novices do find initial set-up a little tricky without proper guidance. The Gskyer produces fine images of the Moon and Saturn’s rings, and is a good choice for exploring clusters and nebulae too.

Gskyer Telescope AZ 70400 German Technology Travel Reflector

  • Aperture: 70mm
  • Focal Length: 400mm
  • Telescope Type: Refractor
  • Mount: Alt-azimuth
  • Pros: Very affordable, low price.
  • Cons: Some users experience initial difficulty with the axis and tilt function.

Gskyer offers an incredible affordable, lightweight and portable telescope with the AZ 70400. The telescope comes with a backpack that makes it ideal for amateurs who like to get away to dark skies. The aperture is large enough to show you beautiful views on the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn with their most prominent features clearly visible. It comes with two eyepieces (25mm and 10mm) and a 3x Barlow lens. The alt-azimuth mount works smoothly and the assembly is surprisingly straightforward and hassle-free. Though the scope may not be the top choice for deep sky objects, it is a dream around the Solar System.

Meade Instruments Infinity 102 mm AZ Refractor

  • Aperture: 102mm
  • Focal Length: 600mm
  • Telescope Type: Refractor
  • Mount: Alt-azimuth
  • Pros: Great light gathering, quality optics and affordable.
  • Cons: Only slightly heavier than other similar telescopes.

Meade Instruments Infinity 102 mm telescope is a fine choice for a first telescope. Users agree that the telescope is quite easy to set up and familiarize yourself with. This telescope comes with a 2 x Barlow lens and three eyepieces of 26m. 9mm, and for varied magnifications. All naked eye planets can be seen in sharp detail and the telescope makes a fine choice for a novice wanting to navigate deep sky objects. The telescope also comes with an instructional DVD and astronomy software. It is very well priced and comes to you from a reputable and trusted name in telescopes.

Orion 10014 SkyQuest XT4.5 Classic Dobsonian

  • Aperture: 114 mm
  • Focal Length: 900mm
  • Telescope Type: Reflector
  • Mount: Dobsonian
  • Pros: Quality optics and great value for money.
  • Cons: Plastic focuser.

Dobsonian mounted reflectors are always a popular choice for novices and pros alike. They are sturdy mounted telescopes perfect for larger apertures. The 114mm SkyQuest is by no means excessive in size but with the lovely views the scope provides, you may feel that the aperture is larger than it really is. Orion never skimp on offering their customers the best. The optics are a great and the Plossl (25mm and 10mm) eyepieces that come with the telescope are also top of the range. Of course, you will also get Starry Night Software. The telescope delivers astounding views of the Solar System and is perfect for deep sky objects.

Orion 10016 StarBlast 6 Astro Reflector

  • Aperture: 150 mm
  • Focal Length: 750mm
  • Telescope Type: Reflector
  • Mount: Alt-azimuth
  • Pros: Marked primary mirror for easy collimation.
  • Cons: Not as portable as other makes of similar size.

The Orion StarBlast 6 is another popular choice among amateur astronomers. The telescope has an uncomplicated design that is simple to set up, point and use. The quality of the telescope is worth every dollar spent, including the reliable Sirius Plossl eyepieces. It reveals sharp surface detail on all naked eye planets and the Moon. The telescope’s aperture and optics are also perfect for a beginner learning the deep sky. Considering its size, make and quality, its midrange price is a real bargain.

SkyWatcher 10 inch Collapsible Dobsonian Telescope

  • Aperture: 254mm
  • Focal Length: 1200mm
  • Telescope Type: Reflector
  • Mount: Dobsonian
  • Pros: Great optics, good design.
  • Cons: Heavy and Expensive.

Even beginners sometimes want very large apertures right off the bat! And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that as long as you know what to expect when purchasing a large telescope. For one, the telescope is on the higher price range, but if you have the money to invest it certainly will not disappoint. It is also very heavy and would ordinarily be tricky to transport, store and assemble. Thankfully, the strong Dobsonian mount is a collapsible design which does accommodate to these basic needs. On the upside, there is no substitute for the breath-taking views a large telescope delivers. With the top end Plossl eyepieces included, you are bound to spend many nights enjoying the planets and stars.

Overall Top Telescope

Our top choices are a tie between the Meade Infinity and Orion StarBlast 6 due to the simple and popular designs of both telescopes, their light gathering capacity which is perfect both in and around the Solar System, and their affordability.

How to Choose the Best Telescope for Viewing Planets

A great telescope you love and use often can last for years if you know what to look for. Keep this buyer’s guide for telescopes in mind when searching for the perfect telescope for observing the Solar System and beyond.

  • Type of Telescope: Telescopes come in three main kinds: reflectors, refractors and catadioptric/ compound telescopes. Reflectors and refractors are far more common among novices because they are more affordable and easier to use than catadioptric telescopes. However, popular catadioptric designs like the Schmidt – Cassegrain variations deliver astounding quality and are worth the investment. The main difference between refractors and reflectors is that the former uses lenses while the latter makes use of mirrors for the primary objective. Catadioptrics use both.

Each type telescope has its pros and cons, and there are fantastic models in all makes. The choice will really be left up to your individual requirements. You can read here for a detailed comparison of different types of telescopes.

  • Aperture: The greatest consideration apart from quality for money is the aperture of your telescope. The aperture size is the diameter of the telescope’s primary lens or mirror. It is most commonly measured in inches or millimetres. How much you can see through the telescope depends on the aperture, which is also directly proportionate to resolving power (the ability to show details).

A larger aperture is ideal because it means that the telescope can gather more light and allow you to see with more clarity and finer detail.  Big apertures show fainter and more distant objects with higher resolution too. While it is tempting to go for large apertures for all these reasons, there are other considerations to keep in mind. Your telescope should still be easy to transport, store and assemble – especially if you don’t have assistance.

  • Focal Length: Focal length is the distance between the centre of the main objective of the scope to the point where the light is focused. Focal length directly corresponds to how much magnifying power your telescope possesses. Focal length was traditionally equal to the length of the telescope’s tube. Today, there are modern designs with compact tubes which still have longer focal lengths.
  • Magnification: We tend to go on about how bigger is better for telescopes, but practicality is the answer when it comes to magnification. A low magnification will show you a greater area of the sky (field of view) and retains clarity and detail. High magnifications work well on bodies that are closer to Earth such as the Moon and some planets. There is a limit on how much magnification is practical. If you go to high, you will lose detail and focus. Any telescope claiming 500 x magnifying power is probably a cheap knock off! You only really need magnification of 200 – 300 power ax.
  • Mount: A good mount must be able to support your telescope’s weight and allow the telescope to move smoothly as you reposition your viewing angle. There are primarily two different types of mounts: equatorial and alt- azimuth. Equatorial mounts are aligned to accurately track the movements of the stars and are essential if you do astrophotography.

Advanced equatorial mounts include motorized drives for effortless tracking. Some also have programmable computers featuring large databases of celestial objects that your telescope can go to automatically. Alt–azimuth mounts are basic but sturdy designs that are more like tripods which simply hold the scope. They are great for learning to use a telescope manually and navigating the skies from memory. They are also really easy to use.

  • Eyepieces and Barlow Lens: Choosing a telescope that comes with quality eyepieces can save you money and effort. You will want eyepieces that give you a range of magnifications from high to low. Most telescopes will come with a 25mm and 10mm eyepiece. Barlow lenses are not technically eyepieces but a great tool that doubles or triples the magnification of any eyepiece you insert into this lens.

On a final note, astronomy can quickly turn into a pricey hobby! Your budget should not only include the telescope but also have room for extra accessories like eyepieces and filters which you may need. The best telescopes for viewing planets often include these necessary accessories, so always keep your eyes open for great deals.