Are your sights set on deep space?
Have you experienced the awesomeness of seeing otherworldly objects?
Do you have any idea where to start or what types of telescopes would be better for deep space?
Before we get into the specifics of what a stargazing telescope looks like, let’s first define what stargazing means to the majority of those in the astronomy hobby.
You’ll learn what specifications to look for, how aperture will affect what you can see, and what some of the best options are for stargazing currently available.
Best Stargazing Telescopes In 2020
What does it mean to stargaze?
In amateur astronomy, it means to casually enjoy observing astronomical objects.
In this sense, we will narrow down the term stargaze to mean observing deep-sky objects (DSO) such as double stars, constellations, star and globular clusters, galaxies, emission nebulae, planetary nebulae, and all those deep-space targets we’re fond of seeking out.
In this context, stargazing is purely for hobby enjoyment and not for scientific research, although many advanced astronomers do assist scientific research efforts.
If you’re in the buying process for a telescope that can see out to deep space and you want to be able to get some resolution on the fainter ones, here is some advice for you.
Starting off the buying guide is a list of telescopes at multiple price points to give you an idea of what’s available and what you can expect.
The Best Stargazing Telescope Reviews
1. Meade LX90 ACF 8
The LX90 ACF telescope is not a telescope that you buy every day. It’s loaded with optical quality, it offers GoTo, and it’s very expensive. With a quick glance, you might write it off as just a planetary telescope. Let’s give it a closer look.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 8” aperture
✔️ ACF optics
The Meade telescope is one of the more serious ones in the market aimed towards intermediate and advanced users. It has a great 8” aperture for seeing almost any object within the Messier, Caldwell, and Herschel Catalogs.
It’s a Schmidt-Cassegrain (SCT) telescope that is known for its long focal length and yet compact and short tube. It has a folded light path, uses both mirrors and lenses, and has great control over aberrations. What adds to its optical quality is the UHTC coatings that improves light transmission. The ACF (Advanced Coma-Free) optics consists of an SCT variant by way of a hyperbolic secondary mirror and a full aperture aspheric corrector lens. What this means for you is excellent correction of aberrations that would normally plague this type of scope.
Due to its optical quality, its narrower field of view with focal ratio of f/10 is of less concern because what you can see looks brilliant through the scope. Wide-angle eyepieces can be incorporated, there isn’t any coma interfering with the image, and its visibility quality extends to DSOs.
The LX90 has a GoTo mount with multiple features that includes GPS, AutoAlign, SmartDrive, and more. Everything is done through the AutoStar computer that is conveniently packaged into a hand control. It is an alt-azimuth, double fork-arm mount, but a wedge can be incorporated for improved polar axis tracking.
The Meade telescope is expensive, but it’s priced this way for good reasons.
2. Orion Sirius 8 EQG
With such a big price tag, you should expect big performance, right? Fortunately, you’re not wasting your hard-earned money with the Sirius 8.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 8” aperture
✔️ Parabolic mirror
✔️ EQ-G mount
The Sirius 8 is a serious buy for any astronomer in the market for a telescope. It’s large and heavy but it delivers. The 8” primary mirror has a paraboloid shape that proves to be essential with its fast focal specs. Its fast speed is great for wide angle viewing, and its longer focal length means it will come to focus with cameras.
It is capable of astrophotography if you’re weight conscious about loads. The EQ-G mount has a 30 lb payload capacity, a built-in polar axis finder scope, and various mount features that includes PEC (Periodic Error Correction).
With GoTo, you’ll have the SynScan V4 GoTo hand controller in the palm of your hand to try your luck at finding a handful of the 42,000 plus objects within its database. Needless to say, it will be an accomplishment to locate some of the more elusive galaxies that would be difficult to find without assistance.
If you’re looking for an upgrade from your beginner telescope or you’re looking to add a stargazing champ to your collection, the Sirius telescope should be a serious contender on your shortlist.
3. Celestron Omni XLT 150
The Omni XLT 150 offers a large aperture of 6” which is good enough for locating Messier and Caldwell DSOs. As a Newtonian, you’re spending less than you would on a refractor of the same size.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 6” aperture
✔️ Wide field of view
✔️ EQ mount
❌ Need more accessories
The Omni 150 is a fast telescope with a focal ratio of f/5, so it’s good for wide-angle viewing and seeing DSOs at low to medium magnification. You may be able to push to higher powers, but you’ll narrow the field of view as you do.
It comes with a manual EQ mount which is the CG-4. It’s seen some reinforcements in this upgraded model, but since it doesn’t have electronics, you have solid, foundational quality out of the build. It does have slow motion controls in the form of adjustment knobs, so that may be a little different than what you’re used to.
Some imaging is possible with the mount, but you won’t be getting any long exposures since you’ll need to upgrade it with a dual-axis motor drive. Can it be done? Sure can.
Everything comes in at about 30 lbs, so you’re good on traveling with it to any dark location you wish to settle into for the night. You may want to add an eyepiece or two to the setup since it only comes with one. The finder scope could be replaced, but it will suffice for the time being.
Yes, you can collimate the scope, but you may want to get some tools when you buy it since it doesn’t come with a cap. At the end of the day, that extra 2” in aperture and polar alignment for tracking will make a big difference that makes it worth the buy.
4. Celestron StarSense Explorer DX102 AZ
It’s not GoTo, so what is it? The StarSense Explorer is a neat and useful gadget for beginners to stargazing. It has a good, starter aperture for DSOs and there’s plenty to learn, even if an app is doing the heavy lifting.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 4” aperture
✔️ StarSense technology
✔️ Smartphone dock
❌ Chromatic aberration
The StarSense Explorer is a refracting telescope with decent, beginner specs for stargazing. Its focal ratio is f/6.5, so it provides good field of views and can be maximized with some wide-angle eyepieces. It has a big aperture for a budget refractor with 102 mm to see bright objects with more clarity and definition.
What will inhibit the added resolution is the chromatic aberration (CA) visible through the scope. While it’s not an attractive feature for imaging, it shouldn’t bother an amateur too much, but then again, CA tolerance is subjective.
What may have caught your attention is the push-to-like technology. It has a manual alt-az mount, but there is a built-in smartphone dock and app that you use to acquire guided assistance. The app uses the phone as the intermediary for the telescope using its internal gyroscopes and GPS to determine the location of objects based on where the telescope is pointed to in the sky.
This will prove to be extremely helpful in learning the night sky and feeling satisfied because you were able to see what you were trying to look for. It’s much easier than unguided star hopping that can be difficult for beginners to learn.
5. SkyWatcher EvoGuide 50 APO
The EvoGuide 50 is more of a guide scope for much larger telescopes, but it’s not impossible to use it solely for imaging deep-sky objects. It’s been done and here’s how you can do it.
Pros & Cons
✔️ Helical focuser
❌ Small aperture
The EvoGuide 50 APO is a standalone purchase because it’s usually bought as a supplementary accessory for much larger astrophotography setups. However, it’s not unusual to use it on its own for imaging with some modification. Obviously, this would be a task that an intermediate or advanced user would be capable of performing and affording.
The OTA is an achromatic doublet with ED glass providing its semi-APO benefits. It has great correction of CA, but there is some coma on the very edges of the view. For visual, this isn’t a big deal and is the same for photography since it can be cropped out during image processing.
Obviously, it has a fast focal speed but with an incredibly short focal length, you’ll definitely need to make use of additional accessories to achieve focus. With a helical focuser and CCD camera, you’ll get there with little issue.
You’ll have weight on your side since it only weighs 2 lbs, so it will be an incredibly featherweight setup from the start. For the price, it’s not a bad buy to try your hand with. If you have larger scopes in your collection, it would make a fine addition to your stargazing astrophotography efforts.
What to Look for in a Telescope for Stargazing
Do you know what it is you want to see? Do you know what the limiting magnitude is? Are you observing in the Northern skies or the Southern?
There’s a lot to think about, so if you’re a newb and you need a place to start where you can understand the terminology, you’re in the right place.
What are DSOs?
DSOs are deep-sky objects and includes a number of types of astronomical objects from star clusters and galaxies to different types of nebulae, supernova remnants, and more.
Many DSOs cannot be seen through a telescope, even through a large one. Some may only appear as smudgy patches and can only be resolved through image processing. However, there are still many DSOs that can be seen through a telescope.
Some of the most popular DSOs to discover include:
- M1 Crab Nebula in the Taurus constellation
- M51 Whirlpool Galaxy in the Canes Venatici constellation
- M13 Hercules Cluster in the Hercules constellation
- M22 Sagittarius Cluster in the Sagittarius constellation
- M4 a Globular Cluster in the Scorpius constellation
- M8 Lagoon Nebula in the Sagittarius constellation
- Epilson Lyrae The Double Double in the Lyra constellation
- M57 Ring Nebula in the Lyra constellation
- M31 Andromeda Galaxy in the Andromeda constellation
- M45 Pleaides Cluster in the Orion constellation
- M42 Orion Nebula in the Orion constellation
- M44 Beehive Cluster in the Cancer constellation
As you can see, there are many DSOs in this popular list with the letter “M” designation. These objects are part of the Messier Catalog of which there are 110. They are bright, easy to find, and relatively close to Earth. These are the DSOs that you will start off seeing and most can be seen with a telescope as small as 4”.
The Caldwell Catalog consists of 109 objects. You should use a 6” scope or bigger if you can afford it to locate all these Southern-sky targets. These DSOs have the letter “C” as their designation.
The Herschel 400 Catalog has DSO targets that are more difficult to find. You should have an aperture of at least 6” to seek these targets out. They are identified by the NGC designation rather than the letter “H.”
Don’t forget that there are also various types of stars including double, carbon, giants, and dwarfs. Quasars, supernova remnants, neutron stars, and more are waiting to be explored or captured on camera. Needless to say, DSO observation will never get boring because there’s so much to see.
The bigger the better, right? In this case, the mantra proves true. Small apertures can see the brightest DSOs if they’re in dark locations with good seeing quality. However, larger apertures can gather more light, improve resolution, and can therefore see fainter objects with much brighter and clearer detail than smaller scopes.
Reflectors, especially Dobsonians, are excellent options for seeking out DSOs because they offer large apertures for the best price. Starter apertures include 4” and 4.5”. 6” and 8” apertures are still considered beginner size in the Dob world, but it does open your world to a lot more seeing of faint objects. Larger apertures like 10”, 12”, and 14”+ offer incredible detail on DSOs that includes galaxy structure and color. But, Dobs can’t do it all as they’re not on an imaging-compatible mount.
Refracting telescopes on computerized EQ mounts are great imaging telescopes, but many may prefer APO triplets making for a very expensive telescope setup. For visual-only, you can opt for a refractor with an achromat doublet or splurge with one that includes ED glass. This will help to improve picture quality for sharpness and color fidelity when you do find a deep space object. However, refractor telescopes come with smaller apertures and are more expensive than reflector telescopes in aperture per inch. If you’re going the refractor route, opt for an aperture no smaller than 100 mm to widen your DSO horizons.
There is no substitute for aperture and optical quality when it comes to seeing faint point sources and DSOs.
The focal ratio is closely related to the focal length of the telescope. You can identify the focal ratio by the f/number listed in the specifications. This number gives you a good idea of two things: optical speed and what to expect from field of view with any given eyepiece.
You may have heard of optical speed expressed as “fast” or “slow” when talking about telescopes. The higher the f/number, the slower it is. The lower the f/number the faster it is. This is helpful to know for imaging. Faster telescopes can capture photographs at a much faster speed than a slower one, but the image scale will be much smaller.
This is where field of view comes in. The actual field of view is determined by the eyepiece, but the eyepiece can only work within the bounds set by the telescope technical specifications. A fast telescope with a low f/number offers wider field of views. This means a wider space can be seen through the eyepiece to fit in large objects like star clusters and galaxies.
Slower telescopes with higher f/numbers have narrow fields of view that allow you to see a clearer image at higher magnification. This is needed when you are only able to fit a limited amount of “space” within the field of view as seen through the eyepiece.
For stargazing, a faster telescope is desired. This delivers wide-angle views that may be necessary to fit in some large DSOs within the entire frame or the eyepiece.
F/2-f/5 is considered fast.
F/6-f/10 is considered medium speed.
f/11+ is considered slow.
The general guideline is that fast telescopes are good for wide fields of view, low magnification, and DSO observation. Slow telescopes are good for high powered observation, high powered imaging, and for observing planets.
GoTo, either AZ or EQ, are a good consideration for stargazing, and I’m not talking about its suitability for imaging. GoTo will provide automatic slewing to various DSOs in the night sky. This can be incredibly valuable to beginners that are unable to find objects alone.
If the primary goal is to find objects just for visual use, even a light-duty GoTo mount will suffice. Heavy-duty and very precise GoTo systems are expensive and desirable if you’re going to be doing any serious imaging. But, for the most part, the tracking inaccuracies in an inexpensive, computerized mount will be good enough for the visual-only amateur.
Where & How to Stargaze
Most people live in the suburbs of the cities where there is plenty of local and ground light pollution to kill your stargazing mojo for the night. Unless you are setup with a rental space in an observatory, you’re likely traveling out for better locations to stargaze under dark skies. Where are these places?
For most people, it may mean driving just outside of city limits which may very well take an hour or two to get to a dark hilltop. For the lucky ones who live rurally, it may mean stepping outside your front door. Eliminating as many variables that would negatively detract from seeing-quality will look different for each person.
For those who can’t travel, a personal, DIY dome in the backyard may help. Choosing a location without house, car, and street lights contaminating the area helps. It’s also not uncommon to wear certain types of clothing or adding an eye patch to improve visibility and eye/pupil adaption to dark environments.
You should consider the time of year too. Summer offers meteor showers and warm ambiance to enjoy a midnight picnic while you’re observing. Winter offers long nights (good for long observations), and of course, cold temperatures. If you can muster up the courage to dress warm and hang out, the cold air may actually encourage clear skies to see some fantastic detail that warmer weather would otherwise obscure. Some planets like Mercury may actually be in a good position to see it at its peak.
Do a little research on your specific location and get in touch with your local astronomy club for extra stargazing tips, future stargazing meetups, and good observation locations in your area.
Best Locations for Stargazing
Beyond just finding a dark spot, you may want to travel to specific areas of the country or world – what a great excuse to travel, right?
Here is a very short list of worldwide locations best suited to stargazing:
- Acadia National Park – Maine, USA
- Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park – Canterbury, New Zealand
- Dark Sky Reserve – Brecon Beacons, Wales
- Denali National Park & Reserve – Alaska, USA
- Glacier National Park – Montana, USA
- Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve – Kerry, Ireland
- Mauna Kea – Hawaii, USA
- Sark – Channel Islands, UK
- Starlight Reserves (3x locations) – Garajonay, La Palma, Tenerife, Canary Islands
Just seeing some of these exotic places and when you learn of some of their stargazing histories, I wouldn’t be surprised if you catch the travel bug. Just don’t forget to grab your telescope!
How Big of a Telescope do you Need to See Galaxies?
In all reality, an 8” telescope will provide the best views for the lowest amount of money when it comes to seeking out galaxies. 4” to 6” is usually entry-level and beginner quality that satisfies most expectations, but to provide room to grow and really be able to pin-point DSOs and observe considerable detail, an 8” is a good place to start. You won’t have much trouble at all locating DSOs with a telescope of this size – must easier than a 4” or 6”.
How do I Choose an Astronomy Telescope?
Budget is usually at the top of your list in determining which astronomy telescope is right for you at this point in time. Secondly, a large aperture will do a lot to bring a faint object into view with decent resolution. Thirdly, you want a fast focal ratio to ensure you’re getting a wide field of view to fit in these larger objects.
If you can nail those specs, you can be more specific about which models have additional features to make the observation experience even more satisfying.
What is the Best Type of Telescope for Stargazing?
For visual stargazing, I’d recommend a Dobsonian every time. They offer excellent value for the money with their huge apertures and easy to use mounts. They’re generally fast telescopes that are absolutely capable of providing good fields of view with great resolution throughout the entire magnification range.
For stargazing with astrophotography in mind, an APO refractor on a computerized GEM mount or a Ritchey-Chretien (like The Hubble Telescope) would be the absolute best. But, these are very expensive and would likely only be purchased by serious and professional users.
Stargazing may be a hobby and you may be spending a lot of money just for fun, but it can be awe-inspiring and fulfilling especially when you can share it with someone. You might also catch the travel bug, the itch to acquire a telescope for each type of astronomy observation, or the excitement to get your kids involved.
With seeking out DSOs in deep space, you won’t run out of objects to find and explore. When you want to challenge yourself, see if you can locate all the Messier objects in one night! It can be a fun and challenging game for your astronomy club or for the family. Start capturing your views on camera and see how you can bring those fuzzy smudges to life.