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Whether it’s a campout with friends or a family excursion outdoors, a telescope makes stargazing much more fun, entertaining, and even educational. But which telescope to choose? A good telescope can reveal a wide variety of celestial objects from planets in our solar system to galaxies farther away in space. Telescopes with smaller apertures will let you observe the craters in the moon, while telescopes with larger apertures will enable you to see Jupiter’s red spot or even deep sky objects such as nebulae. Beginner astronomers will benefit from telescopes that take advantage of the latest and greatest in technology, with controllers or even smartphone apps that let you choose what you want to see and then do all the alignment work for you.
Still stumped on what to look for when it comes to shopping for a 'scope? Here are some of our favorite beginner telescopes for those starting out in night sky exploration.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Celestron NexStar 5SE
Lightweight and compact, the Celestron NexStar telescope features a five-inch aperture that provides excellent light-gathering ability to give you impressive views of the objects in our solar system, including geographic features of the moon and Saturn’s rings or brighter deep sky objects like the Orion Nebula.
For those new to astronomy, the computerized hand control guides you through the alignment procedure then automatically generates a sky tour of all the best objects to view. You can choose from close to 40,000 celestial objects in the database, then the computerized fork arm mount accurately points the telescope, centers your object in the 25mm eyepiece, and even tracks it as it moves across the sky. The telescope breaks down into several lightweight pieces, so you can transport it almost anywhere like camping or in your backyard.
Best Budget: Levenhuk Skyline 70 x 700
The Levenhuk Skyline is a compact and portable refractor telescope that’s perfect for entry-level astronomical observations. With this model, you can study five-mile-wide details in the lunar surface or spot the rings of Saturn. All the lenses are covered with a special coating that allows for maximum light gathering capacity of the optics.
To find objects in the night sky, first, use the optical finder scope to locate the object, then focus in using the 25mm eyepiece with its 28x magnification and wide field of view. Once you have found what you are looking for, switch to the 10mm eyepiece with its 70x magnification to get a closer look at the celestial object.
If you want even more detail, the telescope includes a Barlow lens that will up the magnification of each eyepiece by two times. The telescope comes with a stable aluminum tripod and an altazimuth mount so you can swivel the scope in all directions. The diagonal prism provides direct, right-side-up images so the telescope is also suitable for observing objects down here on Earth.
Best Wireless: Celestron Astro Fi 102 Mak-Cas
Explore the sky using Wi-Fi via Celestron’s Astro Fi 102mm Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope. This fully featured telescope can be controlled with your iOS or Android smartphone and tablet using the free Celestron SkyPortal app. When paired with your phone or tablet, the SkyPortal app replaces the traditional telescope hand control for a completely wireless experience. Just hold your smart device up to the night sky and when you find an object you’d like to view, tap the screen. The telescope will then automatically point to the object via the motorized mount and keep it centered in the eyepiece. In the meantime, your device screen displays information about your chosen object including facts and myths about your favorite planet, deep space objects, the moon, and more.
Choose from over 120,000 objects, including 220 of the best deep sky and solar system objects. Initial alignment is easy — simply center any three bright stars in the eyepiece and you’ll be observing in minutes. Compact and powerful, the telescope features an impressive 1325mm focal length for high contrast views of the planets. Fully coated optics ensure the images are always clear and bright. The telescope includes a 25mm eyepiece for 53x magnification and a 10mm eyepiece for 132x magnification.
Best Computer-Controlled: Meade STARNAVIGATOR NG 102MM
This computerized telescope has everything you need to enjoy a night of celestial exploration. The Starnavigator NG features an easy to operate and portable robotic mount with Meade’s AudioStar computer controller. The AudioStar technology knows the night sky right out of the box, thanks to its 30,000 object database and over four hours of audio presentation. Simply turn the telescope on and go through the brief alignment procedure using two bright stars in the night sky. Then you are ready to start viewing.
The 102mm or four-inch aperture enables you to study the craters of the moon, as well as view the planets of our solar system in more detail. The telescope comes with a full height-adjustable aluminum tripod and bubble level compass that sits in the accessory tray to ensure your tripod head is level. A red dot finder enables you to easily align the telescope when operating manually. Two eyepieces deliver both low and high power viewing — a 26mm and 9mm — while the direct image prism keeps your images right side up. The telescope is powered by either eight AA batteries (user-supplied) or external power.
Best Portable: Orion StarBlast 6
This reflector telescope features a six-inch aperture and focal length of 750mm for great views of the planets, moon, and brighter deep space objects. The telescope sits on a sturdy, pre-assembled Dobsonian base in a compact, tabletop design. The whole kit weighs only 23.5 pounds making it a great grab-and-go telescope. A 25mm eyepiece gives you a wide, 30x magnified view of the night sky, while the 10mm eyepiece boosts you up to 75x for a closer look at celestial objects.
There is a built-in rack to hold the eyepieces and a finder scope to help you get the initial alignment. The navigation knob lets you gently move the telescope up and down or left and right. The Starblast 6 comes with Orion’s Special Edition Starry night software to see on your computer which stars, constellations, planets, and other cosmic objects will be visible on any day and at any time — a great way for beginner astronomers to quickly learn a ton of useful information before heading outdoors.
Best for Deep-Sky Exploration: Orion SkyQuest XT10
If you want to see deep-sky objects such as star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies, you need big aperture optics. The Orion SkyQuest XT10 delivers with its jumbo 10-inch aperture and uncomplicated operation. The simple point-and-view Dobsonian design of this reflector telescope makes it easy for beginners to use. Orion’s EZ Finder II sight or finder scope helps you quickly and accurately aim the telescope.
Just peer through the sight's small circular viewing window so you see the red dot, and move the telescope until the red dot is on the object you want to see. Look in the telescope eyepiece, and the object will be there ready to view in magnified detail. The telescope comes with a 25mm for a 48-power view of those far away objects.
The telescope includes a free digital download insert for a Special Edition of Starry Night astronomy software. With realistic sky simulations and tutorials on telescope control, the software will help you plan your observations and understand what you see.
Best for Kids: TELMU 70mm
With a 400mm focal length and 70mm or 2.8-inch aperture, the Telmy telescope captures enough light for your kids to view objects in our solar system like the moon and its craters, as well as some of the bigger planets. The telescope includes two replaceable eyepieces — one 6mm eyepiece for 67x magnification and one 25mm eyepiece for 16x magnification.
The finderscope helps your kids locate objects quickly before focusing in on more detail through the eyepiece. In addition to night sky viewing, the telescope lets you watch the habits of different animals or small insects, thanks to the prism that ensures the images are delivered in their natural orientation. The telescope includes a cell phone holder so your kids can take photos of what they see in the night sky or in the woods.
An adjustable tripod with universal wheeled-base keeps the telescope stable on a variety of terrain, while a large capacity backpack holds all the pieces of equipment to keep it safe for transport or in storage.
Best Collapsible: Sky-Watcher 10" f/4.7 Collapsible GoTo Dobsonian
Want a large aperture telescope to view deep sky objects but don’t like the weight and size of a traditional Dobsonian? Sky-Watcher created a collapsible optical tube built on a truss-tube system that not only cuts out weight, but collapses down for easy storage and transportation.
Since it's built on a truss-tube system, the front eyepiece assembly separates from the main optical tube when in use then locks back together to collapse down by up to 36 percent — no need to disassemble before transporting. The base of the telescope is motorized and controlled by the SynScan computer hand controller with its database of over 42,000 celestial objects.
To help you get acquainted with the night sky, the controller offers alignment assistance, guided tours, and full go-to capabilities. The large 10-inch aperture captures enough light for you to see details on the Moon and planets, as well as deep sky objects like nebulae and other galaxies.