Different telescopes are suited to viewing different targets, so it pays to know what sort of instrument you are after if you have a specific observing aim in mind. Generally speaking, observing the planets requires a telescope with a long focal length, so you can fit your target in a smaller field of view and get a detailed close-up.
A longer focal length in a telescope usually means a higher focal ratio, which can be worked out by dividing the focal length by the aperture in mm.
Put simply, look for a high focal ratio if you want to observe the planets of the Solar System. In practical astronomy, these are referred to as ‘slow’ telescopes.
We’ve reviewed quite a few telescopes over the years that are ideal for planetary observing, although the accompanying price tags indicate these are not beginners’ telescopes, but are instead for those who are series about practical astronomy and want to take it to the next level.
Below is our pick of some of the best scopes that will have you enjoying views of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in no time.
Sky-Watcher SkyMax 180 Pro Maksutov (£809)
The SkyMax 180’s long focal length is ideal for planetary and lunar viewing, but the telescope also gives good views of many deep-sky objects. We used it to observe Saturn and found the Cassini Division and several moons on show. The scope comes with a 28mm eyepiece, a star diagonal and Vixen-style mounting bar. At just 7.8kg, it is also relatively lightweight for its size.
Orion StarSeeker IV 150mm GoTo Mak-Cass Telescope (£969.99)
This is a straightforward scope to set up, and comes with encoders on the axis allow you to move the mount without losing alignment. You can use the handset to slew to Jupiter, say, then manually move the mount to view Regulus in Leo, then press ‘Jupiter’ again and the mount will slew back to the planet. We got a great view of the gas giant with its Galilean moons. Swapping to a 10mm eyepiece we could see detail in the belts and the Great Red Spot.
Explore Scientific Carbon Fibre 127mm triplet apo refractor (£1,330)
The ED127’s air-spaced triplet lens is great for getting subtle details out of the planets and the Moon. The fact that the tube is made from carbon fibre helps to keep the weight down. This is a great, medium-resolution planetary imaging instrument.
Meade Series 6000 115mm apo refractor (£1,730)
This is a good all-round instrument that gives crisp, high-contrast views and is useful for visually observing both deep-sky and Solar System objects. Its air-spaced triplet lens made from extra-low dispersion glass reduces unwanted colour aberrations, and the whole thing comes in a padded case for secure transport.
Istar 150mm F12 with Moonlite focuser (£1,999)
Built from aerospace-grade magnesium and aluminium alloys, with many parts machined from solid block, the Istar exudes quality. Views are bright and full of contrast, helped by excellent multi-coating on the lens surfaces and four knife-edge baffles. We enjoyed a crisp view of Jupiter and its moons, and would recommend the Istar Perseus as an excellent upgrade for lunar and planetary observing.
Celestron Advanced VX 9.25 Schmidt-Cassegrain system (£2,178)
The C9.25’s 9.25-inch (235mm) aperture is generous, gathering a third more light than an 8-inch (200mm) reflector. Its f/10 optics put it in the slow category and it is best suited for Solar System objects. We used the scope to view a tiny Mars, and the Red Planet’s colour, disc and phase were very evident. We could even see one of its polar caps and evidence of surface markings.
Meade LX 200 8 inch telescope (£2,665)
Accurate Go-To and crisp views make this a great starter scope for a serious beginner and, with an optional equatorial wedge, it is also useful for long-exposure astrophotography. It is suitable for use with CCD, DSLR and high frame rate planetary cameras. Despite its rather heavy weight, this is a relatively portable scope that would serve you well for planetary imaging.
Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100 EdgeHD Schmidt-Cassegrain (£3,458)
The CPC Deluxe’s 11 inches of aperture gathers plenty of light from nebulae and galaxies, while its focal length is long enough to get detailed views of bright Solar System objects with a modest set of eyepieces. Our view of Jupiter using the supplied 23mm eyepiece revealed a sharp disc with a clear view of the two main belts, exquisitely intertwined with fine intricate detail.
Celestron CGX-L EQ 1100 HD Schmidt-Cassegrain (£6,699)
The CGX-L EQ 1100 EdgeHD represents a serious investment, but this instrument delivers a sharp, flat field across a large area that should be good for both Solar System and deep-sky targets. The Moon and planets appear bright and well presented, the 11-inch aperture having sufficient resolving power to reveal intricate detail.