Last Updated on July 16, 2020
Congratulations! You’ve taken the plunge and purchased a telescope. You’ve set it up, twisted the dials and knobs, read the manual, fastened it to the tripod, pointed it at the sky… and now what? While you can have a great time just pointing your telescope at various stars and trying to get a closer look, you might end up missing out on some of the best sights the night sky offers. We’ve compiled a list of the top 8 objects to find when you’re starting out, and we’ve recommended the best guides available to keep you going.
Find a guide before you start scoping to help you locate the objects below. This will reduce frustration and ensure you’re getting the most out of your telescope. We recommend the book 50 Things to See with A Small Telescope by John A. Read. This is the best book for beginners and an essential resource if you’re just starting out.
This one’s probably obvious. But viewing the moon through a small telescope will give you the best bang for the buck. For added interest, try to identify some of the moon’s most prominent features, such as the Copernicus crater or the Mare Tranquillitatus. Check out the National Geographic: Earth’s Moon Wall Map to learn more about landmarks you can spot in your scope.
It’s hard to believe our recent ancestors believed they could see hand-crafted channels across the Martian surface. But that doesn’t mean our red planet neighbor is any less interesting. If you want a good look, though, you’ll need to be patient. Mars only comes near enough to Earth for detailed viewing once every 780 days. That’s not to say you can’t still look for it in the night sky. A telescope can turn Mars’s red pinpoint of light into a living disc-like object.
Our solar system’s largest planet is a great target for beginning astronomers. If you leave enough field of view around it through your lens, you’ll also get to see its 4 largest moons, also known as the Galilean Moons: Io, Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. If you get a clear shot, you may be able to see Jupiter’s belts, as well, or the infamous Great Red Spot.
Seeing Saturn and its infamous rings through a telescope is one of the most popular attractions for astronomers. With a clear sky, you should be able to discern the black Cassini Division between the prominent A ring and B ring, and you might be able to see its striped belts and zones. With a good telescope, its largest moon, Titan, might also make an appearance.
Also known as the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades Star Cluster is a group of thousands of bright stars which are visible to the naked eye. Fall and winter are the best seasons to see the Pleiades, when they become visible just after sunset in the southern sky.
Visible from late fall to early spring, the Orion Nebula is an active birthplace of stars. You can see it with the naked eye if you look just below Orion’s Belt in the constellation, but through a telescope you’ll get a sense of its dust and gas clouds. Because it’s large and bright, you’ll still have luck trying to view it from populated areas, though for the best imagery you should seek out darker skies.
Andromeda is the nearest galaxy to our own, and the most distant night sky object you can view with your naked eye. It’s also set to collide with the Milky Way galaxy in the next 4 billion years, so you should observe it while you still can. Filled with stars, black holes, pulsars, and other objects, its trillion stars make it more populous than our galaxy, but the Milky Way is still larger and contains more dark matter. Seeing this in the night sky can be humbling and fascinating.
The name for the binary star Beta Cygni, Albireo looks like one object to the naked eye. In your telescope, you’ll discover two stars, one bright orange and one blue, which look close together but are actually 380 light years apart. This star pair is hiding out in the constellation Cygnus and is a rewarding and unique find for beginners.
The list goes on and on. The night sky is full of wonders, and now that you’re familiar with a few of the top sights to see, it’s time to branch out and explore the cosmos. Remember to grab a good sky guide, such as 50 Things to See with A Small Telescope by John A. Read, purchase a good app, and above all be patient. It can be tricky learning to spot objects with a telescope, but your patience and persistence will pay off.
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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