Try These 12 Things with your new Telescope
February 1, 2021
The first night out with your new telescope is always exciting. But it can also be daunting—especially if you aren’t sure what to observe. Our telescope experts compiled this list of the top 12 telescope targets to take the guesswork out of amateur astronomy.
SOLAR SYSTEM OBJECTS
Earth’s Moon is a great first target for your new telescope. It is visible most nights of the year and goes through a variety of interesting phases. Spend one lunar cycle (the time between two New Moons, about 29.5 days), gazing at the Moon night after night. You’ll see changes in the details of its craters and maria, especially if you observe along the terminator—the line between dark and light on the lunar surface.
If you would like to take a deeper dive with the Moon, download Team Celestron member Robert Reeves’ free ebook, Lunar Landscapes. In it, this master lunar imager takes you on a guided tour of the Moon’s most fascinating surface features. You could also consider investing in a Map of the Moon to guide your own explorations.
Challenge yourself: Observe the Moon from New Moon to New Moon and sketch what you see every night. Then, turn your sketches into your own lunar calendar to reference for years to come.
The King of the Planets is relatively easy to locate in the sky and appears large and bright through any size telescope or binocular. The most exciting features of this gas giant include the cloud bands (the dark stripes), the zones (the lighter regions), the four Galilean moons, and the Great Red Spot (visible in larger telescopes).
If you would like to take a deeper dive with Jupiter, click on our Ultimate Guide to Observing Jupiter, which provides observing tips and recommended accessories to enhance your viewing.
Challenge yourself: Look through your telescope and try to see if you can find and identify all four of Jupiter's Galilean moons. Can you name them?
The second largest gas planet in our Solar System, Saturn is another easy object to find with your new telescope. Of course, its most distinctive feature is its breathtaking system of rings.
In 2017, the rings were opened at their widest (27 degrees) as seen from Earth. Since then, they have slowly decreased in angle. By 2025, the rings will appear edge-on and—because they are so thin—will virtually disappear, leaving Saturn’s appearance as a lonely orb. Gradually, the rings will begin to reopen until they are at maximum tilt again in 2032.
If you would like to take a deeper dive with Saturn, click on our Ultimate Guide to Observing Saturn.
Challenge yourself: As you look at Saturn, try to differentiate its rings. There are seven in all, visible through very large telescopes. But smaller telescopes can reveal the Cassini division, a dark line of demarcation that separates the planet’s inner and outer rings.
VENUS & MARS
Earth’s neighboring planets are favorite targets for amateur astronomers. These two planets, when visible in the sky, are quite bright and easy to view through any size telescope. Like the Moon, you can watch Venus go through its phases from crescent to full. On Mars, you’ll be able to observe features like polar ice caps, maria, and dust storms.
Challenge yourself: When viewing Mars, look to see if you can distinguish the northern and/or southern polar ice caps. For Venus, become an early riser and observe Venus as the “morning star” before or shortly after sunrise.
At any given moment, there are several faint comets in the night sky, but most of them can only be seen by very large, professional telescopes. Bright comets like Hale-Bopp and NEOWISE are relatively uncommon. A great way to hunt for comets is to use planetarium apps like SkySafari that can alert you to any comets that are visible on the night you are observing.
For more information on observing comets, watch this video by Product Manager Lance Lucero about Comet NEOWISE, which graced the skies in the summer of 2020.
Challenge yourself: If you own a computerized telescope, see if you can slew it to a comet’s coordinates or rough star neighborhood. Then scan the region for a faint, fuzzy “star” with a tail.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Before viewing the Sun, you MUST equip your telescope with a separate safe solar filter. The filter should be certified to the latest ISO standards and cover the entire aperture of your telescope. Do NOT use an eyepiece filter or Herschel wedge. Viewing the Sun without a proper solar filter will cause permanent, irreversible damage to your eyes and your equipment.
With the proper solar filter, the star at the center of our Solar System is an amazing object to observe with your telescope. The surface of the Sun is always changing. Depending on the current activity on the Sun’s surface, you could observe one or more sunspots. Check spaceweather.com to see how many sunspots are currently active. Then see if you can find them in your scope. You can also find out when the next total or partial solar eclipse will take place in your area.
Challenge yourself: Be on the hunt for sunspots! They make great targets for visual observation or astroimaging with a planetary camera.
DEEP SPACE OBJECTS AND THE MESSIER CATALOG
While some deep sky objects are visible from the city, traveling to dark sky locations will improve the views for all deep sky objects. Find out more about magnitude and light pollution and how it affects the quality of your viewing.
Set your sights on the Great Orion Nebula, also known as M42. Due to its brightness and size, the Orion Nebula is a great deep sky object to observe with any new telescope. Also try the Eskimo and Crab Nebulae. Check your computerized telescope’s hand control or a planetarium app to get the location of these objects.
NOTE: If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, set your sights on the Great Carina Nebula, NGC 3372.
Challenge yourself:Navigate your telescope to each Nebulae on the Messier Catalog. Due to the aperture and viewing location, some objects maybe easier to see than others; the lower the Magnitude the brighter it will be to view.
A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and dark matter. There are 4 types of galaxies: spiral, lenticular, elliptical, and irregular. While some galaxies are small and faint, others are breathtaking in beginner telescopes, especially the Andromeda Galaxy. You can also observe our own galaxy, the Milky Way, by panning across it with a wide field telescope under dark skies. Use our Messier Catalog for Galaxies to help you find them.
Challenge yourself: When hunting for galaxies, see if you can capture more than 1 or 2 in your eyepiece or camera.
Globular clusters are spherical collections of stars that orbit a galactic core. The gravitational bonds within clusters give these objects their unique shape and density in the center. The Milky Way Galaxy is full of globular clusters to observe. Check your computerized telescope’s hand control or a planetarium app to find out which ones are visible from your location.
Here are some of our favorites: M13, M5, M3 and M92 in the Northern Hemisphere and Omega Centauri, M13, 47 Tuc, and M22 from the Southern Hemisphere. Use our Messier Catalog for Globular Clusters to help you find them.
Challenge yourself: Observe and compare several globular clusters. Identify what makes each of them unique.
OPEN STAR CLUSTERS
An open star cluster is a group of up to a few thousand stars that were formed from the same giant molecular cloud and are still loosely gravitationally bound to each other. The Solar System has about 30 Open Star Clusters to observe. Check your computerized telescope’s hand control or a planetarium app to get their locations. Here is our Messier Catalog for Open Star Clusters and some of our favorites: M45, M16, and Caldwell 14, which contains NGC 869 and NGC 884.
Challenge yourself: While going from one Open Star Cluster to the next, explore the constellation(s) in which each is located.
NOTE: What is the difference between a Globular and Open Star Cluster? Globular Star Cluster are very symmetrical in shape and are most dense toward their centers. They orbit in the halo of our galaxy, expanding above and below the galactic center. Open Star Clusters are more irregular in shape and tend to orbit within the disk.
Want to observe more deep sky objects or the full Messier Catalog? This document contains the complete list.
CAPTURE AN ASTROIMAGE WITH YOUR SMARTPHONE
Advancements in smartphone camera technology have empowered astroimagers around the world to capture pictures of celestial objects and instantly share them with friends.
The process couldn’t be easier. Simply add a smartphone adapter to your telescope, make sure that it is centered on the eyepiece, and start astroimaging! Play with your phone’s camera settings to get an image you are happy with. Pro tip: Use a remote shutter release or timer to avoid shaking the camera when you press the on-screen button.
With video calling and live streaming, you can even share the view through your telescope in real time!
Challenge yourself: Add different color filters to your eyepiece, take a couple of pictures of the same object with each, and then use phone apps or computer software to overlay the images for enhanced detail.
ASTROIMAGE WITH A DSLR OR ASTROIMAGING CAMERA
If you have a DSLR or astroimaging camera, give imaging a try by attaching it to your telescope. To use a DSLR, you will need a few additional accessories, which can be found here. For astroimaging cameras, make sure you download the appropriate software so you can view via your computer. For information on how to attach a camera to your telescope, watch Product Manager Lance Lucero’s demonstration here.
Challenge yourself: If you have either a DSLR or an astroimaging camera, set your eyes on imaging a planet or a deep sky object like the Orion Nebula. If you have both a DSLR and an astroimaging camera, image the same object with each camera and determine which one provides the best results for you.