Got a new telescope for Christmas? Try spotting these 10 celestial objects with it

From star clusters and nebula to planets and a well-timed ‘Christmas Moon,’ there’s plenty to look at in a telescope this festive season

Teenage girl is using the astronomy telescope to observe the the stars at cold winter night.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Whether it’s one of the best telescopes for stargazing or the best telescopes for beginners, if you’ve just been gifted your first telescope, then it’s only natural that you’ll want to take it outdoors for a spin. 

If there’s a clear sky where you are, then you’re in luck this Christmas because there’s a host of incredible objects in a great position to be observed through a telescope.

Here’s what to point your new telescope at this Christmas:

1. The full ‘Christmas Moon’

There are few more impressive sights to a beginner than the bright full moon through a telescope. As luck would have it, on Christmas Day, the moon will rise almost full in the northeast about an hour before sunset. An even better sight awaits on Boxing Day when the 100%-lit full moon will rise in the northeast as the sun sets. The full moon gets very bright, so catch it when it rises in muted orange hues for the best views. You can check the time of moonrise where you are.  

2. The ‘Star of Bethlehem’

As soon as the sun goes down, you’ll notice a bright ‘star’ shining high in the east. It may look like the fabled ‘Star of Bethlehem,’ but it is not a star but a planet. Jupiter is probably the most rewarding planet to look at through a telescope. Use your new telescope’s 25mm eyepiece to find it then swap to a high-power eyepiece (about 10mm or 5mm) to get a close-up of its pinkish cloud bands and four giant moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto).

3. Saturn’s Rings

It’s the sight you’ve been waiting for. The most beautiful planet in the solar system aside from Earth, the sight of Saturn’s rings for the first time is worth the price of a telescope alone. However, don’t expect it to fill the field of view. After all, it’s almost ten times the distance from Earth than from Earth to the sun. A high-power eyepiece (10mm or 5mm) will get you the best view. 

Messier 31, the Andromeda Galaxy, shot with the William Optics 51mm f/4.9 RedCat astrograph, mounted on the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i tracker as a test of the combination of small refractor and small tracker for an ultra-portable setup. It worked well but the tracker had to be autoguided for the best results and minimal trailing when shooting at even the relatively short focal length as this (250mm) for a small telescope. I used the ZWO ASIAir and guidescope for autoguiding in right ascension (no declination correction is possible with such a tracker). This is a stack of 18 x 2-minute exposures at ISO 3200 with the Canon EOS Ra a high ISO to keep exposures times down to minimize any trailing in declination from misalignment on the celestial pole. The combination worked well. Some high haze moved in during the last exposures. This was from home October 11, 2020. (Photo by: Alan Dyer/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4. Andromeda Galaxy (M31)

The Andromeda Galaxy is about 2.5 million light-years distant, which as well as looking like a vast spiral galaxy in a telescope, is also a real eye-opener. It’s the only galaxy in the night sky traveling towards our Milky Way. They’re destined to merge in about four billion years.

5. Great Pegasus Cluster (M15)

Found halfway between Saturn and Deneb in the southwestern sky soon after dark, M15 in the constellation Pegasus is a bright globular cluster. This dense ball of about 100,000 stars orbiting the Milky Way’s halo comes to life in any small telescope. It’s about 34,000 light-years distant.

6. The Orion Nebula (M42)

About an hour after dark this month, you’ll see Orion’s Belt rising on its side due east. Just to the right of it will be a fuzzy patch called Orion’s Sword. At its center is the Orion Nebula, an area of intense star birth where starlight reflects clouds of dust and gas. About 1,500 light-years away, it’s one of the most famous sights to see in a telescope.

7. Double Cluster (NGC 869 and NGC 884)

Just after dark in the northeast sky, beyond Jupiter, is the constellation Perseus. It’s across the Milky Way and therefore packed with stars, but it’s the most alluring sight is the so-called Double Cluster, two groups of thousands of stars about 7,500 light-years distant that appear next to each other. You’ll find them between the brightest stars in Perseus and the W-shaped constellation above, Cassiopeia.

The well-known Double Cluster (aka NGC 884 and NGC 869) framed at upper right to include two of its companion star clusters, NGC 957 at upper left and Trumpler 2 at lower left. Dotted through the field of young blue stars are numerous aging yellow giant stars. And the gradation in sky colour from the clearer, bluer sky with more stars at right to the dustier, yellower sky and fewer stars at left is subtle but obvious here, from interstellar dust in this part of the Milky Way. . (Photo by: Alan Dyer/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

(Image credit: Getty Images)

8. Rigel in Orion

Point a telescope at some stars, and you’ll notice they’re different colors. Start with Rigel in Orion’s foot, close to the Orion Nebula. A blue-white supergiant star, it’s super-hot and about 100,000 times as bright as our sun, which is why it’s one of the ten most luminous stars in our night sky.

9. Betelgeuse in Orion

Contrary to Rigel, Betelgeuse – on the other side of Orion’s Belt – is a relatively cool red supergiant star. It’s also one of the ten brightest stars in our night sky, but only because it’s enormous. If it were in the solar system in place of the sun, Betelgeuse would reach out to the orbit of Mars. It recently dimmed unexpectedly, leading astronomers to wonder if it’s about to explode as a bright supernova. It will definitely do just that, but sometime in the next 100,000 years; astronomers can’t be more definitive than that.

10. Albireo

Look due west just after dark, and you’ll see the ‘Summer Triangle’ – made from the three bright stars Vega, Cygnus and Altair – lying on its side. At its center is Albireo, a famous double star. At about 30x power, you’ll split Albireo into both a golden and a blue star. It’s a jaw-dropping sight, but be quick because Albireo will sink towards the horizon and be gone a few hours after dark. 

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance journalist, copywriter and author with 20 years' experience. He's written journalism for over 50 publications and websites and, when he's not writing, spending most of his time travelling – putting the latest travel tech through its paces.