Welcome to T3's guide to the best telescope for stargazing. This hobby is perfectly suited to lockdown: it's naturally socially distanced, and can be done from the comfort of your own home. Plus the skies are clearer than usual right now, thanks to less air traffic and pollution in general – so the lack of physical travel has at least one up-side.
The best telescopes can get very pricey, but we've included some great value, more basic models that are ideal for beginners in our roundup, to help get you started. If you're not new to stargazing, you'll also find some more advanced, high-tech models here; ideal for taking your stargazing hobby to the next level.
Kit yourself out with a home telescope and transform the back bedroom into a makeshift observatory, or venture out into the countryside (armed with one of the best waterproof jackets, just in case), follow our tips on how to set up a telescope, and kick off your stargazing journey.
Or, if you want to look a little closer to home, you might also want to check out our guide to the best binoculars (some of which can be used for stargazing, too).
How to choose the best telescope for you
Right now there's plenty of choice, lots accessories and extras, and a whole range of brands in the telescope market. On the one hand, it's great to have so many options... but on the other, it can make it difficult to figure out the best telescope to buy now. The key questions you need to ask yourself are: what do you want to be able to see? How much room do you have to keep the stargazing telescope when you’re not using it? And how much do you want to spend?
There are three types of telescope: refractors, reflectors and catadioptric or compound telescopes. They each have a different kind of lens set-up, which means they provide different results.
It's also worth considering where and when you’ll use your telescope. Most telescopes will need to be used outside – you won’t get a great view if you just point one out of your window because light pollution (and even the heat from your home) will affect your view. So bear that in mind when considering portability and ease of set-up. Also consider if you'll want to be able to attach a stills or video camera to be able to record what you see, as you see it.
For more guidance for beginners specifically, head to our guide to how to choose your first telescope. Now let's get started looking at the best telescopes for stargazing right now.
The best telescopes to buy now
Our pick for the best telescope overall is the SkyWatcher Explorer 130M Motorised Newtonian Reflector Telescope. It claims to be a perfect option for all levels of stargazers, whether you interest is in examining our closest planet(s) or shooting for the stars. This aluminium-constructed option's core specification comprises a 900mm focal length and an f/6.92 aperture.
Affording a relatively speedy set up, it also comes with a large accessory tray, a fully adjustable aluminium tripod and, as the picture indicates, a multi speed handset. The latter is for controlling the 360° slow motion tracking gears, while its maker claims the flexibility of this telescope's dual metal setting circles allows for the tracking of planets in the night sky by their RA (Right Ascension) and DEC (declination) coordinates. This gives their location in relation to fixed stars, while a separate latitude adjustment aids polar alignment. A well-made and sturdy option for beginners and up, this one should whet your appetite for further investigation of the Moon – and beyond!
Not sold? Check out some more mid-range all-rounders in our Celestron Inspire 100AZ refractor vs Meade Polaris 114mm reflector telescope face-off.
Bringing star gazing bang up-to-date is the Celestron 22203 AstroFi 130 Wireless Reflecting Telescope. This sturdy telescope with integrated Wi-Fi that works in conjunction with a free Celestron SkyPortal app for both iOS and Android devices. Aiming to provide clear views of the Moon and the planets beyond, it features a large 130mm lens and promises a wide field of view. Additionally, it helpfully comes supplied with an accessory tray for stashing your biscuits in, and more importantly two 1.25-inch eyepieces.
A rubber-lined area is designed to hold miscellaneous accessories including your smartphone or small tablet, presumably having first downloaded the app, which replaces the need for a remote control handset, thus streamlining the whole operation. The user holds their smart device up to the night sky and, upon locating an object they want to view, it's simply a case of tapping the screen, whereby the telescope automatically zeroes in on the object and the screen displays information about it. You can even generate a 'sky tour' of the best celestial objects to view, based on time and location. Clever stuff.
Not quite right for you? Check out our Orion SkyView Pro 8 GoTo vs Celestron Nexstar 8SE showdown for two more top-end options.
The Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ Reflector Telescope Kit is the best general-purpose telescope for novice star-gazers. It's a decent option for younger members of the family, or those showing a nascent interest in examining heavenly bodies who want to test the water without spending a small fortune at the outset of their hobby. Boasting a wide field of view, thereby making it easier for beginners to find objects of note in the sky, this telescope is suited to generating good views of the moon, planets and brighter 'deep sky' objects beyond.
A 2x extension lens provided in the kit, which also includes a moon map and general observation booklet detailing more than 60 locations to explore, doubles the magnification of both the included 25mm and 10mm eyepieces, which offer a 52-degree field of view. On top of this, a mini LED light provides added illumination if/when required under starry skies. Essentially providing all you need to get started without breaking the bank, this is a sound telescope option for stargazers.
Not right for you? We compare two alternative beginners' telescopes in our Celestron 21039 PowerSeeker 50AZ vs National Geographic Refractor 60/700 AZ showdown.
This quick to set-up, small telescope is perfect for beginners and children who want to try stargazing for the first time. The great thing about this telescope is because it’s small and easy to get up-and-running, it gives those new to looking at space more confidence before they graduate to a bigger telescope – without the commitment or big price tag. This 60mm aperture refractor telescope comes with an adjustable aluminium tripod, which can keep the scope stable as you stargaze, as well as a phone mount adapter so you can easily take photos and videos of what you spot in the sky.
Because it’s an entry-level telescope aimed mainly at kids, it’s good for looking at the Moon, closer objects and even land objects, but you’ll need a more advanced scope to be able to see other objects in the night sky in more detail. If portability is key, you might also want to consider a pair of binoculars – head to our binoculars vs telescope for stargazing explainer for more info on that.
High-end telescope capable of providing bright views; in fact its 8-inch aperture parabolic mirror is said to let in 73% more light than a 6-inch scope. What's more, we get a 1000mm focal length and f/4.9 aperture, while the 2-inch Crayford focuser supplied is claimed to be ideal for the viewing of deep space subjects. As for finding them in the first place, the set up includes access to a computerized database of 42,000 possible places to visit with the 'scope, requiring only the pressing of a couple of buttons – and a mains power supply, naturally. In fact the ƒGoTo' system can take us on a tour of the night sky and reveal to us the best sites that particular calendar month.
The package includes a one-year limited warranty, a stainless steel tripod to mount the scope on, plus a selection of eyepieces, telescope tube rings and software. In short, this is a comprehensively featured set for those who want to be able to resolve fine detail at high power and travel further than man has boldly gone before – all without leaving the house.
Celestron is one of the best telescope brands out there, creating a huge range of devices aimed at all levels – that’s why many of the telescopes on this list are from Celestron. The NexStar 8SE is one of Celestron’s high-end computerised devices, which means it does the hard work for you and can automatically find more than 40,000 celestial objects with the touch of a few buttons.
It has a large 8-inch aperture and good light-gathering ability, which means you’re guaranteed to get a clear view of many deep space objects with this advanced telescope. Of course there are much cheaper options available, which can give you a similar view, as well as smaller 6-inch and 4-inch models of this same telescope with a smaller price tag to match. However, this model ticks all of the boxes if you’re looking for a telescope that helps you easily study the bits of the cosmos you’re most interested. Amazon is currently selling the NexStar 8SE with a bundle of other fantastic stargazing additions, including an eyepiece and filter kit with 14 accessories and a phone scope adapter. The latter enables you to easily take photos of the objects you spot in space.
If you’re looking for a model that isn't basic and aimed at smaller children but will still suit those who are new to stargazing, try the 21036 PowerSeeker 70AZ telescope from Celestron. This is an easy-to-use option that’s a good choice for both adults and kids who are new to astronomy. Its set-up is pretty simple thanks to its altazimuth mount, this essentially means there’s no additional alignment or calibration necessary.
As well as the simple set-up, this 70mm beginner’s telescope has a sturdy aluminium tripod and comes with two different eyepieces, as well as astronomy software to guide you on your journey into the cosmos. Of course this is still a rather basic telescope, so expect to see closer objects and the Moon as well, but not deeper parts of space. If you want a slightly better view, this same telescope comes with an 80mm lens or, alternatively, if you want a cheaper and more basic telescope for younger kids, check out the 50mm and 60mm versions.
Which telescope is the best match for small fingers and curious minds? The aptly named Nasa Lunar telescope (hey, before you can shoot for the stars, best you first aim for the moon) even comes with a NASA sticker to excite the imagination of future astronauts, with the claim that it's been designed to engender a love of scientific pursuits.
Promising easy assembly, one of the best things is that this doesn't outwardly resemble a cheap toy, yet is still child's play to use, with a tabletop tripod and instructional guide book included to get fledgling voyages to the stars underway. A finder scope along with both low and high power eyepieces are included; a combination that lets children first pinpoint the moon before then zooming in for a close up view. Up to 90x magnification is provided here, enabling the little ones to surely determine the answer to the age-old question: is our nearest neighbour really made of cheese?
This high-end telescope has a built-in Sony GPS sensor, which determines your precise location and means it can find more than 30,000 stars, planets, nebulae, comets and galaxies for you super fast. Alternatively, you can select the ‘Tonight’s Best’ feature, which gives you a guided tour of the best sights based on where you are in the world and which celestial objects are visible right now. It’s also built to download free upgrades about comets, satellites and any new discoveries, which means its smart features and role as a tour guide of the night skies are never going to go out of date.
Plenty of people want an old-school-style telescope that’ll look nice in their bedroom or living room and stay put. But if you’re a fan of the great outdoors, or live in a city and can’t see great views because there’s just too much light pollution, you’re going to need a telescope that likes to travel along with you. Luckily, Celestron has a light and portable telescope called the Travelscope 70, which is lightweight, mobile and even comes with its own backpack making it perfect for travelling, hiking and any other kind of outdoorsy adventure. Of course packing optical tech into a smaller, lighter frame is going to mean a slightly less premium experience when it comes to the quality of the tripod and lenses, as well as magnification. But for the price, it’s ideal for beginners, travellers and even kids who you’re not sure are likely to keep their new hobby up for long.
This Celestron is a very capable reflector telescope that has a sturdy, fairly large build. But despite its solid design and stability, you don’t need tools to set it up – and, it’s easy to pack away for taking camping or to stargazing events. It has everything you need to get started, including a 10mm and 20mm eyepiece, a StarPointer red dot finderscope and free astronomy software to teach you the basics. The telescope has an Equatorial Mount, which allows you to track objects smoothly as they move across the sky, providing bright, clear images of the Moon, planets, star clusters, and much, much more.
The Celestron 76mm Firstscope has long been one of our favourite telescopes for beginners, with its lightweight, tabletop design, which makes it the best choice for kids or anyone else who might struggle with a larger scope on a tripod. This year, the Firstscope has been redesigned for the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings. Now it features a Moon design on the side, as well as commemorative coins and an astronomy book all about the Moon and how to spot the 50 most interesting things on the lunar surface. This is a Dobsonian-style telescope with a 76mm aperture reflector optical tube attached, which makes navigating the night sky really easy, all you have to do is point the tube and take a look.
This latest version of a classic 3.5-inch ‘scope that’s been available for decades has everything a beginner needs. A Maksutov-Cassegrain design, the ETX 90 Observer is a Go-To telescope that can find and track specific objects across the night sky. It’s operated using an AudioStar controller that contains a database of 30,000 objects. When you point the ETX 90 Observer at them, the controller has a speaker to tell you all about what you’re looking at. There are a couple eyepieces (26mm and 9.7mm) supplied for both a wide-field and a close-up view, and a red-dot finder for manually pointing the telescope.
Once aligned with either one or two stars, the ETX 90 Observer tracks stars and deep sky objects, but also gives excellent views of the planets and, of course, the moon. Attach a camera using a T-adaptor and the ETX 90 Observer can even be used for both observing and for basic astrophotography of solar system objects. It’s powered by six AA batteries.
Black Friday telecope deals: When's the best time to buy?
Traditionally, the winter sales events are a great time to pick up a quality telescope at a cut price. Sadly, the 2020 Black Friday telescope deals were woefully thin on the ground, both in the US and the UK. This isn't what we'd usually expect: demand for the best telescopes has increased during the pandemic, which means that in the US at least, many ranges sold out completely well ahead of time.
In the UK, we did see some strong deals over Amazon Prime Day through, with big discounts on Celestron telescopes as well as binoculars and sporting scopes. The 2020 event took place in October, but usually Amazon Prime Day is in July.
In short, all we know is that in the current climate, it's hard to predict when and if we'll see deals on telescopes. We'll be keeping a close eye out for any price drops that do occur, and our dedicated tool will pull in all the cheapest prices on the products in our ranking at all times, so you can be sure you're not overpaying.