From planets like Jupiter and Saturn to wonders beyond our Solar System like the Andromeda Galaxy, here are five things in the night sky that beginner stargazers can find with a simple telescope or binoculars.
You don’t need a big, expensive telescope to gaze in wonder at the night sky. In fact, a small, beginner level telescope or even a decent pair of binoculars can bring a number of these magnificent celestial objects into focus.
Here are our top five objects in space that you can see with a beginner telescope.
Let’s start with Saturn's rings. At its closest, Saturn is still 1.2 billion kilometers away from Earth, so it may appear small in your telescope, but those rings are unmistakable. Many people can think back and recall the life-changing moment when they first saw Saturn through a telescope. It truly is the jewel of the Solar System.
A bit closer, is Jupiter. After you’ve seen the famous stripes and red spot, look closely around the outside of Jupiter. If you can find a few small dots, then you are walking in the footsteps of Galileo. The dots are in fact the four largest moons of Jupiter. When Galileo discovered them in 1610, he found undeniable evidence that some things in our Universe did NOT orbit the Earth. Back then, this was, literally, revolutionary news.
And speaking of moons, don’t forget about our own. It is undoubtedly one of the best objects to see through a telescope or binoculars. You will see the edges of lunar mountains against the backdrop of dark space. You will see shadows deepening the impact craters. And you can scan the lunar mare (marr-ey) where humans first walked on another world.
Now let’s leave our Solar System. Far beyond the power of our naked eyes, you’ll find mysterious and wonderful objects. From the Southern Hemisphere you can see the Carina Nebula. You may recognize the name from this dazzling JWST image, of course, it won’t look quite like this with a small telescope. Oftentimes, faint smudges in the dark like this are actually massive, colorful clouds full of stars and planets, or even entire galaxies.
And for our Northern Hemisphere viewers, M13, also called the Great Globular Cluster in the constellation Hercules, is an aggregation of hundreds of thousands of stars. The M in M13 stands for Messier. In the 1700s, astronomer Charles Messier, used a 4-inch telescope to catalog over 100 objects in the night sky. He did this in order to help distinguish these objects from comets. Today, stargazers still use this catalog as a guide to finding astonishment among the stars.
Of course, there are more far things in the sky than we’ve listed here. The Orion Nebula, the core of our Milky Way galaxy, Venus, Mars, the Sun, strange asterisms that may appear to look like coat hangers or perfectly straight lines from our perspective. Once you’re outside and looking up, you will likely stumble upon many things that spark your curiosity.
But for now, as a finale, let’s visit Andromeda, the farthest away object on our list. Since Andromeda has been visible to the naked eye since the dawn of humanity, it has no first discoverer. You may have already seen it yourself without realizing that you were peering 2.5 million light years away at a galaxy… full of one trillion stars. With binoculars or a telescope, you can fill your lens with this distant, blurry entity. And you can’t help but wonder: what kind of beings might be over there, looking at our entire Milky Way galaxy, as a faint smudge in their sky?
Click the link for suggestions on how to find the best beginner telescope, so you can start your own journey to the final frontier.