Almost none of us have access to serious research equipment (if only!) or the budget for high-end telescopes. Does that mean impressive sights are out of the question…or will an affordable home telescope actually suffice?
Expectations are everything, so this article will cover some of the most intriguing sights you can actually see through affordable, beginner-friendly equipment.
(By the way, we generally advise against super-cheap telescopes, for reasons described here. If you’re currently in the market, then start with this buying guide for some tips on how to approach telescope shopping.)
Some things you can see through a home telescope
Home telescopes provide a detailed view of anything you can glimpse with the naked eye. These includes up-close images of the moon, International Space Station, outer planets like Jupiter and Saturn (including their moons), and many nearby galaxies. However, entry-level home telescopes aren’t powerful enough to see deep-space objects, and no telescopes will match the vivid colors you see in published photographs.
Plenty of interesting celestial objects can be observed with a relatively affordable home telescope. Since its inception, the crudest telescope revealed revolutionary objects, such as the Galilean moons, or other distant things previously unknown to mankind.
As technology evolves, standards change as well, with the telescope available to the public, being upgraded each year. Anyone with an Amazon account can get equipment that astronomers a few generations ago could only dream of!
As with all technology, telescopes tend to become better and better, inevitably leading to what we might consider today as high end gear, as being beginner gear tomorrow.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the highlights you can look forward to.
1. Omega Centauri
Designated as NGC 5139, Omega Centauri is a relatively close globular cluster of about 10 million stars. It is situated at 17,000 light-years from Earth, and it can be seen with a regular telescope under less light polluted areas.
If you are familiar with the Southern Cross asterism, you will find this celestial object quite close to it, and if you observe it for a couple of minutes, the globular cluster might seem like it is moving! This is definitely a sight to see for those who want to see something different then Saturn’s rings, our Moon, and all those things most people watch when they get their hands for the first time on a telescope.
2. The Sombrero Galaxy
Now we all know that the Andromeda Galaxy can be seen with the naked eye, so clearly it can be seen with a regular telescope. However, it is not the only galaxy you can view with a home telescope.
The Sombrero Galaxy (pictured up at the very top), also known as Messier 104, is a spiral galaxy located at about 29 million light-years away from us, that can be seen with an average telescope.
No matter what telescope you are using, once you spot the Sombrero Galaxy, you will understand right away why it bears this nickname. It has a very bright center, and despite its Sombrero-shape, this galaxy will capture your interest from the moment you see it through your telescope due to its brightness.
3. The International Space Station
Let’s take a step back from these deep sky objects and enjoy the things which are closer to us. Did you know that you can spot the International Space Station with a regular telescope? You will need a mere magnification of 100x to see it.
The ISS is one of the greatest manmade structures that we often tend to overlook, and if you’ve ever wondered what’s it like to be an astronaut, capturing the ISS with your telescope will definitely help you get either a pleasant or terrifying feeling. Just imagine being up there and floating allday long. Can people actually get used to it? It seems so.
Regardless, spotting the ISS is a challenging task, and naturally, the best time to do it is when the Sun is out of sight. Take note that the ISS orbits our Earth about 16 times every day, so you’ll have plenty of chances.
In fact, it’s such a popular and exciting sight that we’ve written an entire guide to observing it! Read here for more.
4. Eta Carinae Nebula
Nebulas are some of the most colorful things you can see through our Universe. Their shape, and overall appearance is outstanding, even divine by some standards, and nothing seems to compare to their beauty, except perhaps galaxies. The Eta Carinae Nebula, designated as NGC 3372, and also known as the Grand Nebula, is a beauty that you can gaze upon with your home telescope.
An eyepiece with a wide field view might be required to capture its brilliance entirely, but its quite worth it. Eta Carinae is situated at around 8,500 light-years away from us, and it has a radius of about 230 light-years. Its apparent magnitude is +1.0, and it is among the largest diffuse nebulaes in our skies. Its one of those things that you can’t miss if you ever get your hands on a telescope.
5. The Pleiades
Named after the seven daughters of the titan Atlas, the Pleiades star cluster can be seen from all around the globe, even with the naked eye, however, with a telescope, it gets even spicier! The Pleiades consist mostly of bright blue stars located at around 444 light-years away from Earth, in the zodiacal constellation of Taurus, the celestial bull.
It is designated as Messier 45, and it is the nearest Messier object to us. The Pleiades are best seen in rural areas where light pollution is low. The stars located in this cluster formed roughly 100 million years ago and all of them are several times more massive and bigger than our Sun.
A similar star cluster, known as the Hyades, is located fairly close to it, and together they from the asterism known as the Golden Gate of the Ecliptic.
Our ancients knew about this asterism for several thousands of years, however, now with a telescope, you can see them more clearly then they ever did! The Pleiades have an apparent magnitude of 1.6, while its apparent dimensions revolve around 110 arcminutes.
6. The Demon Star
Things get spooky even in space, and with a regular home telescope, you can spot the star Algol, famously known as the Demon Star! It is among the first non-nova variable stars ever discovered, and its actually a multiple star system, with several stars revolving around a central big one.
The apparent magninutde of the Demon Star is at 2.12, and it varies up to 3.39. The stars often eclipse each other, and it is difficult to resolve them without a powerful telescope, however, you can witness these eclipses with any telescope.
The primary star in this system is almost three times bigger than our Sun, and much more massive. Its average surface temperatures are at around 13,000 K, being more then twice as hot as our Sun, however, it is younger, being only 570 million years old. The ancient Egyptians studied the Demon Star, as one of their first recording of the star dates to around 3,200 years ago.
Asteroids can be seen both with telescopes and even binoculars. They mostly go unobserved due to their luminosity however, occasionally, big asteroids, like Pallas, for example, can sometimes get in the center of attention as they reach opposition to the Sun.
This is the perfect time to get your telescope and witness the grandure of an asteroid, as they are almost impossible to see in other conditions. This is why, if you have a telescope and you are passionate, you should always stay informed about these relatively rare occasions. Join other enthusiasts on forums, visit websites that are tracking these celestial objects, and don’t hesitate to go outside an try your luck! These are the best moments when you can see either something unique, or rare.
8. The Behenian Stars
During the medieval period, many people associated and used stars in magic. The 15 Behenian Fixed Stars were used in rituals, and continue to be used in astrology to this day, and you can hunt and find them all with a regular home telescope!
Stars such as Sirius, the brightest in the sky (with the exception of our Sun), Algol, the Demon Star, Aldebaran, Arcturus, Vega, or Antares are part of this mysterious group of stars that captured the imagination of our ancestors.
Each of these 15 stars are the brightest in their respective constellations, and if you like astrology, see which one of them is situated in your zodiac, and then hunt for it in the night sky! Not all of the brightest stars situated in the zodiacal constellations are part of this abstract group of stars, but some of them are. However, this is also a good ideea of what you can try to find with your telescope. See which is the brightest star in your zodiacal constellation, read up on the mythologies and stories associated with it, and finally, search for it with your telescope and admire it! Its a wonderful experience.
Stargazing is a beautiful hobby that can be enjoyed even with an entry-level telescope for a long period of time. There are plenty of things which you can see, and you can always have that unique experience of being the only one looking at a spontaneous event in the sky, if you are lucky.
Just make sure you stargaze in the right conditions to fully enjoy the wonders of the sky, and of your telescope. We hope our 8 surprising things you can see with a home telescope article has given you some ideas of what to look for next time you go outside with your telescope!