5 Stunning Planets Through Telescope – What Didn’t You Know About Them?

5 Stunning Planets Through Telescope – What Didn’t You Know About Them?

5 Stunning Planets Through Telescope
Image Credits: Cosmic Pursuits

There are eight objects in our solar system that are officially recognized as planets. We live on one of these while others adorn our sky. The two that are furthest from us, Uranus and Neptune, are too dim to be easily distinguished from the background stars. In contrast to that, the other five planets are the brightest objects in the night sky (besides the Moon).

The opportunity for planetary viewing through telescopes is amongst the greatest gifts of the cosmos. Medium-sized telescopes are ideal to track changes on all the planets from night to night. In fact, small telescopes are also suitable for observing details on Jupiter and Saturn. This kind of planetary viewing is completely possible, even under city lights. Keep reading to know more about the features of a suitable telescope and what you can observe on different planets.

What to Look For in a Telescope?

What to Look For in a Telescope

The things you should look for in a telescope depends on what you want to view from it. The brightness and apparent size of those celestial bodies will determine which characteristics are needed.

All the planets can be seen with any telescope. In fact, five of them are bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. Having said that, some telescopes are still better suited for planetary viewing than others. The usual perception is that a more powerful telescope is always a better one. This is NOT necessarily true because telescope “power” doesn’t always mean the same thing. It can refer to light-gathering power as well as magnifying power, and there’s always a tradeoff between the two.

You don’t need a lot of light-gathering power to view planets because they are so bright. However, one does need significant magnifying power to make out any details, with the lowest useful magnification being 100x. You need to be able to zoom in and limit the field of view for examining the planet.

The size of the field of view is dependent upon the “focal length”. This is the distance light travels from the telescope’s mirror or lens to the eyepiece. The longer the focal length, the smaller the field of view. Focal lengths of 8 or more are ideal for planetary viewing, and telescopes that have them are known as “slow” telescopes. Therefore, if you want to see the planets through a telescope, “slowness” is the thing you should be looking for.

Jupiter Through a Telescope

Jupiter Through a Telescope

Jupiter is the heavenly body that has the greatest observable detail, after the Sun and the Moon. Its atmosphere is divided into dark and light areas, called belts and zones respectively. Even small telescopes show several of these regions. Larger, slower telescopes can also reveal the Great Red Spot.

It can be greatly rewarding to watch Jupiter nightly and note the changing positions of its four largest moons. The planet’s rotation brings almost its entire possible observable area into view in just one night. The viewing experience can be enhanced with the use of red and blue filters.

Blue filters sharpen bright cloud features, and a #38A (dark blue) filter will enhance the planet’s zones. On the other hand, a #23A (red) filter will make details along the equator more easily discernable. Likewise, it improves the contrast in the major belts.

Besides observing the planet itself, you may also observe events involving its four largest moons. There are four major events that you may like to witness. The first one of them is an eclipse, which occurs when a moon moves through Jupiter’s shadow. Secondly, a moon could move behind Jupiter and become hidden; an event known as an occultation.

Similarly, you might also see transits or shadow transits. This is when a moon or its shadow moves across the Jovian disk. The best views of the former are afforded when the moons appear against the belts. Shadows are visible through any telescope, appearing as little black dots.

Saturn Through a Telescope

Saturn Through a Telescope

Of all the planets, Saturn can provide the most spectacular view through a telescope, owing to its ring system. Amateur telescopes are capable of discerning three individual rings. They may be highlighted through the use of a #56 (light green) or #82A (light blue) filter.

Amongst the features to watch for is the Cassini Division, a dark gap between the two brightest rings. You may note differences amongst the rings through an 8-inch telescope, as regards to their brightness, color, and texture.

The features of this planet’s surface are harder to make out than those of Jupiter. However, look carefully and you should see a host of belts and zones. The belts usually appear blue-grey, brown, or red while zones seem off-white, slate-gray, or yellow. Use red, orange, or yellow filters to make them pop more.

Mars Through a Telescope

Mars Through a Telescope

The Martian atmosphere is often quite transparent. As a result, lots of detail can be made out for months before and after opposition. This is when the planet rises at sunset and is typically within a week of its closest approach to Earth. It is recommended to use the highest possible magnification until turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere begins to blur the image.

Seeing Mars through an 8-inch telescope, you could manage 300x magnification in perfect conditions and may observe very fine details. You may choose to focus on individual features or small areas and not dart from feature to feature. Alternatively, you can also attempt to view the whole disk at once.

Isolated clouds may be seen hovering over a single spot above the Martian surface. They usually move in tandem with it as the planet rotates. Wind passing over Martian mountains forms orographic clouds, which are best observed through a #80A (blue) or #47 (violet) filter. You can also use a #58 (green) filter if the clouds have descended to lower altitudes.

Other than these orographic clouds, you will also observe patches of surface fog appearing at Martian sunrise and sunset. The latter are usually larger and more numerous. These are best viewed through blue and violet filters.



Venus is among the two planets that are bright enough to be easily observed during the day. It displays phases like the Moon and its apparent size changes greatly over time. Venus appears 6 times larger at its closest approach than it does when at its greatest distance from the Earth.

The planet’s dense atmosphere makes it impossible to observe its surface with conventional telescopes. However, there are some features to note within the atmosphere itself. They include dusty shadings and bright spots, the most well-known of which can be spotted through a #47 (violet) filter.

Screw it onto the eyepiece of an 8-inch telescope, or one that’s larger, and look for an immense C or Y centered on the equator of the planet. This filter cannot be used with smaller telescopes as it blocks out too much light.



As far as planetary viewing through telescopes goes, observing Mercury is the greatest achievement. Being so close to the Sun, more often than not it is entirely lost in its glare. It is best to look up for Mercury when it’s going to be at elongation. Through a telescope, you’ll be able to detect its phase, but not much in the way of detail.

The best views of the planet are often afforded at midday when it appears high in the sky. If you can locate it, use a yellow or orange filter to cut down the sky’s blue light. Take care not to point your telescope sunward.

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