It’s fun looking at the Moon through a telescope or binoculars. But what about finding planets with telescope means when the sky appears full of stars. This article covers the planets and what to look for.
Most planets of the Solar System can be seen with the naked eye. They appear as a star. Some standout because of their brightness. Venus is called the ‘evening star’ for this reason. Still, there are quite a few bright stars when you start looking.
So how do you go about finding planets through a telescope? Finding planets with a telescope starts with you knowing when and where they will be visible. For this, use manual or online sky maps or apps (see below) and get to know the east to west movement of planets through the night sky. If you don’t have a GoTo, a good finderscope will help you get the telescope focused on the planetary target.
In the following, you’ll find useful tips and charts for finding and viewing planets through a telescope (or binoculars). First, we cover info on the planets, i.e., their size, and where they are placed, using visuals: a Solar System diagram and charts of planetary metrics. Why? In observing the Solar System planets, it helps to know what planets you’re likely to see through a telescope or not.
About observing the solar system Planets
We know the planets that orbit our Sun are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and dwarf planet Pluto. We can say there are nine planets in our solar system, but officially there are eight (shown in the solar system diagram). Pluto lost its designation as a planet several years ago. It was reclassified as a dwarf planet.
When did Pluto lose planet status? In August 2006, Pluto was excluded from ‘planet’ category and renamed as a dwarf planet. The debate continues about whether it is the ninth planet or not but at the time of this writing, it remains classified as a dwarf planet.
Solar system diagram
This solar system diagram shows the movement of the planets around the Sun and the plane of their orbit. Check out where they are placed with respect to Earth. The planets are divided by the asteroid belt (depicted as dotted area in diagram) into inner and outer planets. The inner planets include Earth and are comprised of rock, the others are gaseous.
Uranus and Neptune are outer planets of the Solar System and farthest from the Earth. They can’t be seen by the naked eye.
Planets in order of size
The planets in order of size (largest to smallest) in terms of radius…
The planets in order of mass (largest to smallest)…
Mercury, the smallest of the eight planets, and Venus are two close planets to Earth. Mars is the next smallest and appears as a small reddish disc through a telescope or when looking through binoculars.
Looking at planets through telescope types of hobbyists
To the beginner, the sky is full of stars. But viewing planets through a telescope will show they are not stars as such. With a good hobbyist telescope, you will see features that make them special. The rings of Saturn and the bands of Jupiter are examples. You get to see these details when looking at planets through telescope means rather than purely by the naked eye.
Read also: Our article on The Best Telescopes For Viewing Planets (for hobbyists)
If you’re looking at planets through binoculars, you’ll need sufficiently powerful ones to depict features and they’ll need support and stabilizing on a tripod or other structure.
Read also: Using Binoculars in Astronomy – Best Options
Finding planets with telescope types of hobbyists
It’s worth knowing the movement of planets through the night sky.
Movement of planets: Planets will appear to move across the night sky from east to west similar to our Sun and our Moon. So this is the path on which to look for the planets. Of course, it’s not the planets actually moving across the sky but the Earth’s rotation that gives that perception.
At certain points in time you get to see planets near the Moon as it is rising or setting because of this same path.
If you’re using a telescope other than a GoTo computerized type, perhaps a Dobsonian, a finderscope will be valuable. Tip: It’s often worthwhile investing in a better design than the one that comes with your telescope to give you a wider field of view and a more comfortable positioning when using it for finding and viewing planets through a telescope.
Chart: Viewing planets through a telescope
The following chart summarizes what you can expect to see of planets from various sized home telescopes…
How to find Saturn with a telescope
At certain times of the year, it will be easier to find Saturn in the sky than at other times. With Saturn in opposition, for example, it will be more predominant in the sky and can be seen most of the night.
Read also: What Can You See Through a Home Telescope
Maps & charts for finding planets according to time and place…
Star maps are most helpful for finding planets in the night sky. Hard copy star maps can be downloaded from space sites. Digital apps on your phone or tablet are another way. These include Star Walk, Sky Guide, and Google Sky Map.
Other online sources…
- Globe at Night: globeatnight.org
- National Optical Astronomy Observatory: noao.org
- Star Date: stardate.org
The help of eyepieces
When looking at planets through a telescope, having the right eyepiece helps with seeing their features. The following is a guide on the eyepiece size and use.
Earth-like planets through telescope types of Observatories
Scientists are searching for Earth-like planets and finding these planets with telescope technology that’s highly sophisticated.
A new super-Earth was found recently. The newly found exoplanet orbits Barnard’s Star, which is about 6 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Ophiuchus. With an apparent magnitude of +9.5, you won’t be able to see this red dwarf without a telescope. And, it appears brighter in the infrared rather than the visible light spectrum.
The Red Dots community is about finding Earth-like planets and you will find information there to broaden your knowledge about where these objects are likely to exist.
About the Exoplanet GJ 699 b
Based on the evidence to date, this super-Earth is three times the size of Earth in mass and orbits Barnard’s Star every 233 days (as compared to our ~365 days of our Sun). It is expected to be a frozen world with temperatures of about -150ºC. It has been tagged, Barnard’s star b (or GJ 699 b). This makes you think about how unique Earth is in supporting life as we know it.
The Kepler Series of Exoplanets
The Earth-like planets mentioned above are exoplanets, meaning they are outside our solar system.
The most talked-about exoplanets have been the Kepler series, with Kepler-452b discovered around 2015 as being the closest in similarity to Earth reported thus far.
The Kepler name comes from a NASA space telescope (now retired). It is named after astronomer Johannes Kepler. It operated for nine years from 2009, being retired at the end of October 2018.
At the time of writing, there appears no other like Earth, but astronomers keep looking.
Can you see Uranus from Earth?
You can’t see Uranus with the naked eye. You can see Uranus from Earth using a telescope. However, both Uranus and Neptune appear as specks of planets through a telescope of the type used by amateurs.
Can I see Neptune with a telescope?You can see Neptune with a telescope just like Uranus. But when looking at these planets through a telescope of the type used by amateurs they will appear as small discs with no strong distinguishing features.
Can you see planets through binoculars?
Yes, you can see the planets of our solar system through binoculars. The trick with binoculars is having ones with sufficient power for this and keeping them steady at the same time (as unavoidable shaking happens when holding them skyward).
NASA: Planetary Fact Sheet |