Telescopes are a lot of fun for those of us curious about what lies out there in the mysterious depths of outer space. Picking the right one for you and your particular interest, however, can feel overwhelming.
This guide is for you if your backyard astronomy passion is galaxies, star clusters and nebulae - otherwise known as deep space objects (DSOs).
We've picked out our five best telescopes for deep space objects covering every need and budget. Find detailed reviews of each telescope are further down the page.
Quick Comparison: Top 5 DSO Scopes
Motor driven, compound
Biggest value aperture
Pro 'money no object'
Buyer's Guide to choosing the best telescope for Deep Space Objects
In some ways, knowing that you want to spend most of your astronomy hours looking for galaxies and nebulae makes it easier to pick a decent telescope.
For the best results, you need two things: to gather as much light as possible (i.e. you need a big aperture) and to resolve that light as finely as possible, i.e. great optics.
Also in the mix, but less important, is motorized tracking. With such small, faint objects, it is definitely helpful to have a computer finding them for you and helping you track them as they move across the sky. However, a lot of astronomers get their joy from locating the object as well as viewing it, so not everyone who hunts for DSOs wants a computer helping out.
In the rest of this buyer's guide, we'll also consider eyepieces and mounts.
Before we do that though, one final thing to keep in mind, which is not part of the telescope consideration itself, is filters. A small collection of DSO filters will make a big difference to your deep sky object viewing. They show more detail and structure than it's possible to see without. Read more in our best filters for deep sky objects article.
Aperture and Optical Quality
The two most important features of a telescope used for DSOs are its aperture and optical quality. This is because they will determine how clear the viewing quality of your deep space objects is.
The larger the aperture, the more light will come in through the telescope's tube which will result in a sharper and brighter resolved image.
Although, if you live in an area that's heavily polluted with light, hunting for deep space objects will likely prove to be disappointing no matter how good your telescope. The truth of the matter is that a darker sky will have a much greater impact on the number of DSOs you can see and the detail in which you can see them.
Our best choices for telescopes to view deep space objects are Dobsonians and Compounds (catadioptric).
Dobsonians offer huge apertures for (relatively) little money per inch of aperture. Be careful though to consider their focal length. Dob's with a large aperture and long focal length can be at best unwieldy or, at worst, so large that you'll need a ladder to reach the eyepiece!
Compounds telescopes for deep sky objects get around this problem by using a collection of lens and mirrors to give a long focal length in a short tube. As well as making them easier to use, the added benefit of their size is they are much easier to motorize.
The downside of a compound scope is cost: you will pay significantly more per inch of aperture with these scopes than you will for a Dobsonian.
How Go-To Motors Help Deep Space Astronomy
Some telescopes are sold with Go-To technology which uses computer-driven motors to automatically locate and then track a specific target.
This is an especially handy feature to have if you prefer to spend your telescope time looking at objects instead of finding them. They are particularly helpful for DSOs because they are generally small and dim and so hard to track down. And, if you think you might get into astrophotography in the future, tracking is an essential requirement.
While it may make things easier to find, Go-To telescopes can be complex if you've never used one before. They also take away the joy of hunting for your deep space objects so are not the right choice for you if that's where you get your observing enjoyment from.
More advanced goto mounts available today offer GPS tracking and cameras to help with self-aligning. As you'd expect, these models are typically more expensive than a standard go-to and, again, less satisfying for the 'purist' backyard stargazer than aligning the telescope yourself.
For mounts that don't have go-to computers, digital setting circles are commonly added to large Dobsonian telescopes to help with locating deep space objects. These are also known as "push-to" scopes.
Eyepieces for Deep Sky Astronomy
Eyepiece quality is essential for the best deep space object views, no matter what type of telescope you own. Your telescope can have a fine lens or mirror, but you won't get the best views unless equipped with an eyepiece of equal quality.
It's important to know that the higher the magnification on an eyepiece, the dimmer objects such as galaxies or planets will look. Magnification tends to spread light across the field of view, so you'll probably be using your wider field eyepieces more often. If you wear glasses, consider buying an eyepiece that has a good eye relief so that the lens on your glasses don't hinder your viewing experience.
We've written a detailed but easy-to-understand guide to eyepieces, which you can read by clicking this link (don't worry, it'll open a new page so you won't lose this one).
Our advice is to go for a wide field of view eyepiece at a relatively low magnification and with the best optical performance you can afford. Remember that magnification is calculated by dividing the focal length of your eyepiece into the focal length of your telescope.
For example, if you have a telescope with an 800mm focal length and a 20mm eyepiece, you'll get a magnification of 800/20 = 40x by combining the two. To work out your actual (true) field of view, divide the apparent field of view of your eyepiece (an average Plössl is around 50°) by your magnification.
Staying with the example above, if our 20mm eyepiece was this Plössl from Amazon, with a 52° apparent field of view, we'd get 52° divided by our 40x magnification. 52/40=1.3° true field of view.
Now, to see the power of buying a more expensive wide field of view eyepiece, let's use this 21mm, 100° apparent field of view eyepiece from Televue. The magnification is 38x (i.e. 800mm / 21mm), so the true field of view is 100/38 = 2.6°, which is twice the sky you see with the Plössl... but for about 15x the price!
A Stable Mount is Essential for Big-Aperture Telescopes
A telescope's mount is one of the most critical factors in the usability of your telescope.
Alt-azimuth mounts need you to constantly reposition your scope to keep an eye on your target through the eyepiece. Dobsonians are a good example of this mount as basic models don't have any sort of motor, computer, or battery.
German Equatorial mounts make tracking a lot easier by aligning one axis with the axis tied to the earth's rotation. They're usually incorporated with Go-To systems and were the first to have "clock" drives to keep a specific target in view of the eyepiece. If you have a fairly weighty telescope, Equatorial mounts are your best bet for large load capacities.
Above all, whichever mount you end up with, it needs to offer rigid stability when you are looking at an object. The last thing you need when viewing a faint nebula that may only be a few arcseconds wide is vibrations coming through a flimsy mount.
Motor driven, compound
Biggest value aperture
Pro 'money no object'
Reviews of the Best Telescopes for Deep Space Objects
These are our detailed reviews of the five telescopes that we think cover the needs and budgets of most backyard astronomers wanting to specialize in deep space objects.
Orion's 8 inch Dobsonian reflector has a fair balance between price, ease of use, and quality. Small enough to be a good choice for those who are new to the stargazing, but big enough for DSO astronomers with experience.
The user-friendly finder and 8-inch diameter primary mirror allow you to view the brighter DSOs with great detail, such as the Orion Nebula and Andromeda Galaxy.
The telescope is easy to set up as it comes in two attachable parts that are connected by the integrated springs. Even with limited experience, it will only take you around 30 minutes to finish assembling.
What you'll need to be aware of is this thing is bulky. It's four feet long (with a focal length of 1200mm / 48 inches), so ideally you shouldn't need to move it often or far. Lugging it around regularly could prove hard work, especially as it weighs around 40 lbs fully assembled.
The ultra-stable Dobsonian base keeps the reflector optical tube in place and balanced for better ease of use. Users report that this is an easy to use telescope and an obvious choice for DSO hunting on a limited budget.
- 8-inch mirror great for DSOs
- Price makes it easy entry-level
- Stable base, easy to set-up
- Bulky to transport
- No 'go-to' or tracking
- Only 25mm Plössl supplied
This is one of our all-time favorite telescopes here at Love the Night Sky. So much so, that we even wrote a dedicated review, which you can read here. However, if you want the DSO 'Cliffs Notes' version, read on.
This motor driven compound telescope has an 8-inch aperture and many improved advancements that allow it to capture fine details from stars and other deep space objects in the night sky.
The telescope's single fork arm construction makes it easy to both assemble and take down, and being that it weighs only 16 pounds, it's fairly easy to take with you anywhere.
SkyAlign makes it easy to set-up the telescope's go-to and tracking functionality, using any three bright celestial objects. What you also get with the NexStar 8SE is an enviable database of around 40,000 objects in its database, including many thousands of deep space objects.
The simple red-dot finderscope is the 8SE's biggest disappointment, although it is easy to argue that there's no need for a high-powered finderscope given the go-to motor. It also comes with just a single 25mm eyepiece, which you'll want to add to to get the best use out of this telescope.
This Celestron scope has a focal ratio of f/10.0 and a focal length of a whopping 2,032mm (80 inches) packed into its 18" long optical tube.
Just like the XT8 Dob we reviewed above, the limitation on what you'll see with this scope comes from its 8-inch primary mirror. It is a decent - but not spectacular - size, which limits its seeing to magnitude 14.2. Use this telescope for the brighter deep space objects and its easy to use go-to functionality.
- Big database of DSOs
- Easy to use tracking
- Light and easy to move
- Short battery life
- Not the most stable mount
- Limited to brightest DSOs
The Orion SkyQuest XT10g is a rare thing in the world of telescopes: a fully motorized Go-To Dobsonian reflector telescope that's able to locate, center, and automatically track over 42,000 celestial objects with the push of a button.
Its huge 10-inch aperture mirror collects more than enough light for crystal clear views of star clusters, galaxies, and nebulas as well as closer objects such as the Moon or even other planets.
The motors mean - unusually for the owners of a Dob - that you don't have to push the telescope by hand as the galaxy your viewing moves across the sky. And that's good news because this is a big telescope at 48 inches (four feet long). Its focal ratio is f/4.7, from a focal length of 1,200mm.
It's limiting stellar magnitude (the faintest objects you can see with it) is 14.7. Coupled with that big 10" mirror this telescope is a great choice for fainter deep sky objects. Those rarely observed galaxies from the NGC come into scope (pardon the pun) for owners of Orion's motorized Dob.
As you might expect, this is not a cheap scope, but it is great value. You will barely spend any more on this telescope than you would on the two-inches-smaller NexStar 8SE - click here for the current price on Telescope.com.
For assembly, the tube is ready to drop on the rocker base as soon as the finder is attached, then only the sides and eyepiece tray need to be fitted on. The rocker base already comes with the base plates and motor installed. Being that this telescope is motorized, you'll need a 12V DC power supply, which is something to keep in mind if you're planning to take it outside or to other areas.
Happily, you can use this scope with or without the motorized tracking, so, depending on personal preference or the astronomy you are doing, you can 'point and shoot' just like a regular Dob, or you can let the motors take the strain.
If you are going to be moving this scope around a lot, be aware that it is not a light telescope. The telescope itself is almost 30 lbs and the base another 40 lbs. These are not pieces you'd want to have to carry often or for any distance.
To get a ten-inch telescope including go-to functionality at this price is impressive, which is why you should not be surprised we awarded it 5 stars in this review.
- A Dob with tracking!
- Easy assembly
- Big mirror at a great price
- Power for motor not included!
- Supplied eyepieces not great
- Too heavy to move often
Yes, it's another Orion SkyQuest and, yes, it is another motorized Dobsonian, but at less than $2,500 (at the time of writing - click here for current price) for 14" of motorized aperture, it had to appear on this list of best telescope for deep sky objects.
You see, with over a foot of primary mirror working for you, you collect masses of light and your limiting stellar magnitude becomes an unbelievable 15.5. This scope is going to show you objects very few people on the planet have or will ever see.
Its resolving power is 1 third of an arcsecond, so you will be teasing out some tremendous detail in brighter galaxies and hunting for the asterisms like the trapezium in the Orion nebula will be child's play.
The 14XXg is a truss-built design, rather than a solid tube, and that's to keep the weight down. Even so, be prepared that this telescope together with its base weighs 158 lbs, which is over 70kg. Technically this is portable, but only in the loosest sense of the word.
The tube is 61 inches (over five feet) long, giving this Orion a focal ratio of f/4.6.
It's fully equipped with the same motorized GoTo object location technology we saw in the XT10g (reviewed above) and so can automatically track over 42,000 celestial objects.
A clever feature that makes the base easier to use, especially if you use it as a traditional Dob with the motor disengaged, is the inclusion of heavy-duty clutches. These allow you to choose your desired level of resistance in both axes when you are pushing this ginormous mirror in the direction of your quarry.
Make no mistake, this is an expensive telescope, but it is only around one-third of the price of the Meade (below) with the same size mirror. If you are committed to Dobsonian telescopes, this is up there with the best money can buy for deep space object astronomy.
- Huge mirror on a motor
- Great value for money
- 15.5 limiting magnitude
- Not the best eyepieces
- Very big and heavy
- Assembly is not simple
For the fifth and final of our telescopes for deep space astronomy, we return to a compound design.
This Schmidt-Cassegrain design catadioptric from Meade provides a truly eye-watering 14 inches of light collecting aperture, for a truly eye-watering price.
This is why the Meade LX600 14" telescope is the best for DSO astronomy... if money is not your biggest concern.
This 14-inch aperture scope is mounted within a heavy-duty fork assembly with a GoTo computer at the base of the mount.
Lifting this arrangement onto a tripod may require two people since the telescope weighs roughly around 200 pounds. Assembly can be difficult as well especially if taken apart, transported somewhere else, and then put back together in the dark.
But that is really the only downside - so long as your budget allows - because this Meade LX600 is a truly awesome telescope. Take a look at the video below to see its finest features.
Meade's 14-inch Schmidt has a focal ratio of f/8.0 from an almost unbelievable focal length of 2,845mm (112 inches) packed inside a significantly shorter optical tube.
You can see from the video that the finding and tracking of objects with the Statlock automatic guider is simple and practically flawless, making this model a superlative choice if you want to take pictures of the galaxies and nebulae you find.
In fact, very many things about this telescope make it incredibly desirable. The only thing that stops it achieving 5 stars out or five (or eight out of five, for that matter) is its price. As gorgeous as it is, it is way out of the league of most of us, which has to cost it in stars.
- Huge, ginormous aperture
- Near-perfect object tracking
- 145,000 object database
- Colossal weight
- A price to match
- Not much else...
Best Telescopes for Deep Space Objects Summary
From Galileo's simple yet famous telescope to today's technologically advanced telescopes, these stargazing masterpieces have given us a means to explore glorious deep space objects like galaxies, star clusters and nebulae from our own backyard.
Of all the telescopes reviewed above, the best telescope for seeing - and photographing - galaxies and deep space objects has to be the 14" Meade LX600, but... it comes at a price that many of us would expect to buy a car for!
Much more affordable, Orion's SkyQuest XT8 offers newbies and upgrading astronomers alike the chance to own a decent aperture, ideal for many brighter DSOs, at a very low price.
Overall though, for its combination of value for money with capability, we recommend Orion's SkyQuest XT10g as the best telescope for observing deep space objects. It has a great 10-inch mirror, is not too big and bulky to move around, has the ability to act as a 'normal' push-me-around Dob, or switch on the motor and it'll do the work.
What's more, it'll do all of that at a really sensible price, within the reach of many of us - especially if we save wisely.
We hope you've found the right telescope for you in this review but, if you're still not sure, why not check out the best telescopes of the year. We've reviewed 16 different telescopes, of all types and for every budget. Why not check it out by clicking here.