Stargazing is a lot of fun for those of us curious about celestial objects like galaxies, star clusters and nebulae. But, picking the best telescope for deep space objects (DSOs) can feel overwhelming.
We’ve picked out our four best telescopes for DSOs which meet every need and budget. Detailed reviews of each telescope are further down the page, just click the ‘Full Review’ link in the table below to read it.
Our Recommended Deep Space Telescopes
Buyer’s Guide to Choosing a 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 with great optics.
Less important is motorized tracking. With such small, faint objects, it is helpful to have a computer find finding and track them as they move across the sky. However, a lot of us get our joy from locating the object as well as viewing it, so not everyone who hunts for DSOs wants a computer helping out.
Finally, we also need a sturdy mount to hold the telescope steady with minimal vibrations while we study the dust lanes of our galactic neighbors.
We’ll look at each of these in more detail below.
Aperture and Optical Quality
The two most important features of a telescope used for DSOs are its aperture and optical quality. Larger apertures collect more light, resulting in sharper and brighter images.
To meet our aperture and optical needs, all of our recommended telescopes in this review are either Dobsonians or Compounds (catadioptric).
Dobsonians offer huge light gathering options for relatively little money per inch of aperture. Their downside is their length; Dob’s with a large aperture and long focal length can be unwieldy to handle.
Compound telescopes get around this problem by using a combination of a lens corrector plate and internal mirrors to give a long focal length in a short tube. As well as making them easier to use, 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
Three of the four scopes in our review are equipped with computerized motors to automatically locate and then track specific celestial bodies.
They are particularly helpful for DSOs because they are generally small and dim and so hard to track down. Also, if you think you might get into astrophotography in the future, tracking is an essential requirement.
Read our guide to the best telescopes for astrophotography
Digital setting circles are commonly added to large Dobsonian telescopes which don’t have computerized tracking. These help with locating deep space objects.
Eyepieces for Deep Sky Astronomy
Eyepiece quality is essential for the superior views of deep space objects, no matter what type of telescope you own.
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).
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 40x (800/20).
For more astronomy formulas, click here
One thing to be aware of is that higher magnifications make for dimmer objects. 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.
One accessory that helps with DSO viewing is a small collection of filters. They show more detail and structure than it’s possible to see without. Read more in our best filters for deep sky objects article.
Finally, note that 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 darkness of your sky has a greater impact on the number of DSOs you can see and the detail in which you can see them than pretty much anything else.
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.
Whether alt-azimuth, Dobsonian or German Equatorial, your mount needs to offer rigid stability when you are looking at an object. The last thing you want when viewing a tiny faint nebula is vibrations coming through a flimsy mount.
We’ve made sure that the recommended scopes in our review are supplied with quality mounts.
Best Deep Space Telescopes – Full Reviews
These are our detailed reviews of the four telescopes which meet the needs and budgets of most backyard astronomers wanting to specialize in observing deep space objects.
Budget Option: Orion SkyQuest XT6
6″ / 150mm
Orion’s SkyQuest XT6 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 6-inch diameter primary mirror allow you to view the brighter DSOs with some detail, such as the Orion Nebula and Andromeda Galaxy. Star clusters like the Pleiades look glorious, especially with a wide field of view eyepiece.
The telescope is easy to set up as it comes in two detachable parts – telescope and base – that are connected by the integrated springs. Even with limited experience, it only takes around 30 minutes to fully assemble.
These are some of our favorite deep space objects
You need to be aware that this scope 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. On the plus side, the ultra-stable Dobsonian base keeps the reflector optical tube in place and balanced for better viewing of distant celestial objects.
At this budget price, there’s no goto or tracking installed, so you’ll have to find and follow objects manually. While many of us love doing that, the downside of this Dob is it uses an EZ red dot finder, which is not at all useful for DSOs. Instead, you’ll want to upgrade to a magnifying finderscope like this one.
There’s one 25mm Plössl eyepiece supplied with the scope, which gives a magnification of 48x, but that’s it. So, again, you’ll want to at least add a Barlow lens to your toolkit and, ideally, another couple of eyepieces to give more viewing options.
This is an easy to use telescope and an obvious choice for DSO hunting on a limited budget (check here for today’s price), as long as you accept that it needs some upgrading of accessories to become a fully functional galaxy hunter.
- 6 inch mirror good for brighter DSOs
- Entry level price
- Stable & easy to setup
- Bulky to transport
- No electronic tracking
- Only a 25mm Plössl eyepiece supplied
Most Popular: Celestron NexStar 8SE
The NexStar 8se is a motor driven compound telescope with an 8-inch aperture. It’s design allows it to capture fine details from galaxies and other deep space objects in the night sky. The 8SE retails for around $1200 (see today’s price on Amazon).
The telescope’s single fork arm construction makes it easy to assemble and take down. It weighs only 16 pounds (7.25kg) so it’s no trouble to transport it to your favorite dark sky location.
SkyAlign makes it easy to set-up the telescope’s go-to and tracking functionality, using any three bright celestial objects (video showing how SkyAlign works).
Once your good to go you can select any object from the NexStar’s database of 40,000 objects, which includes many thousands of deep space objects. The computerized motor will slew the telescope to the object chosen and track it so it never falls out of the eyepiece.
Read our in-depth review of the NexStar 8SE
There are two factors that let an otherwise great scope down. The first is the cheap red-dot finder. Perhaps Celestron decided they could get away with it because of the computerized tracking but, even so, this is a disappointment.
The second area to watch out for is power. The computerized tracking can run on batteries, but not for very long. Anyone purchasing from the SE range will soon discover they need an alternate power supply, like this powertank.
The scope also comes with just a single 25mm eyepiece, giving 85x magnification. You’ll want to add to this for improved seeing choices – see our telescope eyepiece guides for inspiration.
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. This is the top end of what we’d use for deep space observing, but you can enjoy planetary observing with this telescope too.
The primary 8-inch primary mirror in this celestron is a decent size for seeing many deep space objects. Its limiting stellar magnitude is 14, so you will see a lot of galaxies and nebula with this thing. And, with resolution of 0.69 arcseconds, there’s decent detail to be seen too.
The NexStar 8SE is a great deep sky telescope. It packs 8 inches of aperture into a short, transportable tube with a computerized go-to motor. This is the best option for amateur astronomers who want to balance expense and functionality, which is why it’s so popular.
- Big database of DSOs
- Easy to use go-to & tracking
- Easy to move
- Short battery life
- Cheap finderscope
- Only one eyepiece
Huge Dobsonian: Orion XT10g
10″ / 254mm
The Orion SkyQuest XT10g is a rare thing in the world of telescopes: a fully motorized Go-To Dobsonian reflector telescope. It’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. Its focal ratio is f/4.7, from a focal length of 1,200mm, which is perfect for achieving wide field views of galaxies.
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).
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. Rarely observed galaxies from the NGC come into view for owners of this scope, and details that are invisible to owners of 6″ scope are in plain sight in this eyepiece.
Accessories include okay-but-not-great eyepieces, a 28mm DeepView and 12.5mm illuminated Plössl, providing 43x and 96x magnification, respectively. The finder is a cheap red-dot type, but motorized tracking makes replacing it with something better less essential.
See widefield eyepieces reviewed – ideal for deep space objects
As you might expect, this is not a cheap scope, but it is great value. Expect to pay around $1,400 – just $200 more than the Nexstar 8SE – check today’s price by clicking here.
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.
Since this telescope is motorized, you’ll need a 12V DC power supply, which is something to keep in mind. However, it still operates as a regular Dob would if there’s no power source available.
This is not a light telescope, the tube alone weighs almost 30 lbs and the base adds another 40 lbs. These are not pieces you’d want to have to carry often or for any distance.
Fundamentally, this 10 inch light bucket is one of the best telescopes available for deep space object hunters. This aperture with full go-to and tracking functionality for this price is impressive. If you have the funds and a love of galaxy hunting, you’ll be hard pressed to find better.
- Full goto & tracking
- Easy assembly
- Big mirror and fast focal ratio
- Power supply not included
- Supplied eyepieces not great
- Very heavy and bulky
Perfect for Deep Space?: Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100
The Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100 is an 11″ compound telescope in the Schmidt-Cassegrain style. If you have the budget, this is the perfect combination of aperture, size and usability for hunting nebula and galaxies.
The Deluxe 1100 has a bigger aperture than the XT10g, above, but its major benefit is its 24″ tube, just half the size of the Dob but with more than double the focal length. All of which is why you should expect to pay around $3500 for this scope (check today’s price) making it oue most expensive telescope for deep sky astronomy.
This top of the range computerized telescope comes with Celestron’s best optics installed. As you’d expect, the design is one of a correcting plate lens with internal mirrors which correct for aberrations and curvature. You’ll see tremendous clarity of detail all the way to the field edge.
The large mirror comes with premium coatings to improve image quality, so you should also expect to see more detail in brighter nebulae and galaxies, like Andromeda galaxy Orion Nebula than you ever have before. It will reveal celestial bodies to magnitude 15, good enough to find galaxies in the NGC and beyond which are hidden from most backyard astronomers.
The computerized tracking includes GPS alignment, which is a useful step on from the NexStar 8SE because the telescope knows where it is! The benefit being that user input errors on time and location are eradicated. The computerized hand control also ‘hibernates’, meaning it remembers its previous star alignment, so no need to do it every time you go outside.
Like the NexStar above, all of this technology requires additional power – batteries alone are not enough to meaningfully run the CPC1100.
Astrophotography is possible with the addition of the pricey HD Pro Wedge. Thankfully, the computerized system is already setup for all-star polar alignment and programmable periodic error correction to help capture that perfect deep sky image.
The telescope body rests in dual fork arm mount. This is a distinct (and required) improvement on the single fork from the NexStar SE models on this list, and lends the 1100 CPC StarBright 11″ telescope the stability such a beefy model needs as it slews around the sky on its computerised altazimuth mount.
Although it’s distinctly less bulky than the Dob, it is not lighter! Weighing in at 84 lbs means it is not physically possible to move this around as a single unit. It can be moved in sections but is still best done with a helper.
The database supplied has over 40,000 items stored in it. The Celestron CPC 1100 is one of the few models which can actually deliver views of all of them.
If you are looking for the ultimate deep space telescope and have $4k to spend getting it, then the Deluxe 1100 CPC may be the answer to your prayers.
- Huge mirror in a short body
- Simple to set up
- Easy object location & tracking
- Additional power required
- Needs separate wedge for astrophotography
- Big budget
These stargazing masterpieces give us the means to explore glorious deep space objects like galaxies, star clusters and nebulae from our own backyard.
We’ve looked at the budget model 6″ Dob all the way to the magnificent Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100, which may just be the perfect deep space telescope for the backyard astronomer.
As we all know, you get what you pay for, so your budget – whether $300 or $3000 – will determine how faint, distant and detailed you can go with your deep sky explorations.
Last update on 2020-06-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API