How to See Galaxies With Your Telescope
When there are more celestial objects than we can count, why stop exploring the night sky at the Moon and bright planets? Telescopes were designed to be your ship into the universe and exploring observable galaxies is an exciting journey in the hobby.
If this is your first time using your telescope, check out our tips for beginners for advice on getting started.
Why Are Galaxies Hard to Observe Through a Telescope?
Galaxies are some of the most distant objects we can observe. While most planets, stars, and nebulae are usually pretty nearby to us, we can observe galaxies that are millions of light-years away. Each galaxy is like our own, filled with hundreds of billions of stars. Although we can't resolve the stars individually because they're so far, we can see the collective glow from those billions of stars through a telescope.
Unlike planets and bright stars, galaxies fade out as they expand. Even if a galaxy is bright, the most you might typically see is its core with a 4-inch telescope. Don’t be discouraged though, this is where the fun really begins.
As you get started in observing galaxies, a great starting place is its brightness. From there, you can study its shape and the objects around it. Using astrophotography apps like the Celestron SkyPortal app can help direct you towards what's in the sky from your location.
How to Improve Galaxy Viewing Through Your Telescope
- Bortle zones - darker skies
- Increase power - eyepieces
- Invest in a larger aperture telescope
Finding dark sky locations near you can greatly improve what you can see in the night sky. You can use dark sky maps to find the nearest location to you. Dark sky locations are categorized by Bortle Zones ranked by light pollution from things like city lights to traffic in the area. The scale is numbered 1-9, with the number 1 being the darkest of dark skies and the number 9 being the brightest like Times Square in New York!
Increasing Your Telescope’s Power
Eyepieces are a great tool to maximize your telescope’s light capturing abilities. You’ll want to choose an eyepiece that is a good fit for your size telescope. Buying the highest magnitude eyepiece isn’t always the best solution because, depending on your telescope’s aperture, it can be too powerful and produce a blurry view.
Larger Aperture Telescopes
A 4-inch telescope is a great beginner telescope to start exploring the night sky. As you learn more about the possibilities of the night sky, you may look into investing in a larger aperture telescope. With professional observatories being the best choice, classic telescopes like Dobsonians can also produce some stunning details. A great starting point when investing in a large-aperture telescope is one with an aperture greater than 8 inches.
Some telescopes that are categorized as smart telescopes because they automate your observing experience at the touch of a button using your smartphone or tablet! Some great options to choose from are Unistellar’s eVscope and Vaonis’ STELLINA. The eVscope provides an eyepiece to look through that gives you a live processed image! Another popular smart telescope is Vaonis’ STELLINA for its ability to live stream the celestial object of your choice as it stacks on your phone or tablet. STELLINA can connect up to 20 devices, making it a shareable experience with family and or friends.
Although these smart telescopes won't give you an optical view through the eyepiece, they will show you a lot more detail than a traditional eyepiece can because it's stacking and processing an image automatically for you.
One of the best parts about these smart telescopes is that you can save the final processed image to your phone and/or tablet to share on social media. Don't forget to tag us or use the hashtag #opteam for a chance to be featured!
What About Filters?
We don't recommend using any filters for visual observing for galaxy viewing unless you live under heavy light pollution. If you live under heavy light pollution, a moon & skyglow filter may give you better results.
Types of Galaxies to Observe
Check out our astronomy events series to learn more about what constellations are up in the sky in your hemisphere and during what months. The best time to see galaxies is typically during early spring into summer, when most galaxies are at their brightest!
What Galaxies Can I See with My Telescope?
- M31 - Andromeda Galaxy (fall)
- M33 - Triangulum Galaxy (fall)
- M81/M82 - Bode's & Cigar Galaxies (best in winter, but visible most of the year)
- Milky Way Core (summer)
- M101 - Pinwheel Galaxy (spring)
For more inspiration on your next clear night, check out these deep space objects for beginners for ideas.
Let us know what your favorite observable galaxy is in the comments below!