Proving the Cosmos Needn’t Cost the Earth
We know that it’s all very scientific, but the feeling you get seeing the granular detail of the moon’s imperfections, nebulae sprawling through the night like ink in water, comets, Jupiter’s cloud belts, Saturn’s rings...It’s nothing short of pure magic.
Telescopes help us satisfy a prehistoric curiosity. A curiosity whose conception coincides with the first inklings of our own self-awareness, our search for reason, for god(s), but this eye into the darkling heavens can come with a hefty price tag.
Telescopes can cost beyond $10,000, the extremely powerful ones at least, but there are as well a plethora of realistically priced options currently available too.
They may not cost more than your car, but they’re still more than capable of giving you an otherworldly look into the cosmos, and we’re going to show you some.
We’ve compiled a ranked list featuring five of the very best telescopes under $1000 you can find. We’ve reviewed each of them and composed an in-depth buyer’s guide and FAQ section to answer any curiosities not existential or cosmic in nature.
No time to read our whole guide?
No problem. Here’s our favorite pick right here.
OUR TOP PICK
With the 130SLT, Celestron is bringing professional, scientific-grade telescopes into the American home.
This thing is visually stunning in itself, not to mention the ridiculous amount of cosmic treasures it can unearth.
The 130SLT is a computerized telescope which basically means it can automatically guide you to any celestial body registered in its directory.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this might include a couple of hundred things at most, the famous stuff, but guess what...it has tracking information for 40,000 different astral marvels in its database.
If that sounds a little overwhelming, we understand, and so does Celestron. Another computerized feature is called Sky Tour.
It senses your time and location to automatically guide you to the most prominent and interesting stellar objects in your portion of sky.
It has a 130mm aperture which is perfect for a reflector telescope. It gathers plenty enough light to see even faint celestials and stellar events, and set up couldn’t be easier as well.
Celestron’s proprietary SkyAlign feature automatically calibrates the 130SLT after you place any three bright objects in its sight.
The only minutely bad thing we have to say about this scope is that it works better with a few extra Celestron purchases, and you’ll need to replace the factory eyepieces for maximum acuity.
- Computerized element can guide you to any of 40,000 logged astral phenomena
- Point it at three bright objects and it automatically sets focus
- At 11.4lbs, it’s fairly portable; great for camping trips
- SkyTour guides you through the galaxy
- 130mm aperture is ideal for Newtonian reflectors
- Easy to set up
- Finder scope has a laser pointer
- Works best with additional purchases
- We recommend replacing the eyepieces
The Z10 is a Dobsonian masterpiece, meaning it’s massive and eats up tons of light providing you with crisp, bright shots of deep space objects.
It’s at the very top of the $1000 budget but for the aperture you get, it’s worth every penny.
Dobsonians come in two parts, the reflector scope and the base. Setup can be a little tricky at first but once you’ve got the knack, it’s an easy process.
You can always uncouple the scope and the base for loading into vehicles and heading to all your favorite stargazing spots.
Besides the ridiculously large 10” aperture, the aspect of the Z10 to get excited about is the shaping of the mirror.
It’s a parabolic design rather than spherical, meaning that all the light it soaks up meets at one focal point inside the scope, leading to much crisper images.
The Z10 comes with one eyepiece for extra wide-angle viewing and one for deeper magnification for really nuzzling in there among the stars.
Much like our number one pick, you’re best off replacing these to get the best from the scope, but the dual-speed Crayford focuser is fantastic.
- Large 10” aperture
- Parabolic mirrors provide better images
- Comes with two sizes of eyepiece
- Fairly portable (but you may need some help)
- Comes with a laser collimator
- Easily adjusted side bearing position
- Movement is buttery smooth
- Dual-speed Crayford focuser allows precision
- Built-in cooling fan
- May be bigger than you’re looking for
- Nearing the very top of the budget
- May be difficult to put together at first
The StarBlast 6i is similar in design to our number one pick, and they’re just pennies apart in price, but there are a few key differences.
The Orion is also a computerized telescope with a detailed directory of celestial locations; however, you’re limited to 14,000 objects in this case.
Nowhere near as many as the Celestron, but still enough to keep you gawking up there your whole life.
The next major difference is physical. Although the scope is a little bigger, taking the base into account, the Orion is much smaller than the Celestron.
In fact, it’s designed for use on tabletops. The circular base looks sturdy, but you’ll have to find a table that’s equally well made to prevent shifting during use.
Aperture-wise, you’re looking at 6”, which is 150mm, so you actually get more aperture for your money with StarBlast 6i.
There are other factors, but ultimately, this means the Orion is going to suck in more light, illuminating the image to a greater degree.
Not only are you going to see brighter images with the 6i, but the parabolic mirror is going to keep all those planets and stars extra sharp, especially if you replace the included Sirius Plossl eyepieces.
- Parabolic mirror
- 150mm aperture
- Unique pre-assembled tabletop base
- Computerized star finder function can lead you to 14,000 stellar objects
- Portable as long as you bring a sturdy table along with you
- Comes with two Sirius Plossl eyepieces
- It would be easier to use and more stable on a tripod
- Upgraded eyepieces will make the most of this scope’s abilities
- Database isn’t as large as Celestron’s
GSkyer has provided us with the quintessential entry-level telescope.
If you’re curious about astronomy but not sure if you’ll enjoy or use a telescope that much, this one is easy to use and insanely well priced for the quality.
As you’d expect, this is a really small telescope. Weighing only 6.49lbs, you can take this thing with you literally anywhere, and with a 120X maximum magnification, you should be able to see most of the popular objects.
Refractor telescopes are normally very expensive because the contrast and sharpness of image they provide is unmatched, making this scope seem like an even better deal.
Unfortunately, though, you are more likely to experience chromatic aberrations.
Including a sturdy aluminum frame, a carry case, two eyepieces, and a 3X Barlow enhancer lens, this scope would make a particularly great gift for any children with a burgeoning fascination with the great unknown.
You can even hook up your smartphone to the lens for some epic astrophotography.
- Awesome price tag for a refractor
- Portable (comes with a carry case)
- Comes with a phone mount for astrophotography
- Coated lenses
- Most popular scope on our list
- Suitable for kids of around 4 years old (with some help obviously)
- Not very powerful
- Your curiosity may outgrow this scope’s abilities pretty fast
- Can be tricky to set up at first
We’ve gone cyclical, ending where we began - with Celestron, only this time, it’s their refractor design that’s taking us on a trip through space.
If you liked the idea of the GSkyer, but you’re feeling a tad more dedicated, this scope is the perfect next step up.
Refractors don’t gather as much light as reflectors, but thanks to the high transmission XLT optical coated lens and the 102mm aperture, you’re still going to get some wonderfully illuminated images of the cosmos.
Where our penultimate pick had phone mounting capabilities, the Explorer DX has StarSense, a patented program you can run on your phone that basically acts like their more advanced StarTour technology.
Simply mount your phone, launch the app, and it uses star clusters to analyze time and location, guiding you to all the popular visible celestials.
The mount is really easy to set up and provides very smooth movement for precision star finding. It doesn’t always completely dampen vibration, but it settles quickly into some very sharp images.
- XLT optical coated lens
- Pretty impressive aperture for a refractor
- Star Sense app can guide you through the galaxy via your phone
- You can also use the mount for astrophotography
- Perfect for passionate beginners
- Good price
- May suffer chromatic aberrations
Best Telescope Under $1000 Buying Guide
Telescopes are incredibly complex bits of gear.
If you're completely new to optics, the confusion is inevitable, but stick with this buyer’s guide and we’ll have all the basics covered in no time.
Types of Telescope
First of all, it’s good to have a basic understanding of the different kinds of telescopes: what they’re good at, what they’re not so good at, pricing etcetera.
The two main categories are reflector and refractor telescopes, but Dobsonian is a subset of reflectors that you should know about too.
Regular reflectors are known as Newtonian telescopes. They’re the most commonly available kind of scope because of their cost-effectiveness, ease of use, and quality. They use a primary and secondary mirror to reflect light and create the images.
Reflector telescopes are fantastic because they’re basically light sponges. They soak it all up and provide you with incredibly bright images even through the black depths of deep space.
It’s not all good news, though. Normally open telescopes, meaning their mirrors are somewhat exposed, reflectors require a lot more maintenance than refractors. You’ll need to clean the mirrors semi-frequently to maintain optimal image quality.
You also have to collimate reflector scopes before each star spying session. Collimation basically involves lining all the optics up into a unified central position.
Dobsonian telescopes or Dobs are essentially massive reflector-style scopes that mount to a large base rather than a tripod. They’re often referred to as light buckets because they come with insanely large apertures.
Common mirror sizes include 8, 10, and 12 inches. Due to these enormous apertures, they can carry quite the price tag, but they’re actually great value for money, relatively speaking. For instance, a refractor telescope with the same aperture as a Dob would cost far more.
Refractor or Keplerian telescopes have that classic design that normally comes to mind when you think about telescopes. They tend to provide more stable optics than reflectors, but they don’t have as impressive light soaking qualities, leading to dimmer images.
Refractors are known for their pristine contrast and acuity, making them ideal for astrophotography with phones and cameras, but they’re much more susceptible to chromatic aberrations.
Focal length is measured in millimeters and describes the distance from the middle of the objective lens or primary mirror to the point where the image is presented.
Generally speaking, the shorter the focal length, the squatter the image you can see. This makes shorter lengths more suited to reflectors, Dobs especially, and longer lengths better for refractors.
Aperture is the most important factor to consider when buying a telescope for astronomy. It’s far more indicative of quality than magnification power.
Aperture is the length of the diameter of the primary mirror or objective lens. The larger the aperture, the more light it collects and the brighter and clearer images will be. We’d recommend getting the most impressive aperture you can afford.
Focal ratio is a more holistic representation of a telescope’s overall performance.
It describes the relationship between focal length and aperture. To find it, simply divide the aperture by the focal length.
Typically, larger focal ratios mean higher-performing telescopes. You can expect sharper images and greater magnification.
Magnification isn’t as important as you might think, especially when it comes to viewing very distant objects with clarity.
A lesser magnification is often able to provide a smaller but more defined image as the further you zoom in, the harder it becomes for a telescope to focus.
Ironically, what high magnification settings are good for is observing close-by objects like the moon. You can hone right in on the granular textural details of the surface.
As you’ve seen from our list, unless you settle on a Dobsonian, there are a couple of different bases to consider.
The most common stand for a telescope, especially refractors and most small reflectors, is a tripod. Tripods are awesome bases because they’re lightweight, stable, portable, and can be adjusted to stand on uneven ground.
You may also come across tabletop bases. These are great for providing very smooth movement, but they rely on the stability of the table, are less portable, and need a completely flat surface.
Hyperbolic Vs Parabolic Vs Spherical
These are all different shapes of mirror used in a reflector telescope. Hyperbolic is the best for directing light towards the eyepiece, but reflectors with this kind of mirror are rare and expensive.
Parabolic mirrors are amazing, more readily available, and direct light into a single focal point. Spherical mirrors are the cheapest and easiest to produce. They file the light into multiple points which leads to dimmer images with a greater chance of distortion.
Eyepieces and Focusers
Most telescopes will come with two eyepieces and a focuser, but the quality of these factory components isn’t always top-notch, often not able to keep up with the abilities of the scopes themselves.
If you want to make separate purchases to improve a scope, we recommend that you start with these components.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I look for when buying a telescope?
No matter what kind of telescope you’re looking at, the most important feature and biggest indicator of quality is the aperture.
For reflecting telescopes, the next most important thing is the mirror shape. For both reflectors and refractors, you should then work out the focal ratio.
After that comes magnification, portability, and special features.
What is the best telescope to buy for a beginner?
A cheap one will be best as you don’t know if they’re going to enjoy the experience.
It should be as easy to use as possible, perhaps augmented with computerized guidance systems or apps, and most of all, be loads of fun to use.
Our fourth pick is one of the best entry-level scopes around.
What size telescope do I need to see the flag on the moon?
A big one, like...a really, really big one. The flag is only 4 feet tall.
To make that out, you’d need an optical wavelength telescope with a 200-meter diameter, which would be ludicrous.
Why can’t you see Neptune or Pluto without a telescope?
Neptune is further away than any of the other planets and thus appears quite dim, requiring a telescope and dark sky for location.
Even Uranus can be hard to spot as its incandescence is similar to that of a normal star.
Pluto is even further away from us, and its surface area is only fractionally larger than Russia, so it’s impossible to see without a powerful telescope.
We’re confident that at least one of our top five super telescopes will be right for you.
Astronomy isn’t the cheapest hobby in the world, but it’s certainly one of the most rewarding. Go on, treat yourself. Get cheek to cheek with the stars and up to your knees in nebulae.
Put your pupils on some planets. You won’t regret it. That’s a promise!