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Best telescopes for kids: Top picks for seeing the moon, stars, planets & more

Best telescopes for kids: Image shows young boy using telescope near tents
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What are the best telescopes for kids you can buy right now? Well, here at Space.com, we've gathered the best of the best, so you don't have to go searching around. The great news is that there are many perfectly decent options at about $100 or less, which is great for those that aren't sure if young, budding astronomers will keep their new hobby up.

Rugged and portable, the best telescopes that suit children will be able to withstand the odd bump and night away camping. Better still, they're easy to set up and don't have lengthy alignment procedures that can put some youngsters off. So look below for some of the most suitable stargazing instruments you can buy.

Of course, telescopes are only one side of the coin with the best binoculars for kids also being a viable option. For those looking for something more significant, we also have guides to help you choose the best telescopes and even a way to save money by scoping out the best telescope deals.

Telescope glossary

Aperture: Diameter of the primary mirror or lens, which allows a telescope to collect light.
Field of view: Area of sky visible through the eyepiece.
Focal length: A telescope's tube length. Short focal lengths offer a wide field of view and a small image.
Focal ratio: Also known as the telescope's speed. Small focal ratios provide lower magnifications, wide field of view and a brighter image.
Magnification: Relationship between the telescope's optical system and the eyepiece. 

When searching for the best telescopes for kids there are a few aspects we need to consider. First off, we need to establish what kind of subject our budding young astronomers want to observe — this will allow us to determine what kind of telescope to purchase, whether it be a refractor, reflector or catadioptric telescope. Catadioptrics (a hybrid between refractor and reflector telescopes) come in two forms: Schmidt-Cassegrain and Maksutov-Cassegrain. 

For those who want to observe high magnification targets such as the moon or planets, a refractor is a great telescope. Small, lightweight and inexpensive they are also simple to operate. However, observing fainter objects, like nebulae or distant galaxies requires more light-gathering capabilities and therefore a reflector is likely a better choice. Catadioptric telescopes can often be more user-friendly, are more modern and often computerized and are great for viewing a wide range of objects. 

However, they are often more expensive and if your young astronomer is just starting out, this extra cost may be a little too steep. But you can find some in our best beginner telescopes guide. Some children don't always take to astronomy as we would hope, so our recommendation would be to stick to cheaper (but still reliable) models.

Of course, if you do want to want to spend a little more money or a little more time looking at other telescopes, then you can always check out our best telescopes guide. Don't forget about checking out some of the best binoculars too, they are a cheaper alternative and still offer great views of the night sky.

If you are just looking for the best telescopes for kids though, or you're looking for one of the top telescope deals, read on below.


Celestron FirstScope Telescope

(Image credit: Celestron)
This is great for on-the-go astronomers with little hands

Specifications

Optical design: Reflector
Mount type: Dobsonian
Aperture: 2.99" (76 mm)
Focal length: 11.81" (300 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 180x
Lowest useful magnification: 11x
Supplied eyepieces: 4 mm, 20 mm
Weight: 4.5 lbs. (2.04 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Portable
+
Robust build
+
Easy wide-angle views

Reasons to avoid

-
Finderscope not supplied

What we love about Celestron's FirstScope is that it's easy to use and pack away. There's also no need to set it up since it already comes assembled straight out of the box: a fantastic feature for the impatient youngster and parents who aren't keen on assembling a telescope regularly. 

The FirstScope is portable, weighing in at 4.5 lbs. (2.04 kilograms), while the build is of good quality despite the low cost. As a prime example, the instrument's plastics are not glossy and cheap compared to other telescopes within a similar price range.

The Celestron FirstScope is ideal for little hands since the tube can be pushed to the desired target with ease. Meanwhile, this tabletop reflector is fully equipped for good night sky observations: two basic eyepieces — 4 mm and 20 mm — are thrown into the package, along with a basic edition of Starry Night astronomy software. An excellent download for young skywatchers wanting to learn more about the universe.

Although there are screws to affix a finderscope to the tube, this FirstScope doesn't ship with one. A finderscope helps navigate the night sky and can be helpful for the budding astronomer. Without this, there's quite a bit of trial and error to align the telescope with the chosen subject. To alay this frustration for young stargazers, we would also recommend adding a red dot finder to aid hopping between stars.

With an aperture of 2.99 inches (76 mm), skywatchers can pick out bright solar system targets, including the moon, Venus and Jupiter, as well as luminous deep-sky targets like star clusters thanks to the optical system's fast focal ratio of f/3.95 that offers a wide field of view. 

With the supplied eyepieces, which work with the optics to provide magnifications of 75x and 15x, astronomers won't get hugely close-up sights of targets — something we discovered when we turned our attention to the moon. However, we were able to pick out craters and, despite a view that isn't massively pin-sharp due to a loose focuser, young skywatchers are sure to be delighted with what this telescope can offer.  

Hopping over to Jupiter, which dazzled at magnitude -1.9, views are basic but observers can pick out the moons of Jupiter comfortably using the FirstScope. Io, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa appear as bright points of light on either side of the gas giant's equator. Still, it is challenging to detect Jupiter's atmospheric bands and belts without using planetary filters. Meanwhile, Saturn is seen as a small, faint and fuzzy object, yet we could just about make out the gas giant's rings and yellow coloration with a steady eye. 

If you want a problem-free skywatching experience for a casual viewer then the Celestron FirstScope is ideal. To get the biggest bang for your buck, we'd highly encourage accessorizing with a finderscope, eyepieces that respect the optical limits of 180x and 11x and filters.


Celestron Inspire 80AZ tube

(Image credit: Celestron)
A reliable beginner instrument from a trusted brand, at an affordable price

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Mount type: Alt-azimuth
Aperture: 3.15" (80 mm)
Focal length: 35.43" (900 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 189x
Lowest useful magnification: 11x
Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 20 mm
Weight: 16.98 lbs. (7.70 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Offers more over most beginner packages
+
Easy assembly
+
Very good quality build
+
Portable

Reasons to avoid

-
Hard to track targets
-
Slight color-fringing in optics 

The Celestron Inspire 80AZ is a classic telescope that's both simple to use and assemble. If you know a kid who is happy to spend hours under the night sky, learning their way around without the aid of technology, then we thoroughly recommend this well-built instrument.

This refractor makes use of an alt-azimuth mount and a panning handle for fine movements that allow the observer to lock onto a target accurately: some mounts cause telescopes to jump from one positioning extreme to another, but we're pleased to discover that we can make incremental adjustments to the tube's orientation with ease. Patience is required by particularly young observers, so we recommend supervision in helping them to navigate with the Inspire 80AZ. 

The Celestron Inspire 80AZ is supplied with a tripod, two eyepieces with focal lengths of 20 mm and 10 mm (offering magnifications of 45x and 90x), a red LED flashlight to preserve night vision, star diagonal, StarPointer Pro red-dot finderscope and Celestron's Starry Night Basic Edition Software. If you know that your young observer will be looking to share images of their astronomical finds with friends or may want to try out basic astrophotography, a smartphone adapter is thrown into the bundle.

It's not perfect though, and there's a little chromatic aberration (color fringing) hovering around the chosen targets, but overall it's not something to worry about too much for the price point. We were happy with the telescope's clear views of planets and stars. Impressively, Jupiter looks particularly radiant, with some of its belts visible. Uranus the ice giant is also identifiable as a faint star in the field of view.

The 3.15-inch (80 mm) aperture made short work of picking out starbirth at the center of the Orion Nebula (Messier 42), while magnified pin-sharp views of the Hyades star cluster in Taurus dazzled through the optical system. 

Given Celestron's decision to create a basic telescope for the beginner, the Celestron Starry Night Basic Edition Software is on a CD, making the Inspire 80AZ a touch 'old-fashioned' compared to instruments that make use of downloadable smartphone apps. Nevertheless, it'll suit skywatchers who are uncomfortable using advanced technology, making for a fuss-free observing experience. 

The Inspire range is also available in apertures of 2.76 inches (70mm) and 3.14 inches (100 mm). If you're looking for an instrument that will take a few years to outgrow, the Inspire 80AZ is highly recommended.


Orion SpaceProbe II telescope

(Image credit: Orion)

3. Orion SpaceProbe II 76

A well equipped telescope the whole family can enjoy

Specifications

Optical design: Reflector
Mount type: Alt-azimuth
Aperture: 2.99" (76 mm)
Focal length: 27.56" (700 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 152x
Lowest useful magnification: 11x
Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 25 mm
Weight: 7.05 lbs. (3.2 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Good views for young skywatchers
+
Good build
+
Excellent range of accessories

Reasons to avoid

-
Views are not pin-sharp
-
Assembly is a little fiddly

A reflector is often advised as a first telescope since the design promotes excellent light-gathering prowess for a low investment. The Orion SpaceProbe II is no exception, collecting 60% more light over most beginner instruments with apertures of 2.36 inches (60 mm). 

The Orion SpaceProbe II provides an aperture of 2.99 inches (76 mm), which — just like the Celestron FirstScope — will reveal the solar system, lunar surface and a selection of bright deep-sky targets up close. Weighing in at 7.05 lbs. (3.2 kilograms) the SpaceProbe is lighter than Meade's StarPro, which makes it a perfect grab-and-go telescope for kids: it's light enough to take on a camping trip or for quick observing sessions in the backyard. 

While it's lighter than the StarPro, the SpaceProbe II doesn't suffer in quality, particularly since its optical tube assembly is made of steel. Additionally, for slightly more budget, this reflector does come much better equipped: 10 mm and 25 mm Kellner eyepieces, red dot finder and a moon map are included in the package. If you're looking to spend slightly more, then several packages come with an extra planisphere, red flashlight and 2x Barlow lens. The immediate setup provides magnifications of 28x and 70x, but there is the potential to magnify up to 152x with the right accessories.

Fortunately, the SpaceProbe II comes with a red dot finder making star hopping easy even when stargazing in skies with a little light pollution. Adults will need to help young children with aligning the finderscope as well as building the telescope up: attaching the tripod legs to the alt-azimuth mount is a touch fiddly.  

Orion's SpaceProbe II offers wide-field views, making it ideal for more diffuse objects like bright nebulas and star clusters, however, we find that this reflector performs best with lunar and planetary observations. 

A word of warning though: due to the telescope's spherical mirror, views are not pin-sharp but — despite this — are sure to please young skywatchers wanting to get a closer look at craters on the moon and small, fair views of Saturn. For any kind of extra detail on chosen solar system targets, we recommend furnishing the telescope with additional eyepieces and filters.

While the Orion SpaceProb II is suitable for the whole family, it's especially suited to skywatchers that are 10 years of age or below. It would also work well for those on a budget who are new to skywatching and aren't yet sure if it will be a long-term hobby.


The Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 telescope outside with a backdrop of clouds

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)
An affordable, versatile and optically impressive scope for serious beginners

Specifications

Optical design: Newtonian reflector
Mount type: German equatorial (EQ2)
Aperture: 5.1-inch/130 mm
Focal length: f/6.9
Highest useful magnification: x260
Lowest useful magnification: x36
Supplied eyepieces: 0.39-inch/10 mm (30x) and 0.98-inch/25 mm (75x)
Weight: 27.8 lbs/12.6 kg

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable equatorial mount
+
Good optics

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy to transport
-
Mount lacks precision

The Explorer 130 EQ2 has a steeper learning curve than some of its rivals, so it is better suited to older children with supervision by adults with some knowledge of the night sky. Because of its size and weight, it will primarily be for backyard stargazing. 

Because it comes with an equatorial mount, it is easy to track objects as they appear to move across the sky when aligned to the Earth's axis. Because of the alignment, it's easy to follow objects near the Ecliptic (the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun). 

It also has a wide aperture, one of the widest at this price point, to take in lots of light, and good quality optics for exploring bright deep sky objects. It is supplied with two eyepieces and a 2x Barlow lens. The f/7 aperture allows it to get to high magnifications with sharp views. In our hands-on review we could see reasonably sharp views of the Jovian System, with Jupiter's moons easily visible and Saturn's rings also looked impressive.


The Encalife SVBONY 501P 70 against a white wall backdrop

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)
Ideal for a child who wants to observe the moon from different locations

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Mount type: Altazimuth
Aperture: 2.75-inch/70 mm
Focal length: 15.74-inch/400 mm
Highest useful magnification: Not specified
Lowest useful magnification: Not specified
Supplied eyepieces: 0.78-inch/20 mm (20x)
Weight: 6.5lbs/2.95kg

Reasons to buy

+
Useful focal length for moon observations
+
Travel-friendly
+
Affordable

Reasons to avoid

-
Poor quality tripod
-
Only one eyepiece

If you have a child that is interested in looking at the Moon, and perhaps Jupiter and it's moons, this is a good option without having to break the bank, although be mindful, as with other Encalife products, the price can fluctuate quite dramatically. We wouldn't pay more than $100 for this scope.

Compared to other models on this list, this is one of the most basic. It is a 2.75-inch refractor mounted on a small, portable and lightweight tripod. It is meant to be taken out and about to get good views of the moon, but that is about it.

Your child will get good views of the moon thanks to the 400mm focal length, but if they are serious about astronomy and want to develop their knowledge and interest over time, this model is somewhat limiting.

Everything neatly packs away in a lightweight travel bag and it is easy to set up and dismantle.


Celestron astromaster 70az telescope side profile view

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)
An inexpensive refractor suited toward beginners and children alike

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Mount type: Alt-azimuth
Aperture: 2.76" (70 mm)
Focal length: 3.54" (900 mm)
Highest useful magnification: 165x
Lowest useful magnification: 10x
Supplied eyepieces: 10 mm, 20 mm
Weight: 11 lbs. (5.0 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Good views of the solar system
+
Versatile, accepts accessories
+
Good overall build

Reasons to avoid

-
Cheaply made star diagonal

The Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ is a no-frills telescope that makes a good starter instrument for skywatchers aged seven years and up — particularly those who prefer not to stoop down to use a tabletop telescope. Some youngsters will need to be supervised while using the AstroMaster 70AZ.

Like many starter scopes, the AstroMaster 70AZ doesn't require any tools for setting up and comes with everything the skywatcher needs to kick-start a rewarding hobby, including 10 mm and 20 mm eyepieces, an erect star diagonal as well as a battery-operated red dot finderscope. 

A download of Starry Night Basic software is also included and features a database of 36,000 targets to explore, including printable sky maps, three-dimensional renderings of galaxies, exoplanets and stars. Whichever way skywatching pans out for your young astronomer — whether it's a passing phase or a lifelong passion — this refractor is a great option that doesn't break the bank.

During our review of the Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ we found there are more plastic features on the AstroMaster 70AZ than we'd like (the star diagonal feels particularly cheap), but given the low cost and good overall build, the telescope will last for many observation sessions to come — provided it's treated with care. It'll be able to withstand a few knocks, but be wary of giving this instrument to youngsters who are unlikely to respect the delicate optics.

The steel tripod can be adjusted to suit a majority of heights for a comfortable observing experience, while the optical tube assembly provide good magnified views of the solar system, star clusters and bright naked-eye nebulas like the Orion Nebula (Messier 42). 

During our handling of this telescope, we are pleased to find that the alt-azimuth control operates smoothly, with no stiffness. And, when the time came to lock onto a chosen target, the pan handle tightens sufficiently to prevent any sagging of the tube. A feature that ensures young skywatchers can take in the views without the need to continually re-adjust the positioning.

Thanks to the multi-coated optics, we achieved bright, clear views of the moon, Jupiter and Venus. With sufficient fine tuning of the focuser, we were able to bring moon craters, the Jovian moons, a hint of Jupiter's cloud bands and a Venusian phase into clear view. As with many entry-level refractor telescopes there's a certain amount of color fringing, and we noted purple-blue tints appearing around the brightest targets, but it doesn't spoil observation.

Given the telescope's 2.76-inch (70 mm) aperture and useful magnifications of 10x and 165x, the optics can be pushed that touch further without compromising the image quality. We recommend looking to invest in a selection of eyepieces to show your young skywatcher more dazzling sights of the universe. 

How we test the best telescopes for kids

In order to guarantee you’re getting honest, up-to-date recommendations on the best telescopes to buy here at Space.com we make sure to put every telescope through a rigorous review to fully test each instrument. Each telescope is reviewed based on a multitude of aspects, from its construction and design, to how well it functions as an optical instrument and its performance in the field.

Each telescope is carefully tested by either our expert staff or knowledgeable freelance contributors who know their subject areas in depth. This ensures fair reviewing is backed by personal, hands-on experience with each telescope and is judged based on its price point, class and destined use. For example, comparing a 10-inch Dobsonian to a 2.76-inch refractor wouldn’t be appropriate though each telescope might be the best pick in their own class.

We look at how easy it is to set up, whether computerized or motorized mounts are reliable and quiet, if a telescope comes with appropriate eyepieces and tripods and also make suggestions if a particular telescope would benefit from any additional kit to give you the best experience possible.

With complete editorial independence, Space.com are here to ensure you get the best buying advice on telescopes, whether you should purchase an instrument or not, making our buying guides and reviews reliable and transparent.

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Gemma Lavender
Content Director, Space.com

Gemma is content director of Space.com, Live Science, science and space magazines How It Works and All About Space, history magazines All About History and History of War as well as Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) kids education brand Future Genius. She is the author of several books including "Quantum Physics in Minutes", "Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manual to the Large Hadron Collider" and "Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manual to the Milky Way". She holds a degree in physical sciences, a Master’s in astrophysics and a PhD in computational astrophysics. She was elected as a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2011. Previously, she worked for Nature's journal, Scientific Reports, and created scientific industry reports for the Institute of Physics and the British Antarctic Survey. She has covered stories and features for publications such as Physics World, Astronomy Now and Astrobiology Magazine.

With contributions from
  • rod
    A few notes from me. Buy a telescope that uses 1.25 inch focuser or 2 inch size. These are expensive but provide much better views than focusers that work with 0.965 inch eyepieces. A big problem for many folks using telescopes - the ability to locate a target in the sky and view in the eyepiece. Over the years I see this as a common frustration with first time telescope buyers. You can solve issues here with Intelliscope or GoTo scope technology but these systems are usually - very expensive. Refractor telescope is easier to work with vs. a reflector that needs periodic collimation. A primary mirror size of 80-mm or more can be very good. On my refractor model (90-mm), I use a Telrad targeting device that attaches to the tube. Very economical targeting device using two, AA batteries with a bulls eye-ring system displayed like a fighter pilot view in the cockpit. Easy to adjust centering then point into the night sky using a good star chart showing your desired target. Look in the eyepiece - and your target is there :)
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