Best telescopes for seeing planets in 2023

Man using one of the best telescopes for seeing planets set against a night sky
(Image credit: Getty)

Why use one of the best telescopes for seeing planets? Our planetary neighborhood is a fascinating place, with each world exhibiting its own unique identity.

Whether it's the phases of Venus, great storms in the Jovian cloud tops, or the enchanting rings of Saturn, there's so much variety to enjoy. While the planets are difficult to see, using one of the best telescopes for seeing planets will show some commonalities. Namely, they're all very small in the night sky but are relatively bright — making them perfect night sky targets for any telescope that concentrates on optical resolution and high magnification. Surprisingly, even a smaller telescope can give great planetary views.

Best telescopes for seeing planets deal right now:

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Celestron Omni XLT 102 Refractor Telescope (opens in new tab)

Celestron Omni XLT 102 Refractor Telescope: was $757.95, now $599.99 on Amazon (opens in new tab)
Save 21%
on one of the best telescopes for viewing planets. It's an excellent combination of telescope and mount from an industry leader.


Best telescopes for seeing planets in 2023

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)
Excellent value for beginners — experience excellent views of the moon and planets and practice some basic astrophotography

Specifications

Optical design: Refractor
Mount type: Alt-Azimuth
Aperture: 3.94-inch/70 mm
Focal length: 25.98- inch/ 660 mm
Highest useful magnification: 241x
Supplied eyepieces: 0.8-inch/20 mm (33x) and 0.4-inch/10 mm (66x)
Weight: 20 lbs./9.07 kg

Reasons to buy

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Sharp views of the planets
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Lightweight tripod
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Smartphone adaptor

Reasons to avoid

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Some chromatic aberration
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Not good for deep-sky objects

Beginners who want to explore the world of astronomy, just like Galileo and other early pioneers, should consider starting with a traditional refractor telescope like the Celestron Inspire 100AZ, which is especially adept at viewing planets.

Now sitting at around $350, it is affordable for a beginner and reasonably priced. It is designed for seeing the moon, planets and deep sky objects and doesn't feature any fancy go-to motors or app integration, but it does come with the basic edition of Celestron's Starry Night software to help you learn about the night sky.

In our Celestron Inspire 100AZ review, we were able to see Andromeda (M31) and some bright star clusters, but the 4-inch aperture doesn't let in as much light for anything beyond that.

While it is a relatively lightweight instrument, the long 660mm optical tube and large tripod mean it will take up quite a large footprint if you're planning on leaving it out in your house. Still, it is easy to pack away and reassemble if you'd prefer to store it in between uses. 

There is a handy lens cap that converts into a smartphone holder. When utilized, it positions your phone over the eyepiece to take some basic astrophotos which gives it another advantage over other similarly priced models from other brands.


Celestron NexStar 8SE side view

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)
One of the best selling telescopes for viewing planets, stars and far beyond

Specifications

Optical design: Schmidt-Cassegrain
Mount type: Computerized Altitude-Azimuth Single Fork Arm
Aperture: 8-inches (203.2mm)
Focal length: 80-inches (2032mm)
Highest useful magnification: 180x
Supplied eyepieces: 25mm
Weight: 32 lbs./14.48kg

Reasons to buy

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Excellent value for money
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Incredibly bright and sharp images

Reasons to avoid

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Big financial investment
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Needs 8 x AA  batteries

In our recent Celestron NexStar 8SE review, we found it to deliver outstanding optics, and it was easy to see why it is one of the best-selling telescopes. The 8" aperture drinks in heaps of light, showing you spectacular views of the planets and seeing deep-sky objects far into the universe.

While it is a significant initial financial outlay, the build quality and the possibility to add ample compatible accessories will add to the possibilities of what you can achieve, especially if you see yourself getting into astrophotography. The motor is smooth and accurate to allow for those beautiful stacked long-exposure images.

The setup process is quick and easy. Once you have aligned the scope (which can be tricky but easy if you follow the instructions step-by-step), you use the built-in hand controller to slew, automatically, to any celestial object you choose. The red dot finderscope is surprisingly effective,e and the focus nob is easy to adjust. This will suit beginners and advanced astronomers alike.

If you can afford it, we'd have no hesitation in encouraging you to make this scope your new best astronomy friend.


Celestron astromaster 70az telescope side profile view

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)
Best for budget conscious — a traditional refractor that produces natural-looking views of the planets

Specifications

Optical design: Achromatic refractor
Mount type: Manual altazimuth
Aperture: 2.76-inch /70mm
Focal length: 35-inch /900 mm
Highest useful magnification: 165x
Supplied eyepieces: 0.8-inch/20 mm (45x) and 0.4-inch/10 mm (90x)
Weight: 7.6 lbs/3.44 kg

Reasons to buy

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Low price point
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No false-color
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Lightweight design

Reasons to avoid

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Lacks versatility
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Longevity of use is limited
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Deep sky objects are dim

The Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ telescope is aimed at astronomers on a budget who want a fuss-free, toolless setup. As discussed in our Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ review, we wouldn't necessarily say it is for beginners, as it does have some niggles which make it more challenging to use than other models and doesn't give much room for growth.

The strikingly long tube is 35 inches long which might be offputting for some due to storage and transportation restrictions. Still, the length gives us a ratio of f/13 which significantly benefits optical performance when looking at the moon and nearby planets. The long length also helps to minimize chromatic aberration or 'false color.'

As with the Celestron Inspire 100 AZ telescope, this is a manual, traditional telescope without the bells and whistles. The sharpest views can be viewed through the supplied 20mm eyepiece.

Because of the small aperture, this telescope is really only useful for lunar and planetary observation. You won't see deep sky objects with any wow factor if you can see them at all, so it's probably only worth considering this model if your interests lie solely with looking at these bodies and not anything more advanced.

Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ telescope (opens in new tab)

Celestron AstroMaster 70 AZ: was $189.95 now $109.98 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

There has been a further discount on the Celestron AstroMaster 70 AZs. With a huge 42% saving, it is a fantastic time for budding astronomers to invest in this lightweight traditionally designed telescope.


Sky-watcher explorer 130 front view against sky

(Image credit: Jamie Carter)
A versatile telescope and equatorial mount to explore deep sky targets

Specifications

Optical design: Newtonian reflector
Mount type: German equatorial (EQ2)
Aperture: 5.1-inch /130mm
Focal length: 35.4-inch /900 mm
Highest useful magnification: 250x
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

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Affordable equatorial mount
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Slow motion controls

Reasons to avoid

-
Relatively heavy
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Manual targeting

Costing less than $300, the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2 is an excellent choice for those serious about taking the first steps into the world of astronomy.

Unlike other models at a similar price point, this telescope ships with an equatorial mount. When it is aligned with the Earth's axis, it makes it simple to track objects in the sky once you've found them, as the Earth rotates.

It has a good-sized aperture at 5.1-inches, which means, unlike the models above, you will be able to explore deep sky objects, albeit only the brightest ones.

While not as long as the Celestron Inspire 100AZ, the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2's long tube length results in f/7 and makes high magnification possible. During our review of the Sky-Watcher Explorer 130 EQ2, using the supplied Barlow lens, we could easily get sharp views of the Jovian System (Jupiter, its rings and moons) and Saturn's rings looked impressive.

This telescope is best suited for backyard stargazing, mainly due to its 12.6kg combined weight, which makes it a little more of an ordeal to take it out and about on sky-watching trips.


Product photo of the Celestron XLT 102

(Image credit: Amazon)

Celestron Omni XLT 102

Best value — A solid refractor with a sturdy mount and tripod

Specifications

Optical design: Doublet refractor
Mount type: Equatorial
Aperture: 4-inch (102mm)
Focal length: 39.4-inch (1000mm)
Highest useful magnification: 204x
Supplied eyepieces: 25mm (36x)
Weight: 19.5 kg (43 lb)

Reasons to buy

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Solid optics and mechanics
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Sturdy equatorial mount
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Optical finder

Reasons to avoid

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Only one eyepiece in the box
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Not great for deep space objects

Celestron's Omni XLT 102 (currently on sale with a 21% discount (opens in new tab)) is quite a unique offer, which includes a good telescope and mount combination. The 4-inch F/10 achromat gives fine views, and its focal length makes it a good match for some of the best planetary eyepieces. Unfortunately, only one is supplied in the box, but with the addition of a 10mm and Barlow lens, you can achieve a magnification of 36x, 72x, 100x and 200x. At this top end, the Omni XLT 102 will show you some lovely details on our neighboring planets.

Celestron also sells a 120mm (read our Celestron Omni XLT 120 review) and 150mm version of the same telescope, but notably, all three come with the same CG-4 equatorial mount whilst the larger models push the mount's weight limit. As such, it feels sturdy to use and dampens any vibrations quickly. Being an equatorial mount, it requires some practice to set up and get to grips with, but once you're used to it, it offers easy, one-handed tracking of the planets. For those looking to go hands-free, Celestron offers a separate dual-axis auto-tracking upgrade kit that you can install at any time.


Product photo of the Sky Watcher Heritage 90

(Image credit: BH Photo Video)

Sky-Watcher Heritage-90P Virtuoso

Best for portability — a compact, high-power tabletop astronomy with auto-tracking

Specifications

Optical design: Maksutov-Cassegrain reflector
Mount type: Dobsonian (table top tracking version)
Aperture: 3.5-inch (90mm)
Focal length: 49.2-inch (1250mm)
Highest useful magnification: 180x
Supplied eyepieces: 10mm (125x) and 25mm (50x)
Weight: 5.1 kg (11.5 lb)

Reasons to buy

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Ultra compact design 
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Built-in tracking
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Good battery life

Reasons to avoid

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No optical finder
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Exposed front lens

The Heritage-90 Virtuoso's compact size belies its power. Using two mirrors and a meniscus lens, it folds a whopping 1.25m focal length into a tube just 28cm long, allowing it to reach its maximum useful magnification with a comfortable 7mm eyepiece. The Maksutov-Cassegrain design is known for its 'refractor-like' performance, which provides better contrast than a Newtonian reflector of the same aperture. This is great for preserving the rich colors of planetary surfaces and atmospheres, which are easy to admire in the Heritage-90. Its simple red dot finder isn't ideal, but the smooth slewing controls on the motorized Virtuoso mount make positioning objects easy.

The mount can also track the sky to counteract the rotation of the Earth, keeping your object of interest in the field of view, and it can be upgraded at any time via Sky-Watcher's Synscan GoTo handset, granting it the ability to find more than 40,000 objects in the sky for you automatically. Naturally, the planets are on that list. If you want to fast-track to the complete GoTo system and are interested in a more powerful telescope with a similarly compact design, you might want to check out the Heritage-90's big brother, the Skymax-127 Virtuoso GTI.


Product photo of the Meade ETX125 Observer

(Image credit: Amazon)

Meade ETX125 Observer

Best for educational guided sky tour — a portable computerized observatory

Specifications

Optical design: Maksutov-Cassegrain reflector
Mount type: Computerised fork mount
Aperture: 5-inch (127mm)
Focal length: 75-inch (1900mm)
Highest useful magnification: 254x
Supplied eyepieces: 9.7mm (196x) and 26mm (73x)
Weight: 11.3 kg (25 lb)

Reasons to buy

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High-performance optics
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Precision GoTo and tracking
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Excellent eyepieces

Reasons to avoid

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No optical finder
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Relatively expensive

Meade's well-respected ETX125 is a long-time favorite in the amateur astronomy community. Revised and improved over the years, it features a 1.9m long folded telescope on a precise computerized fork mount, with a decent tripod to keep everything steady. The computerized controller can find more than 30,000 objects and includes AudioStar — an audio tour of the sky, that speaks to you about what you're looking at. This telescope will give you fine planetary views right out of the box. The included 9.7mm Series 4000 Super Plossl eyepiece achieves 196x magnification, enough to resolve famous features in the Solar System. You can see the Martian polar caps, Jupiter's Great Red Spot, and the Cassini Division in Saturn's rings.

Meade has thoughtfully designed the ETX125 to include a flip mirror, allowing you to switch between the eyepiece and a camera attached to the back of the tube. Position a planet in the center of your eyepiece, flip the mirror up, then snap away with your camera. You can even explore long-exposure photography in the future using the built-in equatorial tilt plate. While it isn't the cheapest 5-inch Maksutov-Cassegrain on the market, this feature-rich traveling observatory offers an unmatched balance of quality optics and smart technology.


Product photo of the Sky-Watcher Skymax-180 Pro

(Image credit: Wex)

Sky-Watcher Skymax-180 PRO (HEQ5 PRO SynScan)

Best for precision and provides stunning high-contrast, high-power views

Specifications

Optical design: Maksutov-Cassegrain reflector
Mount type: Computerised equatorial mount
Aperture: 7.1-inch (180mm)
Focal length: 106.3-inch (2700mm)
Highest useful magnification: 540x
Supplied eyepieces: 28mm (96x)
Weight: 11.3 kg (25 lb)

Reasons to buy

+
High-end refractor performance
+
Precision heavy-duty mount
+
Large optical finder

Reasons to avoid

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Only one eyepiece supplied
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Sizeable investment
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Relatively heavy (but compact)

The Skymax-180 PRO was purpose-built for Solar System exploration. Its high-resolution, long focal length optical system delivers performance akin to a much costlier large apochromatic refractor, providing flawless images of the planets rich in colorful details. With a 7.1-inch primary mirror, it also has enough light grasp to bring many of the Solar System's moons into view. The single 2-inch/ 28mm eyepiece won't make the most of this telescope's potential, so you'll need to invest a little extra, but even a comfortable 8mm or 10mm planetary eyepiece will be well tolerated by its formidable optics.

For absolute precision, the Skymax-180 PRO is matched to an HEQ5 PRO equatorial mount designed for heavy payloads. This opens up a wide range of photography applications, from high-resolution planetary and lunar imaging to deep-sky imaging, should you buy another telescope to swap out with the Skymax in the future. In general, 'over-mounting' a telescope is always a good idea if you can spare the room, as this will keep things nice and stable at very high magnifications. It's easy to see why this system has become popular with visual observers and imagers alike.


Product photo of the Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100 HD Edge

(Image credit: BH Photo and Video)

Celestron CPC Deluxe 1100 EdgeHD

Best for planetary imaging with uncompromising power and clarity

Specifications

Optical design: Modified Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector
Mount type: Computerised fork mount
Aperture: 11-inch (280mm)
Focal length: 110.2-inch (2800mm)
Highest useful magnification: 661x
Eyepieces supplied: 23mm (122x)
Weight: 42.2 kg (93 lb)

Reasons to buy

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Ultra-high resolution
+
Super sturdy mount and tripod
+
Precision GoTo and tracking

Reasons to avoid

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One eyepiece
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Very heavy
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Very expensive

Planetary imaging is an addictive hobby, and fortunately, you can get started on any telescope that tracks the sky. But if you plan to get serious about capturing our neighboring worlds, a large aperture instrument is a must. It provides greater resolution, allowing more details to be recorded by the imaging sensor. The CPC Deluxe 1100 EdgeHD features an 11-inch high-performance main mirror, capable of resolving the surfaces of the most remote planets. On more forgiving targets, such as Venus and Jupiter, it sees remarkable detail, and the skilled observer will even be able to pick out landmarks on Mars without too much trouble.

The CPC mount is versatile and sturdy, proving excellent tracking for extended imaging sessions, and it can be converted to an equatorial platform using a wedge for deep sky astrophotography too. It's certainly heavy, but two people can readily assemble this telescope in the field and pack it down again in a few minutes. Of course, with just one eyepiece in the box, you'll need to budget for more, but at this size, it's the camera that sees the most benefit. If planetary imaging gets its hooks into you, at least you know there's an upgrade to aspire to.


The Celestron Astro Fi 102

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)
Motorized go-to functionality for a reasonable price

Specifications

Optical design: Maksutov-Cassegrain
Mount type: Computerized Alt-Azimuth Single Fork Arm
Aperture: 102mm
Focal length: 1325mm
Highest useful magnification: 132.5x
Eyepieces supplied: 25 mm and 10 mm
Weight: 6 lbs/2.7 kg

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight and portable
+
Fairly priced

Reasons to avoid

-
Doesn't feel premium to the touch
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Limited room for growth

Celestron's Astro Fi 102 (currently with a saving of 23% at Adorama (opens in new tab)) is an excellent choice for tech-savvy beginners. After the initial setup, which can take a little time, it's a breeze to use alongside the SkyPortal app.

The app features approximately 100k celestial objects, which you can 'instruct' the instrument to slew automatically. It slews quickly and quietly, and you can even use a USB video game controller to position the scope. The familiarity of this to gamers might be a desirable feature. 

While to the touch, this admittedly doesn't feel like a premium product, the materials used mean the telescope is lightweight and therefore easily portable.

The images aren't breathtaking, as we would expect at this price point, but you will get good views of the moon, Saturn's rings, Mars and Jupiter as well as Uranus and Neptune in the right conditions.


Best telescopes for seeing planets 2023: What to look for

When shopping on a budget, there's an argument to be made for choosing a smaller refracting telescope than a similarly priced but larger reflector, because the secondary mirrors and struts in Newtonian telescopes perturb the incoming light in a way that reduces image contrast. For many dedicated planetary observers, a large refractor is a dream, but there are downsides. Refractors are bulky, heavy, and expensive, so compound telescopes such as Maksutov-Cassegrains and Schmidt-Cassegrains make for a good compromise.  

There are also other optical accessories to consider when shopping for a planet-hunting telescope. Eyepieces with greater magnifications can help get larger views of the tiny planets. Astronomers should also consider Barlow lenses to help attain high magnifications of between 120-250x (within the optical limit of the telescope). This will allow you to observe in the sweet spot on most nights when the seeing is average. Here are some of the best telescopes for seeing and capturing planets.

How we test the best telescopes for seeing planets

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 many 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, and if a telescope comes with appropriate eyepieces and tripods. We also suggest 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.

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. 

Unlike the deep sky, which remains almost unchanged throughout our lives, the planets constantly bring us new and sometimes surprising reasons to look again. They're easy to find and inspiring to take in — real worlds that our descendants or even we may visit one day. Any telescope can make them look impressive, but a well-tuned high-contrast instrument does them justice, and you'll be thankful to have one to hand when something special occurs, like the arrival of an incredible gas giant storm, or a night of exceptionally steady seeing that invites you to max out the power. If you plan to take your own images, it's well worth considering a model with tracking capability, altazimuth or equatorial — both are suitable for short exposures. At such long focal lengths, the Earth's rotation quickly moves things out of the field of view, and dedicated planetary imaging cameras have small sensors. Regardless of which telescope you choose, you're in for an exciting new hobby as a Solar System explorer. Enjoy the magnificent highlights of our celestial neighborhood.

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Tom Kerss
Contributing Writer

Tom Kerss F.R.A.S. is a London-based astronomer, astrophotographer, author and consultant. Having previously worked at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, he is the founder of Stargazing✦London, which delivers world-class online astronomy and space courses with subject experts. Tom is also the host of the Star Signs podcast, providing updates from the world of space news, as well as what to look out for in the night sky. With a background in astrophysics and science communication, he is an avid stargazer and aurora-chaser who is always looking for his next astronomy adventure. Tom has authored numerous best-selling astronomy books for both adults and children, including 2021’s Northern Lights: The Definitive Guide to Auroras, which offers a complete introduction to nature's most magical skybound phenomenon. Find out more about Tom's projects and other books at stargazing.london 

With contributions from