If you’re looking to follow in the footsteps of Galileo or Copernicus on a journey to unlock the wonders of the universe, you’re going to need a telescope. There are almost fifty different kinds of optical telescopes, but they can all be broken into three primary categories based on their objective (the element that gathers light and focuses it to create a real image): refracting, reflecting and catadioptric. Refractors use a lens. Reflectors use mirrors. Catadioptric uses a combination of lenses and mirrors. Each option has positives and negatives depending on what you’re looking for and how committed you are to this new hobby. The best telescope for you might not be the same for everyone because of cost, portability and use case, but this list is a good place to start.
Between the two eyepieces, 3x Barlow lens, red dot finderscope, LED flashlight, compass and SkyPortal app, this 60mm refractor gives you a whole lot of telescope for around $100. The full-sized telescope is suitable for both astronomical and terrestrial viewing, and is easy to tote around when you’re camping because it only weighs five pounds. If your goal–or the goal for the kids–is views of the Moon, the Galilean moons of Jupiter or seeing wildlife or landscapes up close, this is the best amateur telescope. You also get feel good points because it helps support the National Park Foundation.$129
Built on the premise that “boundaries vanish when we look skyward,” nonprofit Astronomers Without Borders brings people from all over the world together with a shared passion for astronomy and the wonders of the universe. Their telescope, OneSky, combines a 130mm paraboloidal f/5 mirror with a truss tube that collapses down to around 14″ to create a 14lb portable scope that many agree is the best affordable telescope out there. You also get a red dot finder, 1.25″ helical focuser and two eyepieces in the package. As if it wasn’t already the best telescope for the money, all profits from sales support Astronomers Without Borders global astronomy programs.$200
If you’re willing to drop what you’re doing and head out to gaze the minute you get a clear sky on a dark night, you want the Orion 9947 ShortTube 80-A. This upgraded version of the ShortTube 80 that’s been around for decades is specifically calibrated for astronomical viewing and includes fully multi-coated optics, 80mm objective lens, 400mm (f/5) focal length, 1.25″ rack & pinion focuser, 90-degree mirror star diagonal and two Expanse eyepieces. You’ll be observing star clusters, nebulae, Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons in no time with this portable 8lb scope.$210
5.1″ aperture. Short 24″ tube. Sturdy EQ-2 equatorial mount (which you’ll really want to deal with field rotation if you’re trying long exposure photography with it). Two 1.25″ Sirius Plossl eyepieces (25mm and 10mm). 6×30 finder scope. Rack & pinion focuser. Check out the double cluster in Perseus, the rings of Saturn or the craters on the Moon easily with this scope. If the 130ST has any real problem, it’s the fact that it has a higher than average learning curve, but Orion provides all kinds of useful manuals, charts and information to help you on your stargazing journey.$310
Can’t make a decision between reflector or refractor? Want some help locating your query in the night sky? This catadioptric “hybrid” scope combines the best features of both reflectors and refractors with a motorized finder capable of locating nearly 40,000 objects in the night sky for you. It’s also tiny, portable and particularly effective at dark sky viewing with a 106x magnification that makes it possible to see cloud bands on Jupiter or Saturn in detail.$467
Sky-Watcher’s 10″ Collapsible Dobsonian Reflector makes it slightly easier to move a big reflector around thanks to the collapsing design, but you’re still going to need a decently sized trunk to house the almost 60lb scope when you move it around. That said, if you can handle the size, weight, and price tag, this is one of the best telescopes for the money thanks to the 254mm parabolic mirror, 1200mm focal length (f/5), 2″ Crayford-style focuser and excellent deep space viewing. If your goal is observing deep sky objects like the Great Orion Nebula or the Andromeda Galaxy, this is the scope you want.$638+