Planets are the reason I wanted a telescope as a kid. My first views of Saturn and Jupiter came at a very young age. I was amazed at being able to see cloud patterns on Jupiter and splits in the rings of Saturn. To this day, Saturn and Jupiter are my favorite objects to view and show off to others. Due to the higher magnifications needed to view the planets, there are some guidelines that if followed can provide exceptional views of these objects. Along with this and Saturn being out in full glory for the remainder of the summer, here are some tips for how to best view the planets of the nighttime sky.
1. Make sure the scope has plenty of time to cool down to the outside temperature. This can range anywhere from one to a couple of hours depending on the size and type of telescope being used. A telescope not cooled will cause turbulence between warm and cool air in the tube, creating poor high magnification images that will not allow fine detail of the planets to come through.
2. Not every night is a good night for viewing planets. A steady atmosphere is crucial for sharp planetary observing. If the wind is blowing and the stars are twinkling (this occurs from atmospheric turbulence) the planets will appear as wavy and washed out images in any scope.
3. Magnification is key to getting details out of the planets. The particular telescope being used is a major factor in how high it can be pushed. However, any scope regardless of aperture is usually limited to around 300x magnification because of atmospheric conditions and how fast the object moves by in the field of view if a tracking motor is not installed. For my 8 in reflector, I have found that 110x and 200x magnifications provide amazing details of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and the Lunar Surface.(To find your telescopes magnification, divide the focal length of the telescope by the eye piece being used: My Telescope and Eyepiece Combination; 1,200mm/6mm=200x magnification)
When observing with a friend or family member, nothing can compare to the awe and excitement of knowing that some of the stars in the sky are actually planets with detailed cloud formations and ring structures. Using these tips can help ensure the highest quality out of the views provided by our incredible celestial neighbors.