Even the smallest telescope will reveal breathtaking close-ups of the Moon’s rugged, battered surface. New features are highlighted every night along the terminator, where the light and dark portions of the lunar disk meet. Craters, smooth lava plains, and jagged mountains abound, providing endless fascination.
Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter make great subjects for study with a telescope. They’re very small, even at high magnification, but are bright enough to see even from light-drenched city skies. Any size telescope can show Mars’ pale red disk (and often a polar ice cap), Saturn’s pale yellow orb and picturesque rings, and Jupiter and its bright moons. In good seeing conditions you’ll see Jupiter’s colorful cloud bands and its Great Red Spot.
No telescope shows stars as more than tiny but colorful pinpoints. Double stars, like the famous blue-gold pair Albireo, are a popular target. There are also numerous star clusters of different sizes and brightness ... the jewels of the sky. It’s fun to hunt them down using a star map and see how many stars you can resolve.
Like snowflakes, no two of these ghostly clouds of gas and dust look alike. All are faint and in a telescope will appear mostly gray or greenish in color. But their shapes and structure are revealed with patient observing. Dark-sky observing sites will let you see much more.
Incredibly distant and challenging faint subjects, dozens of galaxies are visible in backyard telescopes of modest size, hundreds or thousands in bigger models. In dark skies with a 6" scope, you can discern hints of structure in the brightest galaxies. The more time you spend observing them, the better trained your eye will become at seeing faint details.
Pictures vs. Viewing
Human eyes are not sensitive enough to detect colors in faint light. Long-exposure photos of nebulas and galaxies show their true colors. It’s impossible for a photo to depict the real-time, low-light image you will see. Fortunately, the eye is often better at revealing glimpses of detail on the planets than the typical photo can catch.