How Can I See More Detail On Planets?

How Can I See More Detail On Planets?

Have you seen the four main easily seen planets and wished you could see more detail?

People talk about being able to see the ice caps and clouds on Mars the Great Red Spot on Jupiter and the Storms on Saturn in small telescopes. Certainly with experience at the eyepiece and/or high quality optics and of course a large aperture telescope these features are easier to see. But, is there any way to have a chance of seeing these exciting features without a huge cost or years of observing experience?


Eyepiece and Filter Kit

Colour filters can help to change the contrast of what you can see and bring out some of the interesting features on the planets. The effect can be subtle and at first you may not notice much of difference with a colour filter. For this reason colour filters should be quite low down on your next purchase accessory list. Each filter has a number usually with a W or # in front. This is the Wratten number and indicates the colour of the filter.

Lunar Filter

Cheap Lunar filter

As an exception to the rule a lunar filter is a good accessory to buy early on. This filter makes observing the bright moon far less taxing on the eye and helps to bring more contrast to the surface. The surface of the moon can appear washed out and featureless as it approaches full moon due to the glare. For this reason the full moon is the worst time to observe it even though all of its surface is illuminated.

So Many Filters, Which Should I Get?

There are so many different colour filters to buy it can be difficult to know what to get. Your choice of colour really depends on what you want to see. Different colours bring out different details. To make matters worse just about every website you visit will suggest widely differing colours for the same planetary feature. I have tried to simplify things by selecting the filters that are recommended the most by reputable sources for a specific feature. 

Dark Blue (W38A)

This seems to be the most popular filter for visualising the Great Red Spot on Jupiter and will also help to bring contrast and detail to Jupiter's cloud bands. Overall, this filter seems excellent for Jupiter.

633px-Great Red Spot From Voyager 1.jpg

Violet (W47)

Violet is the filter of choice for showing contrast in Saturn's rings and the clouds in the upper atmosphere of Venus.

Light Yellow (W8) or Yellow-Green (W11)

These filters are excellent for the belts and bands detail of Saturn. It is also great for the albedo features on Mars.

Red (W25A)

This filter is very good for the polar ice caps of Mars. It can also help to demonstrate the festoons on Jupiter.



There are many more colour filters but these four seem to be the most suggested for the main features that people generally wish to see on the main planets.

Related Posts:  Equipment

Back to Beginners guide to Astronomy

Or next:

Part 1. Getting Started

Part 2. Binoculars or a telescope, which should I buy first?

Part 3. 5 Things you Need to Know Before Buying a Beginner's Astronomy Telescope

Part 4. Goto or Not Goto? That is the Question

Part 5. How to Set-up an Astronomy Telescope

Part 6. 8 Tips for Making Your Goto Telescope More Accurate

Part 7. 10 Easy Astronomical Objects to see From the City

Part 8. 5 Things to do on a Cloudy Night

Part 9. Which Eyepieces Do I Need?

Part 10. 10 Useful Astronomy Accessories

Part 11: How Can I See Deep Space Objects Better?

Part 12: How Can I See More Detail On Planets?

Part 13: How to Dress for Astronomical Success

Extras: Beginner Astronomy Telescopes

Or Start reading the Learn Astronomy Blog

Or Start Finding Deep Space Objects with the Constellation and DSO Guide.

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