Amateur Astronomy Fun: What It’s Like to Look Into Space With These Free Online Space Telescopes

Saikat Basu 13-03-2013

Amateur astronomers know what it feels to gaze up at the stars on a night sky and wonder what’s out there. It is one of the dreams I shared while growing up. And though, I did manage to eventually save up and buy a telescope of my own, somehow it never completely slaked out the desires I had started out with. Perhaps it was the low magnification of that budget telescope or my own failing as an amateur astronomer to take things one step ahead.


Buying a really good telescope remains a distant possibility. Magnification is a lesser problem; an always polluted sky is the greater one. But thanks to the handshake of the modern web with cutting edge imaging technologies, we have the next best thing – “telescopes in the browser”.

Virtual or online telescopes don’t need complicated set-ups. All you need is a browser. The comforting thought is that while they may not be telescopes in the true sense of the word, they do bring far greater interactivity than you could ever get with the real deal.

Google Sky

online telescopes

Google looks everywhere and space is one of the places it hasn’t left out. Google Sky is a heaven sent (pun intended) gift for amateur astronomers and space buffs. Just like Google Earth 5 More Cool Things You Can Do With Google Earth In this article, I'm going to share five really cool features I found in Google Earth. These features are perfect if you're looking to build a new house or trying to find a place to... Read More which gives you a virtual tour of the globe, Google Sky is a sky viewer with multiple layers and interactive resources. Google Sky is in fact, a part of Google Earth though you can also watch it on the browser. Powered by Google, the images are sourced from NASA satellites, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and the Hubble Telescope. Extra information is also incorporated from other space observatories around the world. You can use the search box to find out more about your favorite place in the sky – like a constellation or a neighboring planet. Or you can click on the thumbnails below the viewer to bring up a few space shows.

Recommendation – As Google says, you can view the universe at different wavelengths, to see how it would look if our eyes worked in the x-rays or infrared. As you explore these new layers, play with the transparency to blend between the different wavelengths and see how different parts of the universe light up at different wavelengths.


MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network (NASA)

live telescopes online

The mouthful of words is basically an educational initiative of the scientists and educators at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The Observing With NASA website is developed and funded by NASA and it aims to make astronomy accessible to students and enthusiasts worldwide. The network of automated reflecting telescopes (6-inch-diameter Maksutov) can be controlled over the internet. The telescopes are located at Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Amado, Arizona.

live telescopes online

Users control the telescope through a few settings on the webpage (target; exposure time; filters to apply) and submit their request to the site. The next day (or within 48 hours) an email notification gives you the link to download your clicked image from the observatory. You can explore the directory of all images to while away the time till yours arrives.


Recommendation – You can download high-resolution images from the directory (or shoot your own), and then use the free software (MicroObservatory Image 2.2) to optimize the image and process it further.


live telescopes online

We stay with NASA and another interface to view space. SkyView is not actually a telescope though amateur astronomers can use it take a peek into the universe from the comfort of their browsers. It is defined as a virtual observatory. SkyView gives the amateur astronomer a frontend to request images that have been compiled across many space surveys. Only static images (images were taken of fixed points in space) can be sourced and not images of planets, comets, satellites etc. Just enter the name of a celestial object or set of Equatorial sky coordinates and then select one of the 5 surveys from the dropdown.

Recommended – SkyView has a simpler page for the non-astronomer which explains how to use SkyView to its potential.


Worldwide Telescope

online telescopes

We covered Worldwide Telescope three years back in more detail. But Microsoft’s answer to Google Sky is still a popular destination for amateur astronomy fans. WorldWide Telescope belies its name because it is not actually a web frontend for an actual telescope but a 3D visualization experience with the help of space imagery. You can use WWT on a browser or download the Windows client. The images are sourced from observatories like the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). WWT makes this data easily accessible and gives the viewer an interactive tool to play around with the data. WWT combines all image sets taken across different wavelengths and times into an interactive display.

Recommendation – Select and go through the audio-video Guided Tours which is very educational if you are new to astronomy. Go full-screen on your browser.

The four online space observatories or telescopes (a term I am loosely applying here) aren’t the only ones of course. But they are the completely free ones.  There is the excellent SLOOH Space Camera and iTelescope.Net (with a free trial) with paid membership plans. You can also check out 6 more interesting websites a space & astronomy buff should visit 6 More Interesting Websites for Space & Astronomy Buffs Read More for a trek around space. Space imagery Top 7 Sites to View and Download Space Images Read More which was earlier unreachable is today as close as a mouse-click from the comfort of one’s chair. Astronomy websites Get To Know The Universe With These Amazing Astronomy Websites Very few of us are likely to ever make it into outer space, unless the various space tourism ventures become mainstream successes. Even then the price of being flown into space will be so high... Read More are contributing to the knowledge base.


If you are an amateur astronomer or just someone with an interest in the space sciences, how do you quench your curiosity? Have you used any of these online telescopes before?

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Related topics: Astronomy, Geeky Science.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    March 15, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Never used any. Would love to, but my internet isn't good enough for Google Sky. Observing with NASA I've never heard before but will certainly try.

  2. dragonmouth
    March 13, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Not to dash your hopes but no amateur telescope views will ever even come close to what you can see online. For example, the Orion Nebula is little more than a smudge in my 12 inch reflector while the pictures of it online are awe inspiring. After seeing the pictures online it is emotionally disappointing for me, in spite of myself, to realize that my telescope will never measure up, although intellectually I KNOW that size matters.

    • SaikatBasu
      March 14, 2013 at 5:22 am

      Even bigger telescopes have to contend with humidity and pollution, let alone amateur ones. At least in my city, because of the high water-vapour content, using a telescope doesn't work out quite as well.

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      March 15, 2013 at 3:24 pm

      Yeah. But having the real deal is nice sometimes.

  3. Max
    March 13, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    I really want a live cam on the moon pointing at earth anyone can see online. Or at least on the ISS.

  4. Garris Rago
    March 13, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    I had completely forgotten about google sky after my brother had shown it to me a while ago, ah how fun it is to re-discover it!

  5. Bumferry
    March 13, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    "Buying a really good telescope remains a distant possibility." I would agreed with this statement up until christmas last year when I bought my first scope.
    I had scoured the internet and bought many magazines for reviews and the like and have bought a Celestron 130 EQ for less £150 via amazon.
    There are some big name telescopes out there that are even cheaper and offer a good enough chance to see some amazing sights in the night sky.
    I have been lucky enough to see Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune using nothing but the lenses that came with my telescope and highly recommend anyone who can scrape together £200 to buy one (the extra £50 is for a thick wooly hat and gloves - it's gets cold out there!!)
    I do like the list above though. Some great options for viewing the sky and helping to learn ones way around. Always glad of any help that a proper amateur like me can get.

    I would like to add to this list the Google Sky Map app - which is great to use when there is a clear sky and is a great tool to help navigate the night sky and learn the constellations and planets!

    • SaikatBasu
      March 13, 2013 at 5:52 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation. Buying a telescope is on my bucket list. The problem here in India is urban pollution, not all parts of the sky are clear. But I am hopeful of buying one and using it anyhow.It is a very relaxing hobby.

      • Bumferry
        March 13, 2013 at 8:30 pm

        I am very lucky that i live 8 miles away from the nearest town. The night sky is amazing with just the naked eye. I would recommend this website ( ) for advice on scopes and general night time viewing. I've only being doing it for a few months, but love every second! Good luck. :)

        • SaikatBasu
          March 14, 2013 at 4:50 am

          Thanks for the link. It seems to be well updated.

      • Lisa Santika Onggrid
        March 15, 2013 at 3:23 pm

        Air pollution is annoying indeed. I can't see anything but black sky here.