What is a GOTO Telescope? (And Should You Buy One?)

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what is a goto telescope

When looking to buy a telescope you will likely notice that many label themselves as “GOTO Telescopes”.

But what does this mean and is it something that you need?

Read on to find out.

What is a GOTO Telescope?

GOTO Telescopes are packages containing:

  1. A Telescope (also known as the Optical Tube Assembly or OTA)
  2. A Mount (the piece of equipment that is used for directing the telescope)
  3. A Tripod

Plus likely also some accessories like eyepieces and barlow lenses.

Therefore it is actually the mount that is the GOTO element, rather than the telescope.

A “GOTO telescope” is then actually a misnomer as it is a regular telescope coming together with a GOTO mount.

But what does “GOTO” mean?

GOTO / Computerized Telescope Technology

A GOTO mount is an electronically powered device that steers the telescope for you.

This is opposed to a manual mount where you have to direct the telescope yourself by hand.

What GOTO mount does for you is work out where you are in the world, with the knowledge of the current date and time, and then tell you what is in the night sky above you on that particular night from your location.

Depending on the system some of this may need to be input manually or it may be able to work it all out itself.

It then presents a list of potential astronomical objects like planets, galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters that you could look at from a list.

You then select what it is that you want to look at and it then moves to point at it and will track it as it moves across the sky.

GOTO telescopes and mounts usually come with hand controllers to operate them but it is increasingly common for them to be able to be operated via an app on your smartphone or tablet (plus possibly other software on your computer or laptop).

These are then great devices for beginners with no knowledge of what is in the night sky above them, but also great time savers for more experienced users who can see a lot more things during a session than they would if operating manually.

GOTO vs Computerized

You may see some telescopes labeled “GOTO” and some labeled “computerized”. Don’t be confused as these are the same thing and are used interchangeably by manufacturers.

Technically they have different origins in that older computerized mounts would track astronomical objects but not necessarily go to them automatically (i.e. you had to point them manually at first).

GOTO technology then updated this to literally “go to” the objects.

Today this is fairly redundant as all computerized and goto telescopes will find and point at what you want to see for you.

GOTO Telescope Pros and Cons

So what are the upsides and downsides of GOTO telescopes?

GOTO Telescope Advantages:

  1. Ease of use: You do not need to know much about astronomy if you are using a GOTO telescope as it does the work for you. This removes a source of frustration for beginners in particular who can often get discouraged by hard it is to see anything with a manual telescope and give up.
  2. Time-saving: It is much quicker to see great sights with a GOTO mount and you can see many more objects per session than you would if you were finding them manually.

GOTO Telescope Disadvantages:

  1. Price: GOTO telescopes are significantly more expensive than manual ones. This is pretty understandable but will be an obstacle for many.
  2. Power: GOTO telescopes require a power source either from a battery or from AC. If using a battery then this will have to be charged before use. If plugged into the AC then you will have to use the telescope near an outlet and deal with the cables.
  3. Education: There is an element of being forced to learn the night sky that comes with using a manual telescope. GOTO technology can arguably take this away by automating it.

If you think GOTO is for you, then see our guide to the Best Computerized Telescopes.

GOTO Telescope FAQs

Do you need a GoTo telescope?

GOTO telescopes make astronomy and astrophotography much easier and enable you to see a lot more.

The main downside is that they cost more in comparison to manual telescope and mount packages.

How do you use a GoTo telescope?

A GOTO telescope scans the night sky for you, asks you what you want to see, and then points the telescope at it and tracks it.

Can a GoTo telescope be used manually?

Yes, GOTO telescopes and mounts can be operated manually.

What does GoTo mean in astronomy?

GoTo is a form of technology in telescope mounts that can locate and track astronomical objects for you in the night sky.

Verdict: Should You Buy a GOTO Telescope?

Overall, we believe that GOTO telescopes are excellent, especially for beginners, and the benefits outweigh any downsides.

However, it really comes down to whether you can afford it:

  • A fairly good, entry-level telescope with a manual mount could cost around $200.
  • The same telescope with a GOTO mount is likely to cost at least double that, and this is the very cheapest option.

You therefore need to think about what you want the telescope for and how much you will use it.

Someone just looking for a basic backyard telescope to get out with the family a few times a year probably doesn’t need a GOTO package.

Anyone looking to get more serious into astronomy and astrophotography will almost certainly benefit from the investment.

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About the Author

Anthony Robinson is the founder and owner of Skies & Scopes, a publication and community focused on amateur astronomy and astrophotography. His work has been featured in publications such as Amateur Astrophotography, Forbes, the Guardian, DIY Photography, PetaPixel, and Digital Camera World - read more.


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