Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the telescope loan program is not currently running. We will open it up again when we can operate it safely. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Moon photo taken with phone through telescope Photo of Jupiter and its moons taken with a phone through a telescope Photo of the Moon taken with a phone looking through a telescope

Photos taken with a smart phone looking through the eyepiece of our telescopes.

(click for larger image)

The planetarium has telescopes available for loan/rent. We have simple manually pointed telescopes (6" Orion XT6 Dobsonian; photo below right) which are easy to use. We can show you how to use one and let you have it for up to two weeks. We also have one 8" Dobsonian telescope (less portable, heavier, but more light gathering power).

Telescope sizes:  The telescopes are fairly large, so before you consider borrowing/renting one of our telescopes.

  • 6" Dobsonians:  (XT6-1, XT6-2, XT6-3, XT6-4)
    Tube and base attached together:  53” x 19” x 19”
    Base alone:  27” x 19” x 19”
    Tube alone:  47” x 12” x 12”
    Weight:  35 pounds
  • 8" Dobsonian: (XT8)
    Tube and base attached together:  20" x 20" x 53"
    Base alone:  20" x 20" x 26"
    Tube alone:  15" x 15" x 48"
    Weight:  base = 21 pounds, tube = 20 pounds, combined = 41 pounds

telescope image

Fee: no charge for City of Madison residents and Madison teachers; $5 for non-Madison users.

Other Telescopes:  We also have other telescopes which have been donated to the planetarium that we offer as a way to try different styles of telescopes before you purchase a telescope. They require more training and experience, and are not as easy to transport. They include:  Meade 8" LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain; Meade 10" Schmidt-Cassegrain; Celestron CPC 8" Goto Schmidt-Cassegrain. 

If you are interested in borrowing a telescope...

Reservations:  You must reserve a telescope ahead of time. The Telescope Loan Calendar shows the reservations we currently have for other people. Check the calendar to find a time when we have the telescope you want available. We usually loan telescopes out for two weeks.

XT6-1, XT6-2, XT6-3, XT6-4, XT8, CSH8 and CPC8 are the ID numbers we use for the loaner telescopes.

Please check the Telescope Loan Calendar to find an opening, and then fill out the Telescope Loan Reservation Request Form.

We will respond to your request via e-mail.

Parking:  When picking up or dropping off a telescope, please try to use one of the Itinerant Parking spots on the west (Gammon Rd.) side of the building near the Memorial HS electronic sign. If none of those spots are available, you may park next to the curb just past the planetarium sign with your flashers on.

If you have questions, contact: Geoff Holt  gholt@madison.k12.wi.us


Orientation video: This video shows you where to park, which door to come in, and how to use our most commonly borrowed telescope, the 6" dobsonian (Orion XT-6).

Star Charts: Maps of the sky are very helpful for observing. Skymaps.com has an excellent star chart which is available for free year-round and is suitable for printing. To print a map of the sky in Madison, Wisconsin right now, or at a time not shown on our star chart above, try Heavens-Above's Interactive Star Chart.

Planetarium apps: My favorite app for finding things in the sky, or getting more information about them, is SkySafari. It's available for iOS and Android.

Jupiter: To figure out which moons you are seeing, check out this web interface, or try Sky & Telescope's iOS mobile app called JupiterMoons

Saturn: To figure out which moons you are seeing, check out this web simulation, or try Sky & Telescope's iOS mobile app called SaturnMoons.

Moon: For observing the Moon in a telescope, it's nice to have a map. An excellent FREE iOS app to consider is Moon Globe. Moon Atlas 3D is a good option for Android users. Timeanddate.com has a nice Moonrise/Moonset Calendar system.

Weather: Two excellent sources for predicting cloud cover are Weather Underground and the Clear Sky Chart. (Both of the links are set for Madison, but you can set those sites for any location. Mobile apps for each are also available.)

Student Telescope Scholarship

The Madison Astronomical Society (MAS) does a longer term telescope loan program which they refer to as their "Student Telescope Scholarship" program. MAS loans up to three telescopes per year to qualified high school students, and provides support and other materials as well to encourage growth in observational astronomy among students. Follow the links above for more information at the MAS website and email John Rummel for more information.