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Madison Metropolitan School District

Telescope Loan/Rental Program

The telescope loan program is closed for the summer! 

You will have to wait for loaning to begin again in the fall.  The lending period will remain for up to two weeks!

Using one of our telescopes??  Post pictures of you using the telescope AND images taken with the telescope to social media.  I would love it if you can use the hashtags #MMSDPlanetarium and #MMSDTelescopes

Already borrowed a scope?   Give us a review on Google!

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

These photos were taken with a smartphone looking through the eyepiece of one of our loaner telescopes.  (click any image to see its large version)

NASA has a great resource to learn how to do this in their digital PDF book, "A Guide to Smartphone Astrophotography". 

There are great mounts to hold your smartphone on the telescope's eyepiece.   The BBC's "Sky at Night" magazine has a 2023 rating page here.

example of a smartphone mount for a telescope

Example of a smartphone mount for a telescope


Almost all of our loans are of simple, manually pointed, Newtonian telescopes... which are easy to use! 

We have many of the 4.5" Orion StarBlaster and 6"Orion XT6 SkyQuest Dobsonians (as shown in the photo below) as well as a few other, large scopes as well.   We can teach you how to use the simple scopes in about 5-10 minutes.  You will have to teach yourself how to use the more complicated telescopes.

THE BASICS... Make a reservation. 

We will schedule your curbside pickup and dropoff times in advance.

When you pick up, we will ask you if you need a quick demonstration of how to use the telescope. 

Showing you how to use the Dobsonian telescope is quick and typically only takes 5-10 minutes. 

Then you take the telescope home and have it for up to two weeks. 


Labelled Scope Image

All of our basic loaner telescopes are Newtonian designs.  The StarBlaster is a small, lightweight, tabletop size telescope.

The SkyQuest 6" and 8" Dobsonians are small telescopes, but they are still a large item.  The image above is roughly to scale.

Please confirm that your car's backseat or trunk is large enough to fit the telescope. (They fit in a Prius!)

NOTE:  If at least one of your vehicle's rear seats can be flipped down, the Dobsonian scopes will fit into the vehicle.

  • 4.5" Orion StarBlaster Tabletop:
    As a Complete Unit:    ~ 28” x 16” x 16”              Total Weight:  ~ 15 pounds

The StarBlaster telescopes are small enough that they are one piece.

  • 6" Orion SkyQuest Dobsonians:

As a Complete Unit:    53” x 19” x 19”              Total Weight:  ~ 35 pounds

As separated components...
Base alone:  27” x 19” x 19”          Tube alone:  47” x 12” x 12”

  • 8" Orion SkyQuest Dobsonians:
    As a Complete Unit:    53" x 20" x 20"               Total Weight:  ~ 41 pounds

As separated components...
Base alone:  26" x 20" x 20"          Tube alone:  48" x 15" x 15"

OTHER TELESCOPES AVAILABLE:  We have been fortunate to have a number of telescopes donated to the telescope loaner program.  We offer these telescopes as a way to try different sizes, styles, and complexity of telescopes, and to support your decision making before you purchase a telescope of your own. NOTE:  These telescopes ARE NOT for beginners!  They require more independent training and experience, and are not as easy to transport. They include a Meade 8" LX200 Classic Schmidt-Cassegrain (manual) and a Celestron CPC 8" Goto Schmidt-Cassegrain (manual). 

FEES for Telescope Loan/Rental:

RESIDENTS:                  City of Madison Residents and Madison Teachers...  NO CHARGE!

NON-Residents:         $5.00 per loan period



Complete the Telescope Loan Reservation Request Form

Make the request for when you want the telescope and if necessary we will contact you to modify the timing.

We will respond to your request with a confirmation e-mail.

Before coming to pick up the telescope, please watch this Telescope Basics Youtube video to learn where to park, how to use the telescope, and how to carry and transport your telescope.


When picking up or dropping off a telescope, please pull up to the Vel Phillips Memorial HS Welcome Center.  This is located at the large silver awning with solar panels on the Mineral Point road side of the building. 

PLEASE... text me at (608) 770-7367 as you depart for the planetarium and text again upon your arrival at the curb.  Do this for both pickup and drop off as I will meet you at the curb with the scope on a cart so that you do not have to enter the building. 

EXCEPTION... if you want a quick training on telescope use, and the weather is not good, include this in your text and we can meet at the door, you can come in for the 5-10 minutes it takes to walk your through telescope use and then we can load you up and send you on your way.

There can be multiple telescope pickup and drop offs at nearly the same time, so thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

If you have questions, contact us:



Maps of the sky are very helpful for observing. 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.


There are many great apps to help you find things in the sky, or getting more information about them, my favorite is SkySafari. It's available for iOS and Android and has many versions from very affordable/free to more full featured versions at higher cost.

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. has a nice Moonrise/Moonset Calendar system.


Favorite sources for predicting cloud cover are Weather Underground, the Clear Sky Chart, and Clear Outside. (These links are set for Madison, but you can set those sites for any location. Mobile apps are also available.)


The Madison Astronomical Society (MAS) holds monthly meetings with speakers on various astronomy topics. Their members range from beginners to advanced amateurs who are doing astronomical research. They are open to beginners and welcome people to come to their meetings as guests.  Thinking about buying your own telescope?  Check out this recording of their special meeting on just that subject.