Now What Can I See? II
© 1998 by Robert C. Moler
Last month we looked at what solar system objects were within reach of the small
Christmas telescope. This time we explore Deep Sky Objects or DSOs, objects that are
interstellar, that is that lie beyond the solar system. These include star clusters,
nebulae or clouds of dust or gas, and galaxies. For more information on the nature of
these objects in the first installment of this article see last month's Stellar Sentinel
or check out the Ephemeris Articles.
A rich source of bright DSOs is the Messier Catalog. Messier was French, so his name is
pronounced Messy-ay. Messier was interested in comets, but made a list of objects that
could be mistaken for comets, but weren't, because they didn't move against the background
of the stars.
Let's highlight, by season, some of the brighter and more spectacular Messier objects
and one he missed. As far as star clusters are concerned: They are open, also known as
galactic, rather than globular unless stated otherwise.
- M42 - The Great Orion Nebula
- This is the brightest and closest emission nebula at about 1700 light years away. It is
a haze surrounding the group of stars that appear as the middle of the three stars of
Orion's sword. Low power is best here. Use higher power to spot the dimmest of the clutch
of four stars called the Trapezium at the nebula's center. The dark intrusion into the
bright nebula called the Dark Bay is a dark cloud superimposed on the nebula.
- below Sirius is a large star cluster also easily visible in binoculars.
- near Castor's foot in Gemini is a wonderful galactic or open star cluster. Larger
telescopes can spot a tiny dim star cluster nearby.
- M36, M37, and M38
- are three star clusters at the east side of the pentagon of stars that is Auriga the
charioteer. They are just barely visible in binoculars, but beautiful star groups in the
- M1 - The Crab Nebula
- This is the gaseous remnant of the supernova of 1054. It is small and faint, just
northwest of the star Zeta Tauri, the tip of Taurus the bull's easternmost horn. Find the
other objects of winter before trying to tackle this one.
- is our token winter globular star cluster. The time of year for globulars is summer. M79
is a small fuzzy spot below the center of Lepus the Hare, just below Orion.
- M44 - The Beehive Cluster
- Actually visible to the unaided eye, it can be resolved in binoculars. It lies in the
center of Cancer the crab, southeast of Castor and Pollux, the bright stars at the head of
- is a star cluster also in Cancer. It's two degrees west of Alpha Cancri. It is faint and
rich in stars. It is one of the oldest galactic clusters.
- M81 and M82
- are galaxies in Ursa Major. M81 is the brightest of the two, while M82 is the strangest.
It is apparently exploding. They appear as elliptical and linear hazes respectively. They
arelocated off the lip of the Big Dipper along a line run diagonally through the
bowl, and extended its length again.
- M51 - The Whirlpool galaxy
- This appears as a big and small circular hazes. M51 officially lies in Canes Venatici,
just off the tip of the handle of the Big Dipper. This is the only galaxy, that I've
actually seen a spiral structure. However it took a 14 inch telescope for me to see the
- is the westernmost of the spring globular clusters. It whets the appetite for the
wonderful globulars of late spring and summer. M3 is found a third of the way from the
bright star Arcturus in Bootes and the star Cor Caroli, the brightest star in the two star
constellation of Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs near the Big Dipper's handle. It takes
at least an 8 inch telescope to resolve its stars.
- M13 - The Great Hercules Globular Cluster.
- It is easily visible in binoculars along the western edge of the Keystone pattern in
Hercules. It barely resolvable in a 6 inch telescope.
- M57 - The Ring Nebula
- This is a small but spectacular smoke ring puffed out by a dying star which is
invisible, in small telescopes, in its center. It is not visible in the finder, but
located in the center between the two southernmost stars of the parallelogram of Lyra the
- M27 - The Dumbbell Nebula
- Here is a large faint planetary that looks like its name. It lies in Vulpecula the fox
just north of the tip star of Sagitta the arrow.
- M8 - The Lagoon Nebula
- This is the horizontal bright spot in the 'steam' above the Teapot pattern in the
constellation of Sagittarius the archer seen in binoculars. A telescope shows a bonus star
- is the easiest globular star cluster to resolve. It is located to the upper left of the
top of the lid of the Teapot pattern of Sagittarius.
- M11, M17 and M16
- are all wonderful objects located between Aquila the eagle and Sagittarius.
- M31 - The Great Andromeda Galaxy
- This is a great object for the binocular or small telescope. It is a large elliptical
glow with a dark lane abruptly cutting off the glow on one side. Also look for satellite
galaxy M32, a nearly circular elliptical galaxy nearby.
- The Double Cluster
- actually has star designations. Located midway between the constellations Perseus and
Cassiopeia. Easily located by the unaided eye or with binoculars, these two clusters
appear as two piles of strewn diamonds.
- M45 - The Pleiades or Seven Sisters
- Only Mister Magoo could mistake this for a comet. It lies below Perseus and west of
Taurus. Use low power. Its 6 brightest stars are resolvable to the unaided eye.
- M2 & M15
- are distant globular clusters in Aquarius and Pegasus respectively.
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