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.

Winter

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.
M41
below Sirius is a large star cluster also easily visible in binoculars.
M35
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 small telescope.
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.
M79
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.

Spring

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 Gemini.
M67
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 are located 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 ghostly spiral.
M3
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.

Summer

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 Harp.
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 cluster nearby.
M22
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.

Autumn

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.

Questions, suggestions? Send Email to me at bob@bjmoler.org

Uploaded: 2/03/98