The summer observing season is upon us which means summer vacations, camping, and otherwise just spending more time outdoors which leads to noticing the night sky above us. For some of us this is the time of year that inspiration strikes to haul out that new telescope we got recently. Or why not grab your trusty binoculars and have a look? For many of us starting out in astronomy, the first thing on the list is a study of the lunar landscape, exploring the bright planets in our solar system, and maybe checking out the North Star or a few other well-known targets. (Find information and links about those subjects here.) But then what? Certainly there are thousands of anonymous points of light to look at, but what is the significance of any of it?
Great news! There are many interesting targets that are easily accessible to small telescopes and even binoculars. (Read about why we think binoculars are the best first telescope here.) The night sky is full of diverse objects with fascinating origins and properties. The goal of our this list, and occasional ones to follow, is to provide a brief list of a variety of fascinating objects along with a bit of information about where to find them and what they are. Most, if not all of these objects will be visible in binoculars, but we will choose many that will really allow you to use the power of a small (2.5″ to 4″), simple telescope. If you have a bigger aperture, high quality ‘scope the objects will look even better.
When characterizing when an object is visible we will use 8:00 PM as a general reference time. Many objects are visible in months outside the window we will describe, if you are interested in observing very late at night or in the pre-dawn hours.
We will list the objects individually in separate posts on our blog in the coming weeks to highlight them individually. We will post links to them here (you can also search the blog for the tag “Objects”).
Learning to identify and locate the constellations in the night sky will be the key to finding the various objects we will study here. While doing this is a rewarding pursuit in itself, many people find it a daunting task and have trouble sticking with it. By having specific interests in individual constellations we hope to provide the motivation to locate them, one by one. Once they get a good start, many people find the task easier and more fun than they expected.
The reason this is important is that to locate specific objects in the night sky we will use the constellations and their asterisms as road signs or markers. For example, to describe where to find the Ring Nebula we look between the Beta and Gamma stars in the constellation Lyra.
WHAT??? How am I supposed to know where Lyra is, and what are Beta and Gamma? Actually this is fairly straightforward, but it is best done with a few simple pieces of reference material, namely a Planisphere and an Atlas. Our planisphere, The Night Sky™ will help you find any constellation within a matter of minutes. It will show you if a particular constellation is visible from your location at the current time of year and where it will be in the sky at the time of night you are looking. This is often all you will need as a reference to find other objects.
In many cases, however, it is useful to have a star atlas available. For a planisphere to be useful it must cover all, or a large portion of the sky at once. That limits the amount of detail that we can practically present on that format. An atlas, such as our Sky Atlas for Small Telescopes and Binoculars™, simply provides a zoomed-in view of a portion of the planisphere map that provides the opportunity to print individual star names and sometimes diagram the asterisms. An analogy would be using a map of the United States to find the location of major cities, then going to a street map to find specific landmarks.