Astronomy has been a staple in my life since I was very young. My dad was devoted to amateur astronomy for a number of years, purchasing, building, and using his own telescopes for observation and astrophotography. This led to spending one week out of every summer at Starfest, one of the world’s largest star parties hosted every year near Mount Forest, Ontario. Armed with my own telescope at the age of eleven, I searched the sky for new and exciting objects to mark off in my observation log book.
It took me years to realize that not everyone is as exposed to astronomy as I was as a kid. In fact, a number of people I’ve met have never even seen a planet through a telescope before, let alone a galaxy or a nebula! But since I never got into the photography aspect of the hobby, I figured I’d take advantage of one of my favourite astrophoto resources, APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) to share some of my favourite objects in the night sky.
The Astronomy Starter Pack: Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon
I’ll admit, sometimes I skip past viewing the planets and go straight to the deep-sky, far-away objects. But it’s always interesting and humbling to take a look at our solar siblings, and the Moon that started this fascination with space for so many of us.
For reference, top left is Jupiter, and those four points in a diagonal line next to it are its four visible, “Galilean” moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Bottom left is Venus. On the right, of course, is the Moon. Hopefully you know that one by now.
M57: The Ring Nebula
This is a planetary nebula, which means it is the remnant of a sun-like star that has shed its outer layers of gas, leaving only that little white dwarf in the centre. I like looking for M57 early in an evening, because it’s a quick win: easily resolved and always cool. Of course, the colours don’t show up in the telescope, but the white ring is still worth seeing.
(To explain the jargon: M57 means Messier 57, meaning the 57th object Charles Messier catalogued in the 1770s.)
M31: The Andromeda Galaxy
This is our closest neighbouring galaxy. You may recognize this galaxy, I’m told, from one of the default background images on a Mac, with one exception: you see that smaller galaxy just below and to the right of Andromeda? Apple photoshopped poor M110 out of their image! You’ll have to check for yourself; I’m not a Mac person. Either way, though, Andromeda is on a collision course with the Milky Way… in the next, oh, 4 billion years or so.
M13: The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules
I love looking at globular clusters. They’re essentially just tightly-packed collections of generally older stars within our Milky Way Galaxy. This particular “glob” contains about 100,000 stars. I find these are fun because it’s always a challenge to try and resolve as many stars as possible, and to try and imagine the sheer scope of what you’re seeing. Each dot is a star, people!
This is just a first taste of the kinds of beauty and geekery waiting to be discovered in the sky each night. (In the Northern Hemisphere, anyway.) If you liked this post and want more astronomical recommendations, let me know!
What do you love to look at in the night sky, or what have you always dreamed of seeing?