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What You'll See

 

The moon, some of the planets, Galaxies, Nebulas, and star clusters.

 

In the summer we get to look at Ring Nebula, a literal smoke ring in the sky, Dumbell Nebula, Alberio, a beautiful apparent double star, one red and one blue, the Butterfly open cluster, and the great globular cluster in Hercules, which in the eyepiece looks like a huge eye-filling view of thousands of glittering diamonds.

 

In the winter we get to see the Andromeda Galaxy, a smudge in the sky with the naked eye or binoculars in the telescope becomes a sweeping panaorama of a large spiral arm galaxy with two companion galaxies at it’s edge and the Beehive open cluster. In the winter we also get to see the Orion nebula. Visible with the naked eye, in the telescope the view is extraordinary; the arms of the nebula reach all the way across the view and the Trapezium, the four stars in it’s center, are clearly seen.

 

With a telescope we primarily look at objects that are in our own galaxy.  The only thing we see that is not in our own galaxy are other galaxies.  The objects we look at include:

• Open Clusters, loose groupings of stars that often make pretty patterns, or asterisms, giving them names like Butterfly, Beehive, or Coat Hanger

• Globular Clusters, groups of thousands or tens of thousands of stars that mysteriously travel through space together.

• Reflection Nebula, clouds of interstellar dust illuminated by nearby stars.

• Emission Nebula, clouds of dust and gas that are ionized and emit light (often a nearby star or group of stats is exciting the dust).

• Planetary Nebula, a kind of emission nebula where an old star sheds it's outer layers.  So called because in a low power telescope such a round object might almost be confused for a planet.  They are a relatively short-lived phenomenon, lasting a few tens of thousands of years, compared to a typical stellar lifetime of several billion years.

 

Many of the objects we look at in our galaxy are called out by an M number, like M13 or M27.  These refer to Charles Messier, (1730-1817) who while primarily a comet hunter, also compiled a list of the easiest to see objects in the northern hemisphere (the only ones available to the telescopes of his vintage).  While he discovered many of the objects (40 in fact) that carry his initial, he basically put together the catalog known as the Messier Catalog.  

 

In the twentieth century 7 objects known to have been logged by Messier were added to the Messier Catalog. M110, the final entry, was added in 1967. Today it is known that M40 is merely a binary star and M73 is only an asterism. M102 is thought to be a duplication of M101 but NGC 5866 is often accepted as being M102. The true identity of M91 is also questionable. Because of an error in their coordinates M47 and M48 were at one time deemed to be "lost" Messier objects.