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Easy objects to observe for beginners


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I'm sure we've all been there, you get your first scope expecting to see swirling galaxies and intricate nebula clouds in glorious colour like you see in books and the web. The first clear night beckons and you set up the scope and if you actually manage to find anything, it's most likely a smudge or fuzzy patch of light in the eyepiece which can be slightly disheartening.

It can be a steep learning curve from the start, even GOTO isn't quite the idiot proof boon it's sometimes made out to be so I thought it'd be nice to bring a few objects to people's attention that can help, rather than hinder that first initial flush of enthusiasm that comes when starting a new hobby.

One that always bring a smile to my face: Albireo, the double star in Cygnus.

The lack of colour in deep sky objects is one thing that many people find disappointing and the best way around it is to find a good colour contrast double star, Albireo is probably the best known example of this. I always see the two stars as Blue and Yellow although this may vary as to what scope you're using and how your eyes perceive colour. It's also pretty bright at magnitute 3.1, I can just make it out when it's overhead with the naked eye although it obviously takes a scope to split the two stars!

Here's a map of Cygnus:

?object=cyg&size=2

Albireo is at the bottom of the cross (the one with the 'B' next to it) and can be split into it's two stars by pretty much any scope (I'm sure I could do it with my 66mm scope, I just haven't got round to it yet) with the right amount of magnification. It's well past it's best at this time of year sinking into the West but if you get out early enough, you can still catch it but it rises again next spring and can be seen all though summer and autumn. Try it, it's not the most spectacular object, but it's certainly one of the most colourful and one I always have a look at when I'm observing.

Please feel free to add your own object(s), I hope we can make this thread into something for people who are just starting out a resource that'll make lives a little easier :D.

Tony..

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Good idea.

For me the best objects visually to look at are the brighter ones, however not all bright objects appear 'interesting', so I shall compare a few below:

One of my favourite's is the Dumbell Nebula; Messier 27. Its quite easy to find once you know where the surrounding constellations are, and if you want (as I do) is imagine a line down from Lyra, through Cygnus to the object.

Through a telescope its marvellous and does the images some justice as you can see the 'hourglass' shape, and it is quite bright also. Compared with the plantary nebula M57; the Ring Nebula, which is much fainter and smaller.

Whereas;

Most people have heard of the Andromeda Galaxy; M31, now going by the images you would expect to see the arm structure and the satellites peeping out from either side...........noooo way, with a modest scope all you can see if the core and even that is faint on a light sky. M31 is a poor object to look at when compared with the curves of say the Whirlpool Galaxy; M51 or the sleekness of the Cigar Galaxy; M82.

Speaking of M82; I know its a little faint and finding it in summer can be tricky especially with light skies in the west, but if you do find it, then its neighbour M81 is much larger. Infact this whole region is very attractive to astronomy as it hosts different galaxy types, shapes and sizes. M82 is an irregular galaxy, M81; Bode's Nebula (nebulae from the greek meaning 'cloud' has sustained its name due to galaxies being known as nebulae prior to the 1920's) is a spiral galaxy and larger, and also nearby is the smaller galaxy of NGC 3077.

These are just some of my favourites, you can also add M13 and M92 (globular clusters) to the list, although M92 appears smaller than M13, they both lie in the same constellation (Hercules) and look pretty similar, they are also reasonably bright and not as prone to being washed out by the moon as they are luminous bodies, unlike nebulae

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I think the famous double cluster in Perseus is a cracking deep sky object in virtually any scope. It's official names are NGC869 and NGC884 (NGC = New General Catalogue) so you get 2 DSO's for the price of one as well :D

John

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I had a mate around the other night who is a mad keen science fiction fan but who had never looked through a 'proper' telescope. He was blown away by the Moon and Venus, I showed him the Double, M31 and Albireo but what made him go 'wow' was Eta Cass, brilliant little ruby red star and the yellow sister. Actually an optical double.

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Mizar and Alcor in Ursa Major are also impressive I think - you can see that they form an optical double with your naked eye but through a modest scope Mizar is shown to be a very nice binary as well.

While we are at it, Castor in Gemini is another, quite close, double star which often suprises people who have not seen it though a scope before.

John

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i think we all tend to forget what are probably the two best objects for beginners on their "first light"

the moon and saturn (though not at it's best at the moment) they are the two that everyone's heard about even if not into astonomy and to see someones reaction when they see saturns rings or when they are presented witha clear view of the crators etc of the moon can, in my opinion, be one of the most rewarding things about showing someone the view through a scope.

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Great topic Tony - thanks!

Biggest wows so far from our (beginner) family came from Jupiter (and seeing its moons moving over a few days) and the Orion nebula. For easy and stunning bino viewing M45 got the wife's vote too.

Oh, and to second tinvek, the moon becomes a completely different animal when viewed through the scope - truly awesome along the terminator for starters.

Looking forward to reading more suggestions,

Nick

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I had a mate around the other night who is a mad keen science fiction fan but who had never looked through a 'proper' telescope. He was blown away by the Moon and Venus, I showed him the Double, M31 and Albireo but what made him go 'wow' was Eta Cass, brilliant little ruby red star and the yellow sister. Actually an optical double.

Eta Cas was the 1st double I split :D

It has a fantastic colour contrast and has an orbital period of 480 years.

It is also very easy to find :hello2:

Cheers

Ian

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I've often found myself recommending good targets for beginners - unfortunately, usually after the beginner has been disappointed by choosing a poor first target. This really is a good topic, and good advice for us to keep handy.

Rather than having to re-think this question frequently, I eventually wrote this article on what I think makes a good beginner target, and have assembled this list of targets for small scopes, that I frequently recommend to beginners.

- Richard

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Another one...

The Pleiades (M45).

Rubbish trivial fact: The Japanese name for the Pleiades is Subaru. Now, the next time you see an Impreza, go and have a look at the badge. You'll see 6 stars. These are apparently supposed to represent the 6 stars of the Pleiades you can see with the naked eye.

Anyway, this open cluster of stars is IMO, best viewed with a pair of binoculars as they span almost 2 degrees of sky and they're nice and bright. My cheapo 10x50 binoculars from Lidl gives a great view of them, in fact the best I've had so far is through my 15x70's where I even managed to pick up a bit of the 'nebulosity' that surrounds them, although this was a night with exceptionally good atmospheric conditions. You won't get a group of stars swamped in blue filamentary strands like you see in the long exposure images on here and other places but you'll always get a nice group of stars and deserves the cliche that normally comes from anyone who reviews a refrator telescope 'diamonds on a velvet black sky'. If you're lucky, really lucky like I was, you might just be able to pick out a blue fringe around the brighter stars.

Two good things about the Pleiades, the first is working out which ones are the 'sisters' (another name for them is the Seven Sisters, even though there's 9 of them. No, I don't know why either). Secondly I found them to be a great 'marker' for working out that particular part of the sky. For example, here's a map:

moz-screenshot.jpgmoz-screenshot-2.jpg?object=tau&size=2

As I'm writing this 11.30(ish) at this time of year, the Pleiades are pretty much dead south. See the little clump of stars with the '27' next to it? That's the Pleiades. Slightly down and to the left, those 5 stars making a 'point'? That's the Hyades, another open cluster. In the bottom left corner is the main part of Orion. If you were standing looking at this from your observing site, there'd be a bright star to the left of you which would be Procyon in Canis minor and a REALLY bright star forming a Triangle inbetween and underneath, that's Sirius, the Dog Star in Canis Major. Above Procyon are two bright stars called Castor and Pollux in the constellation of Gemini. If you can find these, then you've just managed to find a fair portion of the night sky and located 5 constellations, congratulations :( .

Tony..

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If I can borrow the chart Tony has just used to find the Pleiades, and downwards to The very bright and very scintilating Sirius, known as the Dog Star. Going downwards from Sirius, a distance of approximately 8 widths of a full moon,(4 degrees) with a low power eyepiece inserted in your scope, and slowly panning around that area of sky, you will find a lovely open cluster Messier 41.

It is also known as the little Manger, after the :D Beehive cluster in Cancer, also called Praesepe, or the Manger.

Finding M41, will require the observer to have clear southern sky down to the horizon, as the M41 cluster is quite low in the sky. Well worth a look though, and of course, if you ever decide to do a Messier Marathon, it will be a requirement for this object to be one of your targets. :(

Ron. :lol:

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Great thread. To sum up the suggestions so far:

Solar system

- moon

- saturn

- jupiter

DSOs

- pleiades

- M57

- M27

- M42

- M81/2

- double cluster

- M13

- M92

- M41

multiple stars

- albireo

- eta cas

- castor

I'm going to stick the double double in as well. A little tricky, but you get a great ffeeling of achievement out of it and it's great to see it go from one with naked eye, to two in the finderscope, to four in the scope.

For DSOs, I think it's great to trot through the Auriga clusters in low power.

Andrew

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I think the first thing that most people look at is the moon. There's a quick WOW moment then off to other targets. That's a pity, as is the fact that a lot of folk see the moon as a source of LP rather than a target. The fact is that you can spend hours looking at the different features on the moon (even through light cloud cover) and searching out the small craters etc will give you invaluable practise in controlling your scope which comes in very handy for when you're trying to find those elusive DSO's

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  • 4 weeks later...

Great thread Tony :thumbright: , I can't believe I didn't spot this one back in December!!!!! Good shout Andrew with that list.

May I suggest NGC2392 The Eskimo/Clown Face nebula in Gemini. Small ('but perfectly formed')bright, and structure visible in my old 8" Newtonian. Also NGC 6543 The Cat's Eye Nebula, bright and elongated. You also get a little colour with this one!

Stef

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As a newby to astronomy this is very helpful. Some will have seen my introduction in the welcome bit of this forum, and thanks to all who have made me feel so welcome. I am waiting for my first clear sky (hopefully i will not have to freeze my n*** off when this happens) so in anticipation I have been doing some reading. Until reading this thread I was content to go out there and shoot at, well anything, just to get use to the scope and its mechanism. The alternative is to spend some time working out exactly how to align my scope. My guess is that once this become well practised it wont be as tedius as it looks in the book. My garden is South facing and free from light (neighbours permitting) so looking at Polaris wont be easy as the more stable ground is near the house.

So, do I go and point and shoot or spend some time with technicalities so that when I do observe something I know what it is?

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So, do I go and point and shoot or spend some time with technicalities so that when I do observe something I know what it is?

Point and shoot - you want your first experience(s) to be impressive. If you are south-facing, find Orion and point at the middle star in the sword. That's M42, one of winter's showpieces. It's trivially easy to find and will "wow" you. Save the hard stuff for later when you are more familiar with your equipment and it's a little more pleasant outside.

- RIchard

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Richard you read my mind :hello2: . So, without further ado.. M42.

M42 is the great nebula or the Orion nebula and is probably the most spectacular deep sky object (DSO) in the sky. It's big, bright and has a wealth of detail to be discovered. I'm not a particularly experienced obsever but I can visit it every single time I'm observing whilst it's up and find something new within it. Another great thing about is it that you can view it so many ways. Use a low power eyepiece or binoculars and take the whole complex shape in, crank up the magnification and scan across the filaments of nebulosity, go higher still and pick out even more. See how many stars you can get in the Trapezium (a small open cluster in the nebula. You should be able to see 4 most nights, 5 and 6 stars on nights with good skies and a large(ish) scope), just so much to see!

Honestly, if you don't fail to be impressed by M42, then either there's something wrong with your scope or you're in the wrong hobby. It's also one of the few objects that you might be able to pick out some colour on, I've definately seen it with a Greenish and Purpleish tint to it.

It's fairly easy to find. This time of year is fairly high in the South just look for three bright stars in a line, M42 is below the middle one. If you live in mildly light polluted skies like me, you might just be able to pick it out with the naked eye. Here's a map:

?object=ori&size=2

Enjoy :D .

Tony..

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Thanks guys, I commute on the M42 nearly every day so was dismayed to learn that's what I should be looking at :hello2: Anyway here is my point, 45 Min's ago the sky was a black thing with lots of shiny things in it. (I will give myself some credit for identifying the moon) but hey after consulting the books and the map from Tony I am confident I can identify the configuration you are both describing.

I know this is a bit Janet and john but one step at a time for me. Rest assured this will be my first target and i will endeavour to write back when I finally get to see it.

One point, the suggestion to point south at the M42 is made from Cambridgeshire and Canada :scratch: does this not have any bearing on locating stars

cheers for the suggestion and help

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One point, the suggestion to point south at the M42 is made from Cambridgeshire and Canada :scratch: does this not have any bearing on locating stars

Won't make any difference as Canada and Cambridgeshire are both in the Northern Hemisphere :hello2:. Unless Richard lives in Northern Canada, Orion will be higher in the sky where he lives as we live at a more Northerly latitude than he does. IIRC, In the Southern Hemisphere, you'd look North for Orion but he'd be upside-down to how we see him.

Tony..

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Yup. By the time it gets dark, "south is south". I'm at a slightly lower latitude than you, probably, so Orion is a little higher in the sky for me. But if you look close to due south about 8 to 10 PM some day soon, Orion stands out very clearly. Check Tony's map above to get a general sense of the shape, then look for the distinctive 3 stars in a row that form the belt. After the belt, the rest of the constellation fills in easily.

Here is a nice article about Orion and the things in its vicinity, and it includes a good photo of the constellation that will tell you what to look for in your sky, and here is an article giving detailed instructions on finding Orion and M42, including photos to practice with during cloudy skies.

- Richard

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  • 1 year later...

Can I recommend to other beginners that you check websites to cross reference what you should see.

For instance the Sky and Telescope site does a little diagram showing the position of Jupiter's moons at any time of night or day. The first few times you look at the planet it is always astonishing that the moons are exactly where the aplet (?) has worked out they are.

Also, on advice, I have downloaded a virtual moon atlas which I consult before/during looking at the moon. Left clicking the part of the moon you are interested in brings up the name of the item and much information about it. This adds value to observing.

Then there is the Jupiter Chaser. Gives the times and dates for getting a good view of this planet.

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