The Night Sky
Technology is a wonderful thing. In astronomy, it's allowed us to have everything automated for us. We can buy a telescope and it knows where we are, and with the press of a few buttons we can start gazing at any object.
I wanted to start relatively technology-free. I wanted to learn the night sky. I wanted to learn about all of the things I could hunt for and view with my eyes, binoculars, or telescope.
There are many wonders to hunt and view in the night sky. There are constellations, stars, planets, nebulae, galaxies, star clusters, and many more. This resource is meant to help to understand the organization, terms, keys/legends, and calculations of those night sky objects.
Some of these objects are higher level categories and include many of the other elements. For instance, many of the faint fuzzy objects that Messier includes in his list are actually Galaxies.
Charles Messier was a comet hunter. The objects in his catalog are not comprised of things he was looking for, but the things he was trying to ignore while he hunted the comets. The list of objects in this catalog are some of the most awe-inspiring things to view through a telescope.
"Wow". That's the first thing I continually hear when I show someone Saturn for the first time. "I can see it's rings!" is usually the next thing out of their mouth. It doesn't matter the age of the viewer, seeing Saturn for the first time is absolutely awe-inspiring.
Saturn is just one of a handful of planets and dwarf planets in our local solar system. Some are easier to see and beautiful with their distinctive features. Some are hard to hunt down and find amidst the stars.
The constellations are the stories in the sky. They are the myths that come from a time long before ours. It's how our ancestors made sense of the world around them. It's how many people kept their directions straight.
The list started as a set of 48 objects and has since been expanded to 88. The constellations comprise the stars and asterisms that we see. Two of the most prominent asterisms are the Big Dipper and Orion. To this day, they still help us to orient ourselves around the night sky.
These are the points of light we are used to seeing as we gaze upward. These points of light are so much more than a point of light across a dark blanket. They have incredible sizes, differing magnitures, and distinctive colors.
Viewing the stars is one of the easier tasks. You might even be surprised as you look closer and find that star is not a single star, but part of a binary star.
These objects come in many different shapes and forms. Some are star factories. Some are the remnants of a star that died an explosive death. Some are easily viewable while others require perfect conditions to see.
We live in the Orion arm of the Milky Way Galaxy (unless you are viewing this website from the depths of another galaxy. If so, then welcome.). Each night we have the ability to peer across our own galaxy as we view the rich band in the night sky under good viewing conditions.
One of the first galaxies many amateur astronomers view is the Andromeda Galaxy. I remember the first time I viewed it under perfect conditions. I was camping in Canada. There was no light pollution (or electricity at our camp site). The sky was dark. I first caught it in a 30-second exposure photograph, then went to view more with my binoculars.
I remember that I couldn't stop gazing at this fuzzy object in my binoculars. The realization that I was looking at a galaxy larger than our own. Another object full of it's own stars, planets, and maybe even life. I looked in awe at the sheer distance that light traveled for me to view this object in my binoculars.
I started out learning the night sky by simply browsing around with my eyes and some Nikon binoculars. I would scan the sky and sometimes make a stop at a specific object. At this point I didn't know the names or locations, I was simply exploring.
One of the first objects that caught my attention was the Perseus Double Cluster. My eyepiece was rich with stars.