With the night sky always changing, there are opportunities to view different deep-space objects. Galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters are great to look at, and provide a more interesting view than just looking at normal stars. It can be amazing to gaze at some of these objects within our galaxy, or even further out in the universe! In this edition, we’ll take a look at several more easy-to-find Messier objects that will delight and astound any stargazer!
First up is M31, also known as the Andromeda Galaxy, located between the Great Square of Pegasus and Cassiopeia. M31 is the nearest large galaxy to the Milky Way, at 2.5 million light years. It is so large and bright that on a clear night, it can be made out as a cloudy smudge. A telescope will reveal a large galaxy with two smaller galaxies. M32 appears as a fuzzy star, and M110 appears as a dim cloudy line. If your telescope is large enough, you can make out dust lanes within M31. Being easy to find, and containing 3 galaxies in such a small area, M31 is a must see!
Next, we have M8, the Lagoon Nebula, which is located in the “teapot” of Sagittarius. Among one of the easiest and brightest nebulae to spot, M8 will not disappoint! Located around 4,500 light years from Earth, this nebula is a “star factory”, as it contains lots of young, newly formed stars. M8 is just visible to the naked eye if the sky is dark enough. A telescope lets you see a large patch of stellar gas along side the group of newly formed stars. This is a great nebula to look for!
For our next target, we’ll take a look at M13, the Great Globluar Cluster of the constellation Hercules. This globular cluster is one of the largest and easiest to spot, even visible to the naked eye under really dark skies. M13 is around 12,500 light years away, and is a whopping 84 light years across. It contains several hundred thousand stars! In 1974, the Aricebo Message intended to be picked up by extraterrestrial life was aimed in the direction of M13. Globular clusters contain some of the oldest known stars in the universe, aged at approximately 11-12 billion years old. Looking at M13 with a telescope will show a dense star field with many stars, and it holds up fairly well to high magnification. Definitely try and spot M13!
A great naked-eye object, M45, the Pleiades star cluster, is another great target for viewing. Located near the “horns” of Taurus the Bull, this open cluster appears like a kite. M45 is among the closest star clusters to Earth, at just over 400 light years’ distance. Only 6 stars are visible to the naked eye, but several dozen can be seen with binoculars or low- magnification telescopes. The Pleiades contains mostly young blue stars and brown dwarves, which are stars too small to begin the fusion reaction within. Some nebulosity can be made out, as it is theorized that the cluster is moving through an interstellar dust cloud. A very neat object to see, make sure you check out the Pleiades!
Finally, we’ll take a look at the Beehive Cluster, M44. M44 is another cluster just visible to the naked eye under dark skies, and lies within the dim constellation Cancer the Crab. It lies approximately 500 light years away, making it another fairly close open star cluster to Earth. In ancient days, M44 was used for weather forecasting, as high altitude clouds coming in advance of a weather front were just enough to make M44 disappear. Binoculars or a low-power telescope will provide the best view. Dozens of stars appear, looking like a swarm of bees. Since the constellation of Cancer is dim and tough to see in the modern day due to light pollution, this cluster may prove to be a slight challenge to find. Stick with it though, and you’ll be rewarded with a great view of a unique star cluster!
Messier objects make good targets for skywatchers, as they’re fairly bright and are well documented. Not all Messier objects are easy to make out with amateur equipment, and it isn’t always apparent as to what you are seeing. By listing some of the easier to spot Messier objects, you now have an idea of the wonders you can view in your own backyard. Seeing the beauty of our universe is a fun and amazing adventure to undertake! Happy hunting!
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