I’ve had an interest in space for most of my life. Ever since I saw the images Voyager 2 sent back of Uranus in 1986, I’ve been obessed with the cosmos. I read every book, looked at every magazine, and watched every show that I came across that dealt with space and space-related things. But none of those things really compared to the hands-on activity of stargazing with a powerful telescope. There is so much beauty and wonder to be seen from your own backyard! Sure, it’s pretty amazing to see the newest image from the Hubble Space Telescope, or pictures from the very large NASA or ESA telescopes around the world. Still, those images don’t compare to the satisfaction and sheer enjoyment of using a star chart and finding some of these objects on your own!
Over the past year or so, I’ve managed to spot over 100 different objects in space from my own backyard. Some were more difficult to find than others. I take notes and keep track of all the objects I find so that I don’t have to try to remember them all. After gathering a large selection of different objects which I have viewed, I’ve decided that a favorites list is in order. This way, any new stargazers can have a starting point, and any people thinking of trying to look for deep sky objects may be inspired to actually do so! I will list my favorite two objects of each type: galaxy, nebulae, open star cluster, and globular cluster, in no particular order. This serves as my “best of the best” list. So, without further ado, here is my list of favorites!
My first favorite galaxy to view is the M51 galaxy. Found near the handle of the Big Dipper, this was the first galaxy I viewed with my telescope. Although it can be somewhat dim, it is such a unique sight! With a 6-8 inch telescope, you can see both of the bright galaxy cores, and even be able to tell that one galaxy is in the process of consuming the other. I enjoy viewing most galaxies with a telescope, but M51 for me stands out as one of the most unique sights in the night sky.
Another of my favorite galaxies to view is the M102 galaxy in the constellation Draco. This galaxy is an edge-on galaxy, so it appears as a thin line with a bright buldge in the center. I have found it to be one of the brightest edge-on galaxies I’ve spotted. It looks very similar to the M104 Sombrero Galaxy. I like this one a little better because I was able to see more detail, such as a thin, dark dust lane which lies in the center of the edge facing Earth. I was able to use a higher magnification to view M102, which helped me to see more detail. While not as unique as M104, it’s higher in the sky where I live, and was beautiful under higher magnifications.
My favorite nebula to view is the M57 Ring Nebula. Located in Lyra in the summer skies, this nebula is another unique sight in the cosmos. It is very small under low magnification, but is bright enough to handle higher magnifications. This nebula is caused by a dying star shedding its outer layers. It looks like a wispy ring, with a hint of color to it. While there isn’t too much going on visually, it’s a beautiful, unique nebula and it’s also fairly easy to spot.
Another favorite nebula of mine is the M8 Lagoon Nebula, found in Sagittarius in the summer skies. M8 is very pretty to see in a telescope, and the open star cluster NGC-6530 is found within. M8 is large enough to view under low magnification, and is fairly bright. I enjoy viewing the Lagoon Nebula because it contains a star cluster, and it’s a nebula where new stars are forming. It’s pretty neat to see where new stars form, and realizing that our Sun came from a similar nebula billions of years ago.
Favorite open star clusters:
My favorite open star cluster to view with a telescope by far is the M11 Wild Duck cluster, found in Scutum in summer months. You can easily find M11 with binoculars, but the real beauty comes with high magnification. I usually use 130x-200x. The higher magnification allows you to see the hundreds of stars within this cluster. It’s an amazing sight to me to see so many stars so close together. I highly recommend viewing this open cluster, the more magnification, the better!
Another favorite open cluster of mine is the Perseus Double Cluster, visible in the fall months. Seeing one open cluster is awesome, but seeing two so close together is beyond amazing! While possible to see this pair with the naked eye, a telescope really makes this double cluster an unforgettable sight! Both clusters contain tons of stars, and will have you staring in awe through your telescope lens.
Favorite globular clusters:
If you thought open star clusters had a lot of stars, globular star clusters out-do the open ones by far. M13 is the most legendary of these. Large and bright, M13 is gorgeous at any magnification. Lower magnification will show some individual stars near the edge, whereas higher power shows individual stars near the center. Definitely an amazing view, M13 is a sight that will keep you glued to the eyepiece.
Another large, bright globular cluster is M22 in Sagittarius during the summer. Similar to M13, M22 is also a treat for viewing. It’s always amazing to see thousands of stars crammed into the space of just a few dozen light years. Also, stars within these clusters are amongst the oldest in the universe, so some of these ancient stars have been burning since the universe was just 700 million years old.
And one miscellaneous favorite:
Lastly, we have a unique object that isn’t a nebula, galaxy, or star cluster. Rather, it’s an arm of the Milky Way! The M24 star cloud, also found in Sagittarius is an arm of the Milky Way on the opposite side of our galaxy. This large, unique object may leave you speechless when you view it. There are tens of thousands of stars that you can see within this cloud. It really helps to put into perspective just how large and how many stars there are within the Milky Way. If even a fraction of those stars have planets, it really makes you wonder what else could be out there just in our own galaxy, let alone the countless other ones.
Of course, with so many objects out there in space, it’s hard to make a complete list of favorites, especially since there is a whole lot more that I have yet to find. I enjoy seeing the objects in this list, and I encourage everyone to try to see some, if not all of these. While stargazing may not be for everyone, seeing some of these objects with your own eyes in a telescope will definitely be worth the effort, and may even set you off on a stargazing adventure of your own! And if you’re just getting into using a telescope, these objects are a great place to start. As a person who enjoys the beauty of nature, I feel that no image of nature is complete without seeing the beauty of the cosmos firsthand.
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