The most commonly asked question is “What can i see tonight?”. The list of possible objects is long and includes:
- Our Moon
- There are 9,110 “stars” in the Yale Catalogue of Bright Stars which is every “star” visible to the naked eye (up to magnitude 6.5).
- The stars are grouped into 88 constellations (International Astronomical Union 1922).
- There are 7 major planets, 5 of which can be seen unaided at various times of the year, (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn).
- There are also 5 dwarf planets (which includes Pluto) but these are faint and require a large scope to see.
- There are 21 significant meteor showers during the year, of which a dozen or so are noteworthy.
- There’s usually a couple of moderately bright comets during the year that can be seen in a modest sized scope. And if we are lucky, there might be a comet visible in binoculars or even unaided.
- The Messier catalog lists 110 of the best “deep sky objects” (DSO). Many of which can be seen with binoculars or unaided and all are accessible using a modest scope. Charles Messier was a French astronomer looking for comets. He created the list in 1771 to record fuzzy objects that were not comets and therefore he could ignore.
- The New General Catalogue (NGC) lists 7,840 “deep-sky objects” and was published in 1888 by John Louis Emil Dreyer. A lot of the objects are visible in a 4″ scope. Some require a large scope and a long exposure image.
- The Index Catalogues (IC) contains an additional 5,386 “deep sky objects”. It was published in 1908 by Dreyer to augment his NGC.
- The Sun – With extreme caution using only methods and equipment designed specifically for solar observing.
With all these objects to choose from, it might seem easy to pick out a few interesting things to look at when you step outside on a dark night. But knowing when these objects are visible, where to look, or simply identifying the brightest objects in the sky can be quite a challenge.
The articles in this section provide guidance in creating an “observing plan”. There are articles which identify the best objects for a particular season and reports of my observing and photography sections. There are also some pages on tips and techniques to make viewing the night sky easier and therefore more fun.