There is so much to be learned from the Universe. For the ambitious many who want explore the sky from their own home, deciding where to start can be challenging. With so much to see, it’s tough to know where to begin.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take years of schooling to study the Cosmos. Finding and gazing upon the wonders of this Universe is a fascinating hobby that everyone can enjoy. Here are the five sky objects that every wannabe astronomer should know about.
The Dumbbell Nebula
Located approximately 1,360 light years from Earth, the Dumbbell Nebula is a dying star that has been expelling a shell of hot gas into space for about 48,000 years. Known as one of the top polluters of the interstellar medium, this nebula can be examined with binoculars or a small telescope. The luminance and visual magnitude of this nebula make it a favorite amongst amateur astronomers.
The Andromeda Galaxy
Next door to our very own Milky Way, is the Andromeda Galaxy. This spiral galaxy is best seen during autumn nights in the Northern hemisphere and is the most distant sky object you can see with your eye alone. It’s fun to think of the Andromeda Galaxy as the sibling rival to our own Milky Way, since it’s so close to the Milky Way and easy to compare. With nearly twice as many stars as the Milky Way, this large galaxy spans 220,000 light years across. The Andromeda Galaxy is a fun one for space enthusiasts to discuss because in four billion years, our galaxy and the Andromeda will collide. The collision is expected to create a new, elliptical galaxy.
Mizar and Alcor
Also known as “The Horse and The Rider”, Mizar and Alcor make up the most famous double star. Visible in the Northeast during the spring, it can be found at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. As the first double star to be viewed through a telescope in 1650, it’s actually six stars in their own system. Mizar has four stars while Alcor has two.
The Hercules Cluster is a globular cluster made up of tens of thousands of stars. Best seen through telescopes with large apertures it lives 25,000 light years away. It’s a little harder to find, but once found, you can’t help but admire the breadth of it. This lovely cluster, which holds a half a million suns, forces you to ponder the enormous depth of this universe.
This double star, with it’s easy to distinguish contrasting colors, is a favorite for stargazers. It’s sapphire and gold colors make this pair stand out amongst the backdrop of the Universe. As a true binary star system, it takes as long as 100,000 years for Albiero to complete a full orbit. It might look as though these stars are close together, but keep in mind that this system is actually 430 light years away, placing quite a bit of distance between the two. For those with more advanced telescopes, it can be observed that this binary system actually consists of three stars. The brighter star of the pair is actually two stars.
When it comes to amateur astronomy, there is a nice range of ground instruments that can be utilized in stargazing. From the unaided eye, to common video cameras, there are many choices available to aid enthusiasts with this fascinating hobby. With the recent improvements in technology, there are plenty of affordable computerized telescopes that make finding these sky objects even easier.
For people who don’t want to purchase a telescope, star parties and other celestial events present the opportunity for anyone who is interested in learning more about the Universe. And with the growing community of amateur astronomers, finding a local group shouldn’t be that hard.
Wannabe astronomers can learn a lot from the many websites and publications dedicated to amateur astronomy. Monthly guides with detailed star maps and celestial news are helpful tools in becoming a cosmic observer.
Within the community of wannabe astronomers, these five sky objects are a must-see. Full of mystery and wonder, gazing up at these beautiful objects will always amaze.