So now you;ve used your new telescope to view the Moon and most of the planets. So what is next? The answer is: Deep Sky Objects (DSO). These are the ‘faint fuzzies’ that exist well past our Solar System (in fact most are out of our galaxy). They are faint, but they are beautiful to view. The trouble is, DSOs are almost invisible to the naked eye, unlike the objects we described in previous entries of Astronomy Hints (Uranus, Neptune & Pluto excepted). This means that there is a lot more work involved in trying to find DSO’s. You will need a few tricks and in some cases computer aid to help you find them. But for now, we will stick with a couple of the easier ones to find.
We’ll start with the Orion Nebula. As the name implies it can be found in the Constellation of Orion:
Orion is one of a few Constellations that can be found easily. It is even visible in Urban skies. It comes up in the southern sky during the late Fall and stays around for much of the Winter. The running joke about Orion is that it is one of the few Constellations that actually looks like what it is suppose to represent (i.e. a Hunter with a bow or club). Now the Orion Nebula is classified as M42 in the Messier catalog (more on that later) . From the above graphic map you can see how it sits below the three stars that make up Orion’s ‘belt’. If you look at the actual constellation with your naked eye and look at where M42 is supposed to be you might actually get an impression that there is something there – but you can’t quite make it out. This is trick your eyes are pulling on you since the object is so faint – the nebula is just bright enough to activate the Black & White sensing Rods on the edges of your pupils, but not bright enough to activate the Cones that see color (and need more light).
Since Orion is the 2nd brightest Deep Sky Object visible in the Northern Hemisphere (the Pleides is first, more on that later) it is probably the best subject for your first DSO. It should be fairly easy to find with your telescope’s finder scope, or you can just eyeball it from the belt of Orion. It is fairly large so you should be able to find it without too much trouble.
Now this image can give you a decent idea of what the Orion Nebula looks like, but in reality there will be some HUGE differences. For one thing, you will not see any color, nor will you see that much detail, nor will the image be as crisp, nor that bright. Sorry about the deception but most folks need to know that the color astrophotographs and Hubble images they see in books and on the internet are not what you will see in your starting telescope. These shots are long-exposure with a lot of work and time going into them.
That being said, your first glimpse of a Deep Sky Object can still be breathtaking – it is also the first step in seeing the real value in astronomy. Many folks with telescopes limit themselves to just the Moon, or the Moon and Planets. With DSOs there is so much more out there to see!
Next issue we will try a couple of the more: the Pleides and the Andromeda Galaxy!