Top 5 Deep Space Objects For Beginners
For those ready to take a crack at astrophotography, there are certain stellar objects on which to first set your sights.
They’re something called Deep Sky Objects, also known by astrophotography enthusiasts as DSO. DSO are stellar features other than individual stars; that means the sun, moon, and planets aren’t technically considered DSO. Rather, the term includes other objects that can be seen faintly by the naked eye and through telescopes, such as star clusters, nebula, and galaxies.
Before you take out your telescope, there are a few tips to improve your observing. The first involves magnification. You should start your imaging of DSO with lower magnification accompanied by a wide field of view. However, if you are imaging DSO in a light polluted area, you should use a higher magnification as that makes star clusters stand out more against a darkened sky. You may also have to pull a few late nights: DSO are most visible when they are highest in the sky, often around 3 a.m. to 4 a.m.
All DSO are catalogued as Messier Objects, a classification created in the 18th century by French astronomer Charles Messier. The Messier Object number is noted on each of the DSO objects below.
Now that you’ve got the basics, here are the top five Deep Space Objects for beginners.
ORION NEBULA (M42)
If you’ve ever glanced at Orion’s Belt in the northern sky, you would have been observing the Orion Nebula without even realizing. The Orion Nebula is one of the brightest nebulae in the Milky Way. While it can be seen by the naked eye in very dark locations, it is also a good target for beginner astrophotographers. It is a diffuse nebulae, meaning you’re observing a cloud of glowing space dust. While that dust is normally dark in color, its proximity to a hot, bright star means it is illuminated in the night sky. The Orion Nebula is best observed in the winter and spring. Here is the star map for the Orion Nebula.
ANDROMEDA GALAXY (M31)
The Andromeda Galaxy is the second major galaxy in our solar system. Like the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy can be seen by the naked eye on very dark nights. The galaxy appears as an ovular spiral, and its bright center – a giant black hole – makes the Andromeda Galaxy perfect for beginner astrophotographers. The Andromeda Galaxy is best viewed in the summer, fall, and winter. Here is the star map for the Andromeda Galaxy.
HERCULES CLUSTER (M13)
Beginners will have to go on a bit of a scavenger hunt to find this cluster. Telescopes should first be set to the Hercules constellation, where viewers should then focus on finding the four stars that make up the trapezoid of the constellation. From there, you should be able to find this globular cluster; the brightest in the Northern Hemisphere. A globular cluster is a large grouping of old stars that form a tight, spherical shape. The Hercules Cluster is one of the best examples of this astronomical phenomena, and is best observed in the spring, summer, and fall. Here is the star map for the Hercules Cluster.
DOUBLE CLUSTER (NGC869 & NGC884)
As the name suggests, the Double Cluster is a grouping of two open star clusters, coming from the Perseus and nearby Cassiopeia constellations. Unlike globular clusters, open star clusters have stars that are spread out, with some stars appearing fainter than others. The Double Cluster is one of the best DSO for beginners as it is actually seen better through a small telescope than a large one. Star spotters should look for the dazzling, colorful stars during the fall, winter, and early spring months. Here is the star map of the Double Cluster.
DUMBBELL NEBULA (M27)
The Dumbbell Nebula is the second largest planetary nebula in the northern sky. Despite its name, planetary nebulae are completely unrelated to planets. Instead, this DSO is a glowing gas cloud formed when middle aged stars decided to shed a layer of gas. The Dumbbell Nebula is found in the Vulpecula constellation, but can also be seen by first finding the Cygnus or Sagitta constellations. Telescopes should look for a nebula that appears slightly blue or green in color. The Dumbbell Nebula is best observed in the fall, winter, and spring, using this star map for the Vulpecula constellation.
The five DSO listed above are just a start. There are over 100 Messier astronomical objects to be scouted and seen in the night sky. Most are best found with the aid of a sky atlas. Happy DSO hunting!