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300-Plus Showpieces of the Heavens for Telescope Viewing and Contemplation
By James Mullaney
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2002 James Mullaney
All rights reserved.
The following compilation presents over 300 of the finest celestial wonders for viewing with common "backyard" telescopes (refractors, reflectors and catadioptrics in the 2- to 14-inch aperture range). Representing the culmination of the author's 40-year visual survey of the sky N of -45 degrees declination, it covers that 3/4ths of the entire heavens visible from mid-northern latitudes. This survey has resulted in the publication of more than 500 articles on "stargazing" over the years in such magazines as Sky & Telescope, Astronomy, Star & Sky, Modern Astronomy, Review of Popular Astronomy, The Planetarian and Science Digest - as well as the Sky Publishing reprint booklet The Finest Deep-Sky Objects, which has gone through three printings and been in use by amateur and professional astronomers around the world since 1966.
More than 3,000 deep-sky objects were examined with dozens of telescopes, the visual appeal of each being rated at the eyepiece on an excellent (E), good (G), fair (F), poor (P) basis. The E and G entries comprise this roster. All objects were observed when on or near the meridian (and so at their highest in the sky), and under conditions of average or better seeing/atmospheric steadiness (mainly doubles and tight clusters) and/or transparency/clarity (mainly clusters, nebulae and galaxies). The author's various observing sites were nearly all within the suburbs of large cities in the northeastern United States and, therefore, under conditions of moderate to heavy light pollution.
This compilation begins with six showpieces of the solar system, followed by 336 deep-sky wonders - those objects lying beyond the confines of our Sun's family. (There actually are 370 in all, since a number of the entries have two or more related objects in the same eyepiece field, such as the Andromeda Galaxy and its companions.) The latter are arranged alphabetically by constellation and consist of the following nine classes or types: first-magnitude/highly-tinted and/or variable (single) stars, double and multiple stars, asterisms and stellar associations, open star clusters, globular star clusters, diffuse nebulae, planetary nebulae, supernovae remnants, and galaxies. Double and multiple stars dominate this compilation due to their great profusion in the sky (its tinted jewels!), as well as their endless variety and easy visibility on all but the worst of nights.
An abbreviated descriptive format is used to accommodate as much observing information as possible in a manner convenient for both field and armchair use (i.e. reading prior to going to the telescope). Those objects (half of the total) indicated by an exclamation mark (!) represent the "best of the best" for showing visitors at your telescope, as well as at astronomy club star parties and observatory/planetarium public viewing nights. In addition to the 300-plus showpieces themselves, nearly two dozen other special objects are listed that - while in most instances not visually impressive at the eyepiece due to large apparent size, faintness, etc. - are still noteworthy for the various reasons given under "Remarks" and should be included in any celestial roundup like this one for completeness. They are indicated by an asterisk (*) before their descriptions.
To locate these wonders, this compilation should be used in conjunction with a good star atlas or map such as Norton's 2000.0, The Cambridge Star Atlas, Sky Atlas 2000.0 or Deep Map 600 (available from many telescope dealers and through bookstores) to "star hop" your way from bright naked-eye stars to the object you seek. Note that many of these showpieces are directly visible to the unaided eye on a dark (i.e. without bright moonlight) clear night, and are wonderful sights in binoculars and low-power (X), widefield (WF) or richest-field (RFT) telescopes. Most of the objects presented here can be seen in a small glass, many of them even under bright-sky conditions. Should your instrument have setting circles (standard or digital) or a computerized star catalog connected to it, you can "dial up" these targets directly without recourse to a map or atlas (which - to many of us purists - takes much of the fun and adventure out of celestial exploration!).
As the famed observer William H. Pickering pointed out in his classic 1917 list of The Sixty Finest Objects in the Sky: "Incidentally, it may be mentioned that for the casual visitor who merely wishes to see something brilliant and surprising, few objects excite more admiration than a first-magnitude star thrown slightly out of focus." This is true especially when the star is near the horizon while rising or setting, at which time glorious prismatic rays flash and dance from its flaming heart!
A few final words: Enjoy these wonders for yourself, but also share them with others - and together celebrate the universe! Look at them with both your mind and your sight, contemplating the significance of what you're seeing. Realize that you are a part of them (you're made of "star stuff"), and are in direct physical contact with these objects via the amazing "photon connection" - the wave-particles hitting the retina of your eye were once inside of them! And finally, think about Who created all of these wonders and Who keeps them all shining! Clear skies and many happy "adventures in starland" as you explore the awesome "nocturnal wonderland" of the heavens! (See Page 97)
SOLAR SYSTEM WONDERS
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Our Daytime Star! Sunspots, granulation, faculae, solar rotation, flares, limb darkening (creating a 3-Dimensional effect!), prominences (with H-Alpha filter), transits of the inner planets (and other unidentified bodies - more than 600 of them having been reported in the literature over the past three centuries!), both partial and total solar eclipses, etc. Extreme caution must be exercised - using proper filter and/or projection techniques - or instant blindness may result! Our average distance from this radiant "lifestar" is 93,000,000 miles (or 8 light-minutes!).
Earth's Satellite. The most-observed and fascinating of all heavenly bodies! Everchanging phases, lava plains ("seas"), craters, mountains, valleys, domes, pits, rilles, transient lunar phenomena (or TLPs - flashes, obscurations, colorations, moving lights, etc.), librations, conjunctions and occultations (of planets, stars and deep-sky objects especially star clusters), both partial and total lunar eclipses, etc. With a good lunar map, embark on a nightly "sightseeing tour" of this fascinating alien landscape! Average distance from us 239,000 miles - making it the closest of all celestial bodies (with the exception of "Earth-grazing" asteroids!).
The Morning/Evening "Star" - and third brightest object in the heavens after the Sun and Moon. Changing phases, terminator irregularities, cloud shadings, the "spoke system," the "ashen light," the phase or "dichotomy" anomaly, cusp extensions, etc. Minimum distance from us 25,000,000 miles (much closer than Mars is - see below), at which time it displays a magnificent crescent that's visible in binoculars and has even been seen with the unaided eye!
The Red Planet (actually orange!). Largely disappointing except around times of opposition when closest to us (minimum distance 34,000,000 miles). Then, polar ice caps, deserts, greenish-blue and brown markings, streaky "canals," dust storms, clouds, the "blue clearing" of the atmosphere, rotation of planet, springtime "wave of darkening," etc. are visible. Mysterious flashes have been reported on both the surface and limb of the planet. (Its satellites Phobos and Demos can be glimpsed in 10-inch or larger instruments by a trained observer under good conditions - definitely not sights to impress visitors with!)
The Giant Planet. Most "active" and fascinating of all the planets! Four bright Galilean satellites Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto (all visible in binoculars) do a nightly dance around the planet and undergo eclipses, transits, occultations, cast their shadows on cloudtops of planet, and (every six years) mutual phenomena of each other! In good seeing at high power, they show tiny (non-stellar) disks. At least one harbors an icecovered water ocean! The Great Red Spot, colorful cloud belts, bands, zones, festoons, limb and polar darkening, rotation of planet, central meridian transits, polar flattening, etc. Minimum distance from us 365,000,000 miles.
The Ringed Planet. The most beautiful and stunning sight in the entire heavens! Multiple, razor-thin ice-rings with their Cassini and other less-obvious divisions, flattened globe with limb and polar darkening, shadows of ball on rings and rings on ball, retinue of at least five satellites visible (of the 16 now known!) including cloud-shrouded Titan, rings edge-on every 15 years with moons threading ring like beads on a string, etc. Minimum distance from us 750,000,000 miles.
The changing phases of Mercury's pale-pink little disk, Uranus's greenish and Neptune's bluish minute disks, remote star-like Pluto, the brighter asteroids such as Ceres, Pallas, Juno and Vesta, and the occasional (usually unpredictable) appearance of a bright comet are other solar system targets of interest. However, these objects are not real showpieces in the sense used here (unless the comet happens to reach naked-eye brightness, at which time it may become a wondrous sight in binoculars and telescopes!).
* * *
The standard IAU (International Astronomical Union) three-letter abbreviations are used for constellation names.* For each object listed: its position in Right Ascension (RA -hours & minutes) and Declination (DEC - degrees & minutes) is given for Epoch 2000.0; apparent visual magnitude/s; spectral type/s for first-magnitude, red/variable and double stars; angular size or separation in minutes (') or seconds (") of arc; and official or popular name/s (if any). Primary data sources used were: Sky Catalogue 2000.0 and Burnham's Celestial Handbook. Quotes from noted observers past and present (the Herschels, Lassell, Lord Rosse, Smyth, Chambers, Webb, Struve, Pickering, Barns, Olcott, Flammarion, Copeland, Bernhard/Bennett/Rice, Houston, Lorenzin, Mallas, Harrington, Eicher, O'Meara, etc.) are included under "Remarks." Approximate distance (D) in lightyears (LY) is also given for many entries. Messier (M), New General Catalog (NGC), Index Catalog (IC), Melotte (MEL) and Collinder (COL) designations are used for clusters, nebulae and galaxies. Checking one of the popular planispheres (a rotating star chart that is set to date and local time), or the monthly star maps in Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazines, will show which constellations (60 of the 88 officially-recognized ones being represented here) are visible and well-placed in the sky on any given night for exploring their celestial treasures. Dotted lines under the object designation are for personal notes (date seen, telescope and magnification used, sky conditions, your own eyepiece impressions, etc.), while the # in ( ) indicates how many of 21 standard classic & modern deep-sky showpiece lists include that object - providing a quantitative index of its popularity (as does the length of the descriptive remarks for each entry!). Note that those double and multiple stars designated by ! and having components 3" or less in separation will generally require at least a 6-inch aperture, good optics, relatively high magnification (150X or more) and a very steady night to be seen in their full glory as a finest showpiece!
(* See Page 94 for listing. ** For multiple-object entries, position given is for the primaryusually brightest - object in the field.)
KEY: SS=First-Magnitude/Highly-Tinted &/or Variable (Single) Star
OC=Open Star Cluster
DS=Double or Multiple Star
GC=Globular Star Cluster
AS=Asterism or Stellar Association
Excerpted from CELESTIAL HARVEST by James Mullaney. Copyright © 2002 James Mullaney. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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