Top 5 Targets for Skywatchers

A computerised telescope

If you’ve just purchased your first telescope, then congratulations – you’re about to experience a world of discovery right in your backyard. With a modest telescope or even a decent pair of binoculars, you’ll be able to see numerous planets, stars, nebulae and other astronomical objects that appear only as tiny dots of light to the naked eye, if indeed you can even see them at all. If you’re wondering what the most spectacular objects in the night sky are, then consider training your new telescope on the following easy targets for skywatchers:

#1. Venus

Thanks to its highly reflective atmosphere and relative proximity to Earth, Venus is by far the brightest object in the night sky aside from the moon. Earth’s evil twin appears as a cloudy white disk through even a small telescope or powerful pair of binoculars. Depending on the time of year, Venus is best viewed either shortly after sunset or sunrise. Due to Venus being an inferior planet (i.e.: closer to the Sun than Earth), it also has phases, which you’ll be able to see with a good enough telescope. However, you won’t see any surface details due to the immensely thick atmosphere.

#2. Jupiter

For first-time telescope users, Jupiter is perhaps the most impressive sight of all. With the naked eye, it looks like nothing more than a bright star, but even with a modest telescope, the Solar System’s largest planet reveals itself splendidly. At the very least, you should be able to see the four Galilean moons, Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede as points of light near the planet. With something slightly more powerful with a five-inch aperture, you’ll even be able to see bands of clouds in its atmosphere as well as the centuries-old storm that is the Great Red Spot.

#3. Mars

Like the other planets, Mars looks much like a star to the naked eye, but with a good telescope, you’ll be able to see a lot more. Train your telescope to Mars, and you should be able to see a small red disk at the very least. With a slightly more powerful telescope, you will even be able to make out the polar icecaps. Those with the best telescopes might even be able to spot some clouds, particularly near the equator. Mars is at its closest point to Earth only once every two years, during which its surface features are far more visible in front of a telescope.

#4. Andromeda

Also known as Messier 31 or M31, Andromeda is the nearest galaxy to the Milky Way and, at 2.5 million light-years away, it’s by far the most distant object visible to the naked eye. However, with a powerful set of binoculars, Andromeda will transform from what looks like just another star to a disc with a bright centre, clearly distinguishing it from the stars. You should also be able to see its two largest satellite galaxies – M32 and M110. However, for the best viewing experience, you’ll need to be far away from any city lights and observe on a moonless night.

#5. Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula is a region where new stars are born some 1344 light-years away. It is the easiest nebula to see through a telescope, and it is one of the better targets for viewing in areas where there is considerable light pollution. Through a small telescope, you should see a greyish cloud, but with more powerful equipment, you may even be able to make out colours of green and red leaping out of the bright core that is a birthplace for new stars. When looking for the nebula, start in Orion’s Belt, which consists of three bright stars, and locate the fuzzy area, which is the nebula.

Conclusion

First-time skywatchers often find it difficult to get the right targets, so it is important to adequately prepare yourself for your evening of observing the heavens. As such, novices will be best off with a telescope that features a star finder, such as the Celestron beginner series, which will locate targets based on the time of day and year and their geographical locations. However, an almanac, such as Patrick Moore’s Yearbook of Astronomy, detailing visible astronomical targets throughout the year will undoubtedly come in handy too.

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