Telescopes are an exciting way to view the universe and they are perfect for people of a variety of different ages. Finding a good astronomical target for a new telescope can seem tricky at first since most of the stars and planets in the sky look more or less the same to the naked eye. That’s why it is important to look for a good “first-time” targets to hone your skills.
Use an app on your phone to get a general sense of the location of your target, then point your scope in the general direction of your target. Next, use your finder scope to narrow down your field of view. Finally, adjust the position of your telescope with fine adjustments (slow motion cable controls or panhandle controls) on your mount (equatorial or altazimuth)
The following 10 targets are among the most popular and easy-to-spot astronomical items to view in the night sky.
This star is located in the Cygnus constellation and it is one of the coolest to observe under a telescope. Training your scope on it will reveal not one star but two! It’s a double star: one of which is very yellow while the other is blue, creating a very vivid and bright viewing experience.
2. The Moon
Our nearest neighbor is usually the first target for any amateur astronomer due its proximity and brightness. The moon doesn’t create its own light, but simply reflects sunlight, so if the sun ever blinked out of existence, you’d no longer see it. That’s just one of the many problems that would be caused if our sun disappeared. The moon is very, very bright through a telescope. You might want to consider reducing the size of the aperture or applying a filter. Also, while the full moon is interesting to look at, a half or quarter moon is best, so that you can easily more surface features and their shadows. The line where the darkness meets the light is known as the “terminator” is great target since it’s so large.
According to respected astronomy blog SkyMania, Mars is often among the easiest planets to spot in the night sky: its red color is a dead giveaway. Beginning astronomers often have an easy time finding it as well, making it a great first target.
Even a relatively inexpensive telescope can get a pretty clear and intriguing view of the planet. While things may be a bit murky, there’s nothing quite like the excitement of spotting your first planet. If you can spot Mars, try and find Venus. While not as colorful, it’s extremely bright and you’ll be able to see “crescent” views of the planet, just like our moon.
4. Mizar and Alcor
The Big Dipper is easy to spot and its two largest stars, Mizar and Alcor, are among the brightest in the sky. Find the dipper and focus your telescope on these stars. Mizar and Alcor are one of the most famous double stars in the sky. You can spot them easily in the handle of the Big Dipper. Mizar is really four stars, and Alcor is really two stars. So what we see as two stars are really six in one!
Saturn is truly spectacular especially if its rings are tilted at the right angle so that they don’t appear straight on and flat. You’ll need a telescope with a decently sized aperture to get a good view. There are awesome patterns of stars and moons that surround the planet, making it a popular item to check out for both kids and grown-ups alike. A quality product for this occasion would be the Orion SkyQuest XT8, which is also one of the best telescope gifts for kids.
This beast of a planet is exciting to watch because its large size promises a gorgeous view. Spotting its many moons is particularly exciting, and even the smallest telescope can find at least four: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. You can even find them with a good pair of binoculars! This red giant has a variety of moving clouds and gasses that make it fun to watch.
7. Andromeda Galaxy
Locate the Andromeda constellation and the small cluster of stars located near the center. Focus your telescope here and you will see a bright and colorful galaxy. What is particularly interesting about this galaxy is that it is the furthest object from the planet that can be seen with the naked eye from the surface of the Earth. The Andromeda Galaxy contains about a trillion stars and will eventually collide with our Milky Way galaxy.
8. Hercules Cluster (M13)
Easiest to spot in every season but winter, this globular cluster is located in the Hercules constellation and contains 300,000 stars. It is one of the oldest known clusters in the sky, making it a fascinating look into the beginning of the universe. It is a little tricky to find when compared to other items on this list, but it is more than worth it if you stay patient.
9. Double Cluster
Visible mostly in fall and winter, this cluster is fun to look for on nights during winter when it is a little warmer. It features a variety of colors and stars, including many that are hundreds of light years apart. Perspective allows you to see these distant objects, making this a fun study of intergalactic viewing.
10. Dumbbell Nebula
Last but not least is the dumbbell nebula. It is fairly faint, but it is one of the largest and easiest to find items with a telescope. It is located southwest of Albireo using the constellation Vulpecula as a guide. Once you find it, you’ll see a bright collection of stars that look somewhat like an “arrow.”
Finding an astronomical target like one of the above is a great way to have fun with your telescope and experience the radiant beauty of the universe.