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Camacha

Spotting Messier objects

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As a long time space fan, I have been looking up for quite a couple of years now. Unfortunately, I live in a fairly light polluted part of the world. Spotting anything beyond planets, some moons and bright stars is out of the question. For a long time I have been wishing and attempting to view objects like Andromeda M31, but it is not to be.

Luckily, I sometimes travel to parts of the world that are much less bright. Mind you, still inhabited, but enough to see the bright band of the galaxy with the naked eye. Opportunities like that should provide a fair shot at seeing the slightly dimmer objects in our sky. Until now, I have had little luck though. I have a fairly accurate chart and am able to pinpoint the exact spot the objects should be, know what the objects should roughly look like, what shape they are and how they are oriented and the skies are clear. Downsides are the lack of any real scope (just very simple binoculars) and a very slightly hazy atmosphere. No matter how hard I look at the spots I know the objects to be, nothing definitive seems to resolve into an object.

What are good tips and tricks to finally spot the elusive objects? Obviously, waiting for new moon and finding a spot locally with the least light are both a good start. Bringing the best optical device you have, knowing where to look and starting with the brightest objects out there are additional plusses. What other tips and tricks are there to be employed?

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I life in a big city, and with binoculars I can just make out M31. If you are able to see the bright band of the galaxy with the nacked eye, you should be able to see M31 with about any pair of binoculars there is. How big is its aperture?

You seem to expect "something definitive to resolve into an object". That is not how messier objects will look through binoculars or small telescopes. M31 looks mostly just like a cloud made of dim light (you only see its very bright center).

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I life in a big city, and with binoculars I can just make out M31. If you are able to see the bright band of the galaxy with the nacked eye, you should be able to see M31 with about any pair of binoculars there is. How big is its aperture?

The bright band is visible, though you need some time in the dark. It is not really highly distinct. The binoculars are 10x25, though sadly the tubes are out of alignment. It is a pretty simple thing, though I have confirmed that with it I can see slightly more stars. Between bright stars, dimmer additional stars appear, though the difference is not huge. The field of view is fairly large, allowing for relatively easy manual star finding.

You seem to expect "something definitive to resolve into an object". That is not how messier objects will look through binoculars or small telescopes. M31 looks mostly just like a cloud made of dim light (you only see its very bright center).

Good point :) Though I am fairly aware that Messier objects are more of a fuzz or haze than the clear stars surrounding them, or objects on pictures for that matter.

What I meant to say is that when you really strain to see objects, your imagination sometimes helps things along a bit.

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I live in NJ (USA), plenty of light pollution here... but I can still find and see M-31 Andromeda. Binoculars help. I posted in another thread not too long ago how to find it ... I believe you even commented in reply about it. Do you recall?

Too bad you don't have access to better binoculars (or a telescope). The ones I have right here (beside me) are 7x35, and I can make out M-31 with them - yes, fuzz. If your tubes are out of alignment, just run with one. ;)

Edited by LordFerret

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I live on the Canadian side of the border from Detroit Michigan. Detroit itself may be in the sumps but the area on both sides of the boarder has a population of over 5 million. I have to drive the the next county to get light dim enough to see Andromeda. (Right across the lake from Cleveland Ohio actually.) There is no telescope that can see Andromeda from here in the City of Windsor, a bigger telescope just collects more light pollution. There is no light pollution filter effective enough to make a difference.

The way I found my viewing spots was to Google a light pollution map and then drive out there.

However from the areas I have found, you can in fact see Andromeda just fine. In fact I just viewed it a couple of weeks ago. Also for the first time ever, I have been able to see the band of our own Milky Way. I say the first time ever, when I was little my Dad and I used to go on camping trips, he pointed it out to me then but I was very young and even though I comprehended what I was supposed to see, I wasn't actually able to see it. I don't know if I can really explain it better than that. So when I saw it 2 weeks ago, it was the first time I perceived it rather than just seeing it.

I would recommend checking light pollution maps yourself. Some areas even have viewing parks that are known to have little light pollution. The nearest one to me that I know of is some 10 hours drive, so they are not common, but they do exist. There might be a club in your area, they can help point out where you can go to view things.

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Since no one has mentioned it yet, averted vision.

Messier objects are more of a fuzz or haze than the clear stars surrounding them, or objects on pictures for that matter.
Well, some are. (eg: globular clusters are puffballs, and the emission nebulae tend to be irregularly shaped haze.) Open clusters are distinctly resolvable in binoculars, though.

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I would recommend checking light pollution maps yourself. Some areas even have viewing parks that are known to have little light pollution. The nearest one to me that I know of is some 10 hours drive, so they are not common, but they do exist. There might be a club in your area, they can help point out where you can go to view things.

Light pullution maps are a great tip. I just compared my home area to the ones I visit on occasion and it is both utterly despressing and good news. At home, I can forget finding any good viewing conditions, though in other places they actually are much better. It makes a targeted trip to a better site much easier than just driving around and hunting for a decent spot.

Since no one has mentioned it yet, averted vision.

It is good that you mention it, because I forgot to :) Chasing the stars from the corner of your eye is always a nice tool if you are just not sure of what you see.

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Since no one has mentioned it yet, averted vision.

Well, some are. (eg: globular clusters are puffballs, and the emission nebulae tend to be irregularly shaped haze.) Open clusters are distinctly resolvable in binoculars, though.

Also mentioned that in my post!

Edit:

Went back and found it...

http://forum.kerbalspaceprogram.com/threads/123628-A-Picture-Of-The-Mun?p=1989512&viewfull=1#post1989512

Edited by LordFerret
found link

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It can be tough. Things that will help:

Decent-quality full-size binoculars. 40-50 mm apertures and 7-10x magnification.

Better holding technique. The obvious way (for most people) to hold binoculars isn't very good at keeping them steady, there are less intuitive but better ways.

Mounting or support. A tripod, a monopod, even an upturned broom will help. Keep in mind that binoculars are heavier than many cameras and often their weight is off-centre so beware of flimsy tripods.

Getting away from local lights and letting your eyes adapt to the dark. This is a big one. General light-pollution you can put up with but if you've got a streetlamp or a lighted window shining on you it's going to really spoil your night vision. Use dim, preferably red, light to read your star charts, and avoid getting an eyeful of mobile phone screen.

Not looking for Messier objects when the Moon is up.

Not looking for objects too close to the horizon or in the direction of urban areas, the light pollution tends to be worse. Target things when they're high in the sky.

Patience. These things rarely "pop out", especially if you're a novice observer. Deep sky objects are generally faint and subtle.

On a closing note, I live in an inner city area, Bortle 7-8 skies. I've seen many Messier objects including M31 through 10x50 binoculars, and more through larger binoculars and a 3-inch telescope. Even under light-polluted skies I prefer deep-sky observing to lunar or planetary when using binoculars and small scopes. It's not easy to see these things, but it wouldn't be as much fun if it was :)

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Hurrah, the sweet taste of success. It turns out I just needed the Moon to bugger off for a bit. Though still Stars That Don't Look Quite Right ©, Smudges™ and Hazy Bits ® through these binoculars, I can quite definitively say those must have been some of them Messier objects.

M45: I got started with this one, as it jumped out at me without binoculars. To make sure I was not mistaking, I drew the object to compare it with a photo. Not only did it turn out to be a remarkably accurate sketch, I also found out drawing is hard when seeing stars is easy.

M31: After noting what might be a smudge in the same place a couple of times when lower on the horizon, higher up it turned into a very definite haze. Any actual shape will still not resolve, I hope this might improve in darker circumstances.

M33: The surrounding stars turned up after an extended hunt, the object turned out to be uncooperative. It might have been upset.

M106: Definitely some light there, but not much more.

M63: No dice.

M23: Some of what must be the main stars showed up, but they seemed more scattered than clustered. They also seemed slightly confused.

M57: I got giddy and tried to see this ring. All I got was this lousy post.

M3: Hunted around for a bit, but it was rather low on the horizon. Its absence was splendid in the way the cluster was not.

M13: A difference in intensity between different parts could most definitely be seen.

M21: Looks like a single star. Tastes strange.

Soon©™® I will drive to some dark place and I hope I can capitalize on this. What are your personal favorites or suggestions to go see?

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However from the areas I have found, you can in fact see Andromeda just fine. In fact I just viewed it a couple of weeks ago. Also for the first time ever, I have been able to see the band of our own Milky Way. I say the first time ever, when I was little my Dad and I used to go on camping trips, he pointed it out to me then but I was very young and even though I comprehended what I was supposed to see, I wasn't actually able to see it. I don't know if I can really explain it better than that. So when I saw it 2 weeks ago, it was the first time I perceived it rather than just seeing it.

Since we're on the topic of star gazing, light pollution and the Milky Way, I thought I'd share the photo below. I took it last May while camping in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. It's not a composite image. My wife used the light of her phone's screen to light paint the tent from the inside while the camera's shutter was open.

yqtQPQu.jpg

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Since we're on the topic of star gazing, light pollution and the Milky Way, I thought I'd share the photo below. I took it last May while camping in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. It's not a composite image. My wife used the light of her phone's screen to light paint the tent from the inside while the camera's shutter was open.

http://i.imgur.com/yqtQPQu.jpg

What was the exposure time?

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Great observing!

M33 is a face-on spiral and as a result has a low "surface brightness", that means it's especially badly affected by light pollution. I've looked for it a few times but never seen it. The same to an extent for M63.

M57 like most planetary nebulae has a very small apparent size. Through binoculars it will look like a star. For a planetary nebula that actually looks like a nebula at low magnifications try M27.

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I've got Celestia on a little 10 inch (Dell) netbook which I take outside and use to find 'things'.

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I've got Celestia on a little 10 inch (Dell) netbook which I take outside and use to find 'things'.

I use Star Chart Infinite on Android, though the free version - Star Chart - should be as good for these intents and purposes. It has a neat night mode and AR functionality (point and see), very useful and convenient. There is a free version for iOS too, as is a paid version. No love for Windows Phone, it seems.

Another great app, Solar System Scope, contains an orrery and also a star map. The orrery allows you to see the solar system as a model or in a more realistic fasion and shows how planets are lit as seen from Earth. The star map seems a bit simpler than the one in Star Chart. The app is totally free. The same app is available for iOS too, but costs $1,99.

Having a phone with a chart in your pocket is very nice, it means hardly ever being caught out when on the road. I have had it for quite a while now and it is pretty sweet.

Edited by Camacha

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For PC Stellarium is another good program. It focuses on giving a realistic view of the sky which it does well for naked-eye and binocular equivalent views.

As far as printed charts go I'm a fan of Taki's Star Atlas. His regular one is six sheets per hemisphere and I find it excellent for use with binoculars and small scopes.

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What was the exposure time?

I didn't remember off the top of my head and the version I posted here has been molested many times over by being compressed, uncompressed, resized, etc so I had to rummage around for the original to read the EXIF data.

The original says I used 30 seconds at f/4.5 and ISO 6400 for an EV of between -7 and -6 (suitable for objects under starlight, away from city lights). The photo was taken at about 03:00 am.

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The original says I used 30 seconds at f/4.5 and ISO 6400 for an EV of between -7 and -6 (suitable for objects under starlight, away from city lights). The photo was taken at about 03:00 am.

It certainly came out pretty amazing. I noticed I have slight trouble grasping all those dots are huge blazing balls of fusing matter. I certainly know it, but to actually comprehend it is something different. I used to be better at this.

Which leads me to another matter. While observing, I noticed quite a lot of stars that look like a single star to the naked eye, but actually turn out to be two stars in tight-ish formation. I am quite sure binary stars can generally only be detected by deducing their existence from doppler shift, woblling, changes in luminosity et cetera, but that directly observing them is out of the question. Is there a reason I see them so often? It it observer bias, pure statistics in distribution of the stars and some inevitable ending up together, some star (cluster) formation phenomena or something else?

Edited by Camacha

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I am quite sure binary stars can generally only be detected by deducing their existence from doppler shift, woblling, changes in luminosity et cetera, but that directly observing them is out of the question.
Nope! There are lots of double stars where the angular separation is large enough to be quite visible in a telescope. They may also have close in companions, and there are lots of cases where two unrelated stars just happen to line up, but still...

Without getting into exact stars observed, it's hard to tell if this was just visual artifacts or actual doubles/multiples.

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Good news, I might have located a very good place about 90 minutes away from a place I often visit. That takes some effort and organisation to go there, but should be more frequently available. I love living in the era we live in, though the various forms of pollution bum me out.

Nope! There are lots of double stars where the angular separation is large enough to be quite visible in a telescope. They may also have close in companions, and there are lots of cases where two unrelated stars just happen to line up, but still...

Without getting into exact stars observed, it's hard to tell if this was just visual artifacts or actual doubles/multiples.

Ah, that is what you get for making assumptions without doing research. You know what they say about those :D Two notable ones I remember are in the Great Bear 'pan handle', though I later saw the second star is also visible to the naked eye, and one in the constellation surrounding Vega (Lyra/Harp). That one was quite a bit closer and harder to spot. I realize those descriptions are vague, I will see whether I can be more precise.

Do you know any ones that can be seen with very low power binoculars?

Edited by Camacha

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Nope! There are lots of double stars where the angular separation is large enough to be quite visible in a telescope. They may also have close in companions, and there are lots of cases where two unrelated stars just happen to line up, but still...

Without getting into exact stars observed, it's hard to tell if this was just visual artifacts or actual doubles/multiples.

Good news, I might have located a very good place about 90 minutes away from a place I often visit. That takes some effort and organisation to go there, but should be more frequently available. I love living in the era we live in, though the various forms of pollution bum me out.

Ah, that is what you get for making assumptions without doing research. You know what they say about those :D Two notable ones I remember are in the Great Bear 'pan handle', though I later saw the second star is also visible to the naked eye, and one in the constellation surrounding Vega (Lyra/Harp). That one was quite a bit closer and harder to spot. I realize those descriptions are vague, I will see whether I can be more precise.

Do you know any ones that can be seen with very low power binoculars?

Easy to find, although you won't see both stars because the companion is too small - Sirius and Sirius b. There's a whole group of stars associated in Sirius, a few I recall being binaries, and all pretty much hot young blue stars.

Alpha Centauri also, A & B, but that's actually a trinary system as there's a little red dwarf (Proxima Centauri) involved with A & B's barycenter.

Beta-Cygni is a trinary system also, but I'm not sure how clear that will work for you with binoculars.

Maybe take a peek at Castor in Gemini... there are six stars in that system!

You should try a few searches on Google (or your browser of choice) for visible star group lists. That would help you find attainable goals for the equipment you're stuck using.

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My initial reaction was something like "as the parent of a 2-year old I tend to spot lots of messier objects around the house", but now that I know what they are these things are pretty cool. Maybe I'll be able to convince my wife to let me get a decent telescope one of these days...

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Talking about Messier Objects, I took this image of M16 last friday: http://i.imgur.com/op7z9DZ.jpg

It contains the quite famous "Pillars of creation". Image from Hubble: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/Pillars_of_creation_2014_HST_WFC3-UVIS_full-res_denoised.jpg

Sadly my picture is nowhere near this quality, I guess I just lack a few billion $... :(

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