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Ten Best Objects in a Small Telescope

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Date: 7-18-2001
Abstract: Explanations of some of the best objects in a small telescope

Many new amateurs owning small telescopes quickly become lost in the great variety of objects displayed on a star chart.  The great problem being is that many of those objects even on the easiest charts are often boring or difficult to see.  This short essay will attempt to weed out some of the less than spectacular objects and narrow the field down to ten of the best objects for the small telescope.  For owners of telescopes in the 60mm to 80mm range these are objects that you can look at over and over again and still be impressed on each visit.

Moon

How could you ignore this one?  Even with the smallest telescope the moon gives amazing views.  It is easy to find and will keep you entertained every time you look at it.  On top of this the moon is virtually a new object every time you look at it.  As the shadows change from night to night new objects become visible while others mysteriously seem to vanish.  Even a small telescope will give excellent views of the terminator (the division between light and dark) and show all of the major craters and mountain ranges.  It is advisable that every small telescope owner purchases a chart of the moon to gain the most from every observation.

Jupiter

The king of the planets and perhaps one of the best objects visible in the night sky.  Jupiter is a massive planet evident from its size as seen even through a small telescope.  Perhaps the best part of Jupiter witnessed by a small telescope owner is the four major moons circling the planet.  As if the moons are not enough to captivate you the planet itself will yield a fair amount of detail even in a small telescope.  Moderate powers (20x – 50x) will show the planet as a bland and perhaps lightly banded disk while higher powers begin to show distinct banding on the disk.  At high powers expect to see anywhere from two to four major bands depending on the seeing conditions.

Saturn

If Jupiter is the king of the planets Saturn must be the queen.  Saturn like Jupiter is also one of the most spectacular objects in the sky.  Although the view may be small in a small telescope it is still magnificent every time.  In a small telescope you should easily be able to catch the disk and ring system of Saturn.  On nights of good seeing detail may even be evident in the disk as slight banding.  The rings themselves may also show you the elusive (for a small telescope) Cassini division.  This is the gap between the two major rings around the planet.  No matter what size telescope you are using Saturn is always a pleasing site.

Orion Nebula (M42) – Orion

Although most of the large nebulae in the sky are invisible to the small telescope owners the Great Nebula of Orion is one that will keep you coming back.  Just below the belt of Orion along his sword lies perhaps the premier nebula in the sky.  It is visible to the naked eye as a fuzzy region and a small telescope is all you need to capture the wonder of this object.  Within the nebula also lies another secret; the stars that cause the nebula to glow are arranged in a small trapezoid shape.  These are called the trapezium and even a small telescope will show these four gems tucked away in the heart of the nebula.  For the small telescope owner this is perhaps the best deep sky object you can view.

Pleiades (M45) – Taurus

Just above the horns of the bull Taurus lays one of the most famous clusters in the night sky.  Even in light polluted skies the Pleiades emits an eerie glow surrounding seven faint but visible stars.  The Pleiades are named the “seven sister” however the cluster contains over 100 stars that are visible in a small telescope.  The first sight of this object brings to mind a handful of jewels sparkling against a velvety black background.  This object is particularly impressive in the small wide field refractors as it is framed perfectly in the field of view.

Double Cluster (NGC 884 and NCG 869) – Perseus

This pair of dense clusters is the perfect object for the small telescope.  They are too dim for easy recognition by eye except in the darkest skies but even the smallest telescopes show the glory of these twin clusters.  Both of them are quite impressive in their own right and together they can rival any other cluster in the sky.  The fact that they are so close together is what quite simply makes them one of the best objects a small telescope owner could chose to view.

M67 – Cancer

A very distant yet vivid cluster that is home to over 200 stars visible in the small telescope.  This peculiar cluster is very tight with a nice even distribution of stars.  It is very reminiscent of what an extremely small and loose globular cluster would look like.  It has also been argued that this cluster even has some attributes in common with the other larger globular clusters.  Whatever it is this is clearly one of the finest clusters visible and one that should be on any small telescope owners must see list.

Sagittarius Region – Saggitarius/Ophinucs

I am cheating on this one.  The whole region surrounding these two constellations is virtually littered with deep sky gems.  Perhaps the best for a small wide field telescope any telescope should reveal plenty of objects that will keep you coming back year after year.  Other than the general expanse of the Milky Way there are numerous bright nebula that rival the Orion Nebula itself and countless clusters and knots of stars visible in any telescope.

Albireo (Bright Double) – Cygnus

Albireo is hardly a challenge in any telescope but it is one of the best double stars in the night sky.  The two components of this system are fairly bright stars that show probably the best color contrast in the night sky.  Easily visible in a small telescope these gems glow bright yellow and blue.

Andromeda Galaxy (M31) – Andromeda

The Andromeda Galaxy is our nearest major neighbor and one of the most majestic of the deep sky objects.  It lies over two million light years away yet its light reaches us in the form of a massive glowing cloud over five times larger than the full moon.  This is perfect for the small telescope quite simply because detail is elusive in even the largest instruments.  Although it is not the most spectacular object in the night sky it is still a worthwhile stopping point for owners of small telescopes.

Submitted by Curt Irwin - irwincur@excite.com - Grand Rapids, MI

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