Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina. These sights will be broken down into three sections; what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, and with a small telescope. The best time to view the night sky is at and around the times when the Moon is not visible, what is known as a New Moon; which will occur this month on June 8th. For June, your best viewing nights will be from June 1st to the 13th, and June 26th to the 30th. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on June 15th at 9 pm.
There are certain topics that I feel are important enough to be repeated each year. One such topic is the Messier Objects. These 109 celestial objects include star clusters, nebula, galaxies, and other objects, and are usually described as M numbers. In the late 1700’s, the comet hunter Charles Messier catalogued these celestial objects because he did not want to mistake them for possible comets as he rescanned the night skies. Most of these objects can be seen with binoculars, and in the Florence area, you may be able to locate 70 to 80 objects with 7 to 10 power binoculars. The remaining may require a small telescope, at about 25 power.
I have repeatedly stated that if you are serious about astronomy as a hobby, then you should try to locate all the Messier objects. Some are easy and many are difficult, but if you try this challenge, in the process, you will learn the locations of all of the major stars and constellations of the night sky. Take your time; it may take you two to three years to find all 109 objects. Remember, you won’t see these objects as you do in the photos taken by Hubble and other telescopes; instead, you will be searching for “faint fuzzies.” So how do you begin? Make a simple list of all 109 Messier objects, and then simply check off or circle each one as you find them. In addition, you should use a notebook, and write notes about each Messier you find. Below is a sample of my list made a few years ago.
The list below shows some of the easiest targets.
Messier Objects for 7×35, 7×50, and 10×50 BINOCULARS
EASY MESSIER OBJECTS:
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 31, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 52, 55, 67, 92, 93,103
TOTAL = 42
This month I want to take you on a short tour of some Messier Objects of the southern summer sky. Your equipment for this journey: a pair of binoculars, seven to ten power, a lawn chair, beverages, and snacks of your choice. As you look to the south this month, you are looking into the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The fact that we are looking into the center of our galaxy in the summer is why the Milky Way is much brighter in the summer than in the winter when we are looking away from the galactic center. So let’s start our trip by referring to the map of the southern sky shown below.
The first stop is the globular cluster; M22 in Sagittarius. Many say that the globular cluster M13 in Hercules is the best globular cluster of the northern hemisphere, but I vote M22 as the best. This cluster is easy to find with binoculars because it is just to the left of the top star in the “Teapot” asterism in Sagittarius. Although M22 contains more than 70,000 stars, through binoculars, it is just a fuzzy ball. This is a good Messier to target with your telescope.
Next stop is the Lagoon Nebula; M8. This time look to the right side of Sagittarius, and using the “Teapot,” look above the spout to locate M8. This Messier Object lies closest to the direction of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Using binoculars on a clear night, you can see some of the nebulosity of M8 imbedded in a “rectangular” grouping of stars. I have had the wonderful experience of seeing the Lagoon Nebula with my naked eye while at a dark sky site in northern Pennsylvania.
Next stop: If you look directly above M22, about twice the distance of M8, you will see the Eagle Nebula, M16.
Years ago, this was just another nice Messier Object, until it became famous when the Hubble telescope took the amazing star birth “Pillars” photo in the Eagle Nebula; see below.
The last stop on our short tour is the Omega Nebula, M17, also known as the “Swan Nebula.” You can find M17 just below the Eagle Nebula. I have always been surprised how easy it is to resolve the nebulosity of this object with simple binoculars. I always see it as a side view of a swan, but with a short neck; check it out.
After locating the Messiers in our short tour, you should continue your search for other Messiers in the southern summer sky. Try to find M11, M23, and M25, all in the region above Sagittarius. Then move over to Scorpius and try to locate M6 and M7 near the scorpion’s stinger. Also M4 and M80 near the primary star of Scorpius, Antares. While you are in the constellation of Scorpius, wander with your binoculars throughout the region of the scorpion’s tail and lower body. This region is filled with groupings of stars.
Naked Eye Sights: The summer Milky Way. The planet Mercury will be at its highest above the horizon on June 12th.
Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power): Find the Messier Objects of summer.
Telescope Sights (60-100mm): As you find the Messiers with your binoculars, check them out with your telescope. Saturn will be your best target all month.
See you next month!