Early Spring Night Sky Observing


Looking West – Observe the Winter Milky Way

Walking home from my neighbour‘s I was  blessed to behold: the brilliance  of the Winter Milky Way in the South West. Here we see the bright giant stars of Orion, and with some optical aids, many open Clusters lying in the dusty lanes of the Milky Way Galaxy. Next month around about this time, the Winter Milky Way will be setting earlier; so this is the last chance to view some of these objects. We will be doing a similar observation in the Spring Astronomy Course .



M 42 – The Trapezium inside the Great Orion Nebula -image courtesy P.Browne 2014


  • Naked Eye:  The 7 Sisters of  The PleiadesPleiades


  • The Crab Nebula – a supernova Remnant
    M1 – The Crab Nebula – This star exploded in 1054 . This star was massive, and so the explosion was super! – result is a Supernova Remnant
    -courtesy P. Browne 2014

In the Constellation Orion :

In the Constellation Auriga within the starry winter Milky Way band:

  • The Auriga Open  Clusters embedded in the Milky Way
M38 one of the three Open Clusters in constellation Auriga
-image courtesy P. Browne 2014

In the Constellation Gemini (the Twins) at the foot of one of the twins – there is a large, young Open Cluster M35, relatively nearby at 2800 light years distance.
In the same line of sight, we see NGC 2158, four times more distant that M35 and much much older – almost a globular cluster … http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap021129.html


Open Cluster M35 and more distant compact star cluster NGC 2158
– courtesy P. Browne 2014


 Turning South Observe Naked Eye  – an Open Cluster

Turning directly to the South, we face the constellation Cancer, one of the 12 Constellations of the Zodiac which runs along the plane of the ecliptic

Here we can see the Great Beehive Open Cluster (M44)




Just inside the left of this ‘wishbone’ asterism is the much more distant Open Cluster M67. We can see how distance affects brightness of the cluster


Turning our gaze further East, we see the naked eye Coma Star Cloud – close stars and then the very far globular cluster M3 with the aid of binoculars or telescope. This star chart locates both objects in this portion of sky.


Star Cloud and Globular Cluster – Courtesy Sue French

Now our outward gaze is pointing upwards out of the disk of our galaxy towards the North Galactic Pole. This allows us to see further in deep space; first towards the Globular Clusters, like M3(below)and M53 – massive collections of very old stars that form a halo around the disk of the Milky Way.

Messier Object M3 – Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici. 1/2 million stars in a sphere 200 light years in diameter
-image courtesy P. Browne, Spring 2014

Beyond that, we can now see the area known as the Realm of the Galaxies. With the aid of a small telescope, we can view Galaxies and Clusters of Galaxies, as we are looking out of the plane of our own Milky Way Galaxy


M65 one of the Leo Triplet of Galaxies
– courtesy P. Browne 2014
NGC 3628 – Top Galaxy of the Leo Triplet – dust lane obvious
-courtesy P. Browne 2014










Star Hop to the Leo Triplet

Using the Pocket Sky Atlas chart shown below we see the hind quarters of Leo and star-hop

  • Leo Triplet is 1/2 way between the star Chertan (theta)  and iota Leonis.
  • The Coma Bereneces Clusters – both star cloud (in our galaxy)  and much further galaxy clusters(millions of light years) is to the upper left



When we look North, we see the Big Dipper. This constellation (Ursa Major, “Great Bear”) changes appearance as it circles around the sky over the year, but never sets. Here are the Pair of galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major. Astronomy students discovered a Supernova Explosion in M82 in 2014.



M82 – Galaxy in Ursa Major – Recent Supernova brightening detected (2014)
-courtesy P. Browne

In the same region of sky there is a famous optical double (not a true binary system) called Alcor and Mizar:

StellarSystemsHowever with a visual aid of a telescope, we can see that Mizar is actually a double star. Unlike Alcor and Mizar which are not gravitationally bound, Mizar’s companion (when seen through the telescope) is bound to Mizar, and these two orbit around a common center of mass. These two stars are true binary stars.