Winter is cold! Whenever I conjure up enough bravery to observe during the cold late and early months of the year I can’t help but think of the poor kid in “A Christmas Story” who horrifically froze his tongue to the freezing pole. Now, I’m not suggesting that amateur astronomers are constantly licking their telescopes, but there have been a few instances when the freezing steel tube touched by my bare warm hands and froze to them for an instant. Thankfully, those months are behind us and the warmer nights of the spring are upon us. What am I looking forward to from the spring time nights? Well, I’m glad I asked, because here are my top 5 spring observation sights!
5. Orion’s Nebula-I Know, I know, stop your shouting! Now it may be cheating to include this in my spring list when it is considered a winter constellation, but I get the most enjoyable views of Orion’s mighty nebula in the warmer nights of the spring than the cold nights of the winter. The greenish blue glowing inner clouds are brought out beautifully by low to medium powered observations. Views through a 2 inch 38 mm eyepiece reveal the dark background of space against the ghostly clouds of the nebula, bringing out the contrast and internal detail even more. Be sure to add a UHC filter to experience even more contrast and depth.
4. Beehive Cluster-Last year I came across this cluster for the first time while doing observations of Mars at Roanoke College. It may not be the most impressive star cluster out there, but it is still quite a sight to spend some time on.
3. Bode’s Nebula (M81 & M82)-Two of my favorite galaxies come back into prominence during this time of the year. The best part about these galaxies is that they are bright, at least as far as galaxies go, and you can observe them through a variety of ways. View both together with medium and low power eyepieces or individual study them through high power observations. Either way will provide rich views of the neighboring spiral and irregular galaxies.
2. Virgo Galaxy Cluster-No other spot of space has more beautiful galaxies crammed together than this bunch near the constellation Virgo which rises high during the months of spring. Scanning through this expanse will reveal many of the Messier Lists most prominent galaxies. Start out with low magnification and simply scan the field for the vague ghost smudges that are galaxies. Once you come across the prominent ones, play around with the magnification and test out the light gathering capability of your scope to reveal detail in these faint fuzzies.
1. Saturn-The first love of many astronomers returns to prominence in the month of April and this time she is really putting on a show. With her rings tilted more towards Earth, the incredible Cassini divide is once again visible, making Saturn must more impressive than the previous two years. My hope is to have a new 6mm Zhumell planetary eyepiece for 200X observations of Saturn for the spring and early summer.