Observing the night sky

Observing the night sky

The information here is given by Nick Cox. Nick is a very experienced Astronomer - and a passionate observer of the night sky……..

“These suggestions are for folk new to Astronomy, who are not yet confident in what to look for, or in finding their way around the night sky.

Use a sky chart like a road atlas. There are some good ones around. All the stars that you see belong to our galaxy, the Milky Way.

You'll see much more when the Moon is either out of the way or up to half full. Best nights for observing surround the new moon.

I like to look east over the evening, as the constellations rise as the Earth rotates.” 

The Night Sky during May 2023 - Northern hemisphere

5 for May - from town.

Mid month finds a dawn alignment of Sol, Uranus, Jupiter, Neptune, moon and Pluto (ex planet). Mars is in Gemini, nice by eye but small in a scope. It moves to Cancer and close to Venus, which is getting brighter.

Getting dark later, now, but worth waiting as the fabulous Summer Triangle will be rising soon enough. Get up early morning and you'll catch Deneb, Vega and Altair. 

The Milky Way runs through Cygnus giving a bounty of star clusters, more of that next month !


Find Arcturus and Vega, find the "Keystone " of Hercules between them. 

Beneath Hercules you'll find the house shape of Ophiuchus, the "serpent holder ". 

Note the main stars here:

Rasalhague (α) alpha

Cebalrai (β) beta

Sabin (μ) mu and the pair of close Yeds - Yed posterior and Yed Prior. These will give the outline of Ophiuchus. 

(1) Toward the middle, binoculars will give you the globular clusters of M10 and the larger and looser M12.

Either side of Ophiuchus is Serpens, the only constellation split in two. 

(2) Ophiuchus holds the snake ! Serpens Caput to the right holds the serpent head and the globular cluster M5, with its chains of stars, second only to M13 in Hercules.


Over to Vega in the constellation Lyra. 

(3) Besides Vega there's a bright star by eye. Look in a small scope. It's the "double double"showcase of epsilon Lyrae. There are two pairs of double stars parallel to each other.

(4) Drop down to the two stars under Vega, Shelia and Sulafat, between them is M57, the "ring nebula".

(5) In the north east search for the rising "northern cross" of Cygnus. Deneb, Vega and the rising Altair hold the Summer Triangle. 

Our view of the Milky Way runs through here with rich treasures for the coming months.

Clear skies ! Nick

Try searching for a Globular Cluster …….

Globular clusters circulate in a halo outside of our galaxy but are held by gravity.

At 339,000 light years away, M3 is further away from us than the galactic centre !

They are ancient clusters, M3 is 8 billion years old. It is 180 light years across and contains half a million, mainly old, stars.

Because of the incline of our solar system, there are far more globular clusters in the southern hemisphere.

Their formation and origins are unclear.

They are well worth finding out more about !

I hope you enjoy searching for these targets during May.

If you are a Member of RAG go to the Members Corner for further guidance, and more targets.