Learn to Star-hop in the August Sky

Nothing warms my coronary heart like vinyl information, wooden stoves, and paper charts. In an more and more digital world, a return to analog is as helpful as it’s whimsical. Join me tonight in exploring the sky in basic trend, with an old-school telescope, as we brush up on our chart-reading expertise.

The Project

The goal for this night is easy: Observe eight objects plotted on the August Sky & Telescope monthly sky chart with none digital help. (Please excuse the irony of this being a weblog publish . . .)  This mission will construct our data of the sky, and the workflow offered makes discovering the plotted targets a cinch.

Although this text has diagrams, the magazine’s chart is all you’ll want for our quest. Even when you’re an everyday consumer of detailed maps, this “one-sky” strategy is quick and enjoyable.

This and all following photographs credited to Josh Urban

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The Gear

Cue up the B-sides and dirt off the outdated scopes. I’ll be utilizing a 1957 Fecker fork-mounted 4-inch Newtonian reflector, full with green-speckle paint. The fashionable wide-field eyepieces will keep in the case, in favor of orthoscopics, a basic ocular with slim, sharp fields. My 10×50 binoculars are model new, although.

If you haven’t used your first telescope in some time, it is a excellent alternative to put some miles on it. However, this side is strictly for enjoyable, any gear will do!

The Workflow

Navigating with charts might take a second to get used to, however the advantages are many, and the satisfaction is rewarding. The technique is to strategy targets by step by step rising magnification. I begin with the chart, hint the constellation, scan with binoculars, purpose with a finderscope, then observe with a telescope, utilizing low energy first.

Here are the eight objects we’ll be monitoring down this night: 

  • M29 (Open cluster, Cygnus)
  • M27 (Dumbbell Nebula, planetary nebula, Vulpecula)
  • M57 (Ring Nebula, planetary nebula, Lyra)
  • M13 (Globular cluster, Hercules)
  • M92 (Globular cluster, Hercules)
  • M10 (Globular cluster, Ophiuchus)
  • M4 (Globular cluster, Scorpius)
  • M8 (Lagoon Nebula, emission nebula, Sagittarius)

Hop from Vega to M29

As darkness falls, I start my journey at Vega, the brightest star of the constellation Lyra. A magnificence to behold, it’s additionally a superb alternative to verify the alignment of my finderscope after I’ve the star centered in the eyepiece, making changes as wanted. Easy-to-find Vega additionally helps me put the chart in context.

Referencing the map, I discover the open cluster M29 lurking close by in Cygnus, off the coast of Gamma (γ) Cygni at the heart of the Northern Cross. Grabbing the 10×50 binoculars, a fast scan of the area reveals a fuzzy patch roughly the place the chart specifies, simply the kind of “false comet” Charles Messier would placed on his listing. The 6×30 finderscope doesn’t fairly pull it in from my suburban location, however a little bit of sweeping with the telescope and a low-power eyepiece yields a free gathering of stars the place they need to be.

A mini squished Hercules form glimmers in the eyepiece of the ‘57, not quite a dozen stars sparkling in a haze. Astronomy can be an art in subtlety, and with an abundance of open clusters in the summer Milky Way, this target isn’t an apparent lock. Nevertheless I jot a fast sketch in my logbook. It’s laughably primary, however later I can reference it to be sure I discovered what I used to be on the lookout for. Plus, drawing observations helps pull out extra element and appreciation of the scene, committing it to reminiscence and constructing “sky skill.” 

The writer logs historic starlight gathered by an outdated telescope.

Ancient Patterns: M10, M27, and M13

In the case of objects that lurk in dim corners of constellations, away from apparent markers, I see if I can discover shapes and patterns to create some sky geometry to bridge the distance (particularly if gentle air pollution is washing out the fainter guideposts.)

M10, a beautiful globular cluster in Ophiuchus, is a superb instance. First, I take advantage of the chart to familiarize myself with the sprawling constellation. Then, I discover how the cluster makes a virtually proper triangle with Eta (η) and Zeta (ζ) Ophiuchi . Switching to binoculars, I scan the space, discovering each M10’s tell-tale fuzzball, in addition to a reasonably shiny area star, 30 Ophiuchi. Taking purpose with the telescope, I snag the area star in the finder, slew round a bit, and bingo, there it’s! The view in the 4-inch reflector jogs my memory of a shiny galaxy in an enormous Dobsonian.

Try this methodology with M27, the Dumbbell Nebula. Before you begin, research the chart and spot the way it kinds the lacking fourth nook of a rectangle made by Beta (β) Cygni (higher referred to as Albireo), Gamma Cygni, and Epsilon (ε) Cygni.

Moving to the zenith, the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, M13, is at the stage of the hero’s coronary heart , slightly below Eta Herculis that marks his shoulder.

How good are your triangulation expertise? Test them on M13’s missed neighbor, the globular cluster M92, which kinds one more triangle with Pi (π) and Eta (η) Herculis.

Easy Pickings: M4 and the Ring Nebula

Conversely, clusters like M4 in Scorpius supply a special strategy. Antares, or Alpha (α) Scorpii, glares like a ruddy eye in the south on our chart, and M4 hangs simply to the proper of the star. Start your search on the “rival of Mars” for this summer season favourite, panning west to snag the globular cluster. (They each barely match in my low-power view with the f/8 reflector. Your mileage will definitely range.)  

M57, the famed Ring Nebula, affords a equally straightforward purpose, lurking roughly midway between the two stars that mark the southern finish of Lyra’s parallelogram (Gamma and Beta), though binoculars are hard-pressed to affirm the goal.

Lining up the subsequent goal.

Can’t Miss: Lagoon Nebula

Although the course of is easy, it isn’t all the time straightforward. Don’t fall into the “HGTV Trap” when out underneath the stars. Home enchancment reveals conveniently omit the hours spent in the plumbing aisle, and astronomy articles can current a misleading ease. Enjoy the technique of studying whilst you’re observing, and go at your individual tempo.

Should the difficult star-hops stymie you, there are some deep-sky targets which might be seen with the unaided eye: If the Milky Way may be seen out of your website, the Lagoon Nebula (M8) on tonight’s listing suits the invoice. Simply look south and spot M8 as a  glimmering patch in the steam from the Teapot of Sagittarius. (With any luck, you’ll miss and see another treasures in the neighborhood, too!) 


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Before this Record Spins to an End

Armed with easy gear, a red flashlight, and a one-page chart, we’ve visited a few of the season’s showpieces in a refreshingly wire-free method.

Moreover, this course of may be quick, letting you benefit from “sucker holes” (partial clearings in the sky) to snag fast views earlier than the clouds shut the curtain on the night’s festivities. Tonight was no exception: A stunned rainstorm chased me indoors minutes after this report was logged!

Try your individual variations on the journey: maybe with binoculars, or, if you get comfy, go away the chart and flashlight inside, relying solely on reminiscence. Build in your expertise by noting and remembering the place you purpose. Take notes, sketch observations, and most significantly, have enjoyable as you relish celestial navigation. Catch ya on the flip aspect! 


Josh Urban observes in an obscure a part of Maryland, the place he can hear the crackle of classic recordings on nights when the clouds are as thick as buffalo plaid.

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