Astronomy for Dummies: (Globular) Cluster- F*%$

It's been a while since I've had anything to report on the astronomy front. I try to tell myself that it will be easier to find the time + weather to get the telescope set up come summer, but then again, "summer" in the bay area means merciless low clouds & fog until August. I have to admit: I've been dreading that time of year ever since I got the telescope in November. Usually I love it, but it's very bad for stargazing.

Anyway. Lately my astronomical thoughts have centered mostly on nebulas, galaxies & globular clusters (many of which are known as Messier Objects—once again, that's French, named for Charles Messier, not a comment on how fuzzy these objects are when we look at them...a classic Amber fail there).

I've already gone over my love of the Pleiades, a beautiful cluster (M45) of blue-white stars just to the SE of Aldebaran, the red giant that makes up the eye of Taurus the Bull. Well, little did I know that there is another incredibly gorgeous cluster right around Aldebaran, called the Hyades.

In this photo you can see both:

lower left: hyades. upper right: pleiades (source)

I was just out looking at both again tonight. They are so beautiful. To me, in fact, they are the most breathtaking objects in the sky. You can see both with the naked eye every night in the northern hemisphere, but even a small telescope makes a world of difference with these shimmery clusters.

Those are the easiest to find nebulas, other than the Orion Nebula. I've been trying to find as many nebulas/clusters/galaxies as I can with my small telescope, and it's a challenging and incredibly fun game I play with myself. I have a huge "bucket list" of items to find in the sky, and the moment where you definitively check one off the list feels so good, like you just won the whole Olympics!

Here's some of what I hope to see when we go up with the big telescope in a couple of weeks:

Crab Nebula (Source)

Hercules Globular Cluster (Source)

Sagittarius & Scorpius, which I just saw for the first time this morning! Magnificent.

M31 (Andromeda Galaxy ... what an incredible photo) (Source)

M81 Bode's Galaxy (Source)

I could go on forever, so I'm going to stop there for now.

Last night, while up on the roof with the finder scope, I finally ran into my neighbor who is also into astronomy. We got to have a long overdue geeked out conversation about the stars, and it was great. Usually I have no one to talk to about this stuff other than Scott, and Scott only has so many minutes allotted to hearing me talk about stars each day. I was proud of myself for knowing what I was talking about and keeping up. My neighbor has been making his own telescopes since 1974, so he certainly has been looking skyward for a while.

He referred us to San Francisco Amateur Astronomers, which has bi-monthly telescope parties for members at dark places like Point Lobos and Mt. Tamalpais, lectures and other neat benefits. I think this would be a great opportunity to get involved and keep ourselves on a schedule. Also, I think I love any organization that has Mercury Retrograde listed on its calendar.

Our conversation ended with my asking him what his favorite object in the sky is to look at with a telescope. He answered without hesitation: Saturn. Mine? So far, as you know, it's the Pleiades and the Hyades, but who knows? Hopefully we'll get a good look at Saturn later this month. 


  1. My favorite is actually the Pleiades as well. I remember the first time I ever saw it. I call it my "little question mark" since that's totally what it looks like.

    I really want a scope now that my kid is getting interested in space!

    1. I love shiny, twinkly things -- plain and simple. Planets? Sure, they're pretty cool. But SHINY THINGS? GIVE 'EM! I love that that's what nebulas & clusters look like :)


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