What to see

There are many things you can observe throughout the year, some you may need a telescope or binoculars for but others you can enjoy with your naked eye.

Moongazing

The Moon is a great place to start when you begin looking at the night sky. The best time to look at the Moon with binoculars or a telescope is about 5 to 10 days after a ‘New Moon’.

Some of the Moon’s features can be seen with the naked eye. Its landscape is largely covered by craters, but like Earth there are also mountain ridges and plains.  The dark patches are plains of basalt – similar to the rock that the Giant’s Causeway is made of.  They are hardened pools of lava, ejected from the Moon’s molten core by the impact of giant asteroids a long time ago.

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Northern Lights

It is possible to see the Northern Lights (also known as the aurora borealis), one of Earth’s natural wonders, in dark sky places.

The mysterious northern lights are a vivid demonstration of the Earth’s magnetic field interacting with charged particles from the Sun. They are beautiful, and worth braving a cold night out when visiting a dark sky site.

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Milky Way

One of the best naked eye wonders in our sky is the Milky Way, our home in the universe.

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy containing over 200 billion stars and enough dust and gas to make billions more.  In dark sky places the dense plane of the Milky Way winds like a ribbon across the sky.

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Planets in our Solar System

There are eight planets in our solar system – starting nearest the Sun and working outward, they are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Beyond Neptune, a newer class of smaller worlds called dwarf planets reign, including Pluto.

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Meteor Showers

At certain times of the year, we can view frequent meteors, these showers are associated with debris left behind by comets travelling through our Solar system. The dates showers happen are  predictable, but the rate of activity sometimes exceeds the normal level.

Check out our Astronomical calendar for upcoming meteor showers and comet visibility. 

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Deep Sky Objects

Deep-sky objects are celestial objects that exist outside our solar system.

The three major types of deep-sky objects are nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. When you first look through your telescope on a clear night your mind will be boggled by the sheer number of stars even in barren-looking areas of sky. Generally, they are best viewed through wide angle, low-power eyepieces.

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Star Clusters

Star clusters are groups of stars that occur close to each other in space and are gravitationally bound to one another.

The Pleiades are an easily recognisable star cluster, resembling a tiny version of the ‘Big Dipper’. However, through the telescope, 50-100 stars are visible, making it an incredible sight. It is a group of very young, hot, bright stars, very close together.

The Pleiades are best seen about October-February.


Wikipedia image: A colour-composite image of the Pleiades.

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Galaxies

A galaxy is a huge collection of gas, dust, and billions of stars and their planetary systems, all held together by gravity.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest large galaxy to our Milky Way, and is one of very few that can be seen with the unaided eye. It is thought to contain about 400 billion stars and is about 2.6 million light years away.

The Andromeda Galaxy is best seen about September – February.


Wikipedia image: The Andromeda Galaxy with satellite galaxies M32,  and M110.

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Nebula

A nebula is a giant cloud of dust and gas in space.

The Orion Nebula is one of those ‘must see’ objects for anyone with an interest in astronomy. Known as Messier 42 or M42 it is one of the brightest nebulae, and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky.

The Orion Nebula is best seen in the winter months, from about October to February.


Wikipedia image: The entire Orion Nebula in a composite image of visible light and infrared, taken by Hubble Space Telescope in 2006.

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