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  • Writer's pictureLuke

Whats up this Fall/Winter!

Here's a list of what you will see on an AstroTour as Fall ends and Winter starts!

The Double Cluster [in Perseus] (back up open clusters: M39[Cyg])

The Double Cluster

  • Open cluster

  • Can be seen as a mist, cloud, or fog with the naked eye. Kinda like a little bright drip of the milky way.

  • “Town of stars, just down the road” aka: Thousands of stars, hundreds of light years away (actual distance 7,000ly, and about 18,000 stars).

    • like little towns of stars just down the road like Lyons, Jamestown, or Nederland. Hundreds of light years sounds far and it is a mind boggling large distance but compared to the globular clusters and galaxies (thousands and millions of light years away respectfully) we look at, it is just down the road.

  • What does it look like to you? I hear some say an arrow head, some say, bees, butterflies, etc. some just say “stars”

  • Try to count/estimate how many stars you see it should be at least ~70 so this might take a while

  • Open Clusters are like teenage stars. They were likely all fourmed closer together, in the same star forming nebula (or more simply “stellar nursery”), and are now spreading out leaving the nursery and going their own ways in our galaxy

  • Total mass is about 20,000 times that of our sun

  • Age of the cluster is about 100 million years old

    • I think of this like young or *teenage* stars. Stars get to be billions of years old, our sun is 4.6 billion years old

Location of Double Cluster near the W of Cassiopeia

M13 - Hercules Cluster [in Hercules] (back up globular clusters: M5 [Ser], M3 [CVen], M92 [Her])

M13 - Hercules Cluster

  • Globular cluster

  • “city of stars” Thousands of light years away, Millions of stars (actual distance 23 thousand ly away, about a million stars) like far away a mega city of stars like NY, LA, Madrid, Tokyo. thousands of light years away is far compared to the open clusters we look at but it’s still in our galaxy and really close compared to the galaxies we look at.

  • We’re seeing how it looked 23 thousand years ago because it’s 23 thousand light years away but little has probably changed as these clusters are ancient.

  • M13 is twice the age of our solar system at 11.6 billion years old

  • M13 is about 84 light years across and if our solar system was in it we would have about 500 times more stars in our sky as it’s so dense with stars

  • Can’t count all the stars, many stars can be seen on the edge of it but as you get closer to the center core it becomes a fuzzy glob of star light from millions of stars shining together.

  • What does it look like to you? I usually get spider webs, or shards of glass. Sometimes I hear spilled salt or sugar. My favorite is a girl scout who said it looked like a dandelion seed ball just before you blow it out. My least favorite is a nurse who told me it looks like COVID in a microscope.

  • On really dark moonless nights you can just barely make it out with the naked eye as a faint fuzzy star if you have really good eyes

  • Easily found in binoculars, first look for the “keystone” of hercules (Vega in the summer triangle points at the key stone) Then it’s about halfway in between the western most two stars of the keystone (see chart on other side).

  • Discovered in 1715

  • Brightest and richest of all of the globular clusters in the northern hemisphere. (omega centauri, and 47 Tuc are only two that are brighter but they can only be seen in the southern hemisphere)

  • We usually show at least two globular clusters to show how different the globular clusters can look. I think M13 looks more like an american city (like dallas/ft.worth) with sprawling suburbs, where M92, and some of the others, look more like a european city with a dense urban core (like Madrid or Tokyo).

  • In 1974 we sent a high powered radio signal called the arecibo message (named after the now defunct arecibo observatory that sent it) to M13 potentially telling any life in M13 about life on earth. It will still take over 23 thousand years for the message to reach M13 and another 23 thousand years for a response (if any) to come back

  • Globular cluster’s origin is a mystery, usually said to be old cores of galaxies that our galaxy has run into and consumed/captured. This has been called into question as there’s a nebula (the tarantula nebula) in a satellite galaxy of ours (the large magellanic cloud, unfortunately only seen in the southern hemisphere) that seems to be forming a globular cluster. The mystery being that all globular clusters we see (even in other galaxies) are made up of super old stars, except for one; right on our doorstep we see what looks like it’s one being born. So if you can think of a story for why that would be, I would love to hear it and I would love even more to be cited on your paper when you write it ;)

Location of M13 - Hercules Cluster

M81 - Bode’s “Nebula” {galaxy} [in the big dipper (UMa)] and M31Andromida Galaxy [in Andromeda] (back up galaxies: M82 (whirlpool) [UMa], M51 (sunflower) [CVn])

M81 - Bode’s “Nebula”

M31 Andromeda Galaxy

  • Galaxy

  • Billions of stars, Millions of years away

  • Looks like a faint fuzzy thing, can no longer see individual stars (too many stars too far away) but only see millions of stars shining together in a luminous cloud.

  • 12 million lightyears away(Bodes) 2.7 million lightyears away(Andromeda), the light (photons) you’re seeing left that galaxy 12 million years ago and has been traveling all the way through space for 12 million years to land in your telescope and interact with your retina so you are having a physical interaction with a galaxy 12 million light years away… not bad for a “faint fuzzy” thing

  • 70,000 light years across(bodes) 152,000ly across (Andromeda)

  • The furthest away we will look in the telescopes much farther than the globular or open clusters

  • Everything we look at tonight exists a multitude of times in this other galaxy. Bode's galaxy has about 250 billion stars, Andromeda has ~1 trillion. each of those stars just like our sun likely has many planets, and many of those planets have multiple moons, it has thousands of nebulae, thousands of open clusters, and hundreds of globular clusters.

  • It’s called bode’s “nebula” because before the 1920s we didn’t even know other galaxies were out there and everything astronomers saw that were faint and fuzzy in a telescope were called “nebula”. It wasn’t until Edwin Hubble using the biggest telescope at the time looked at this galaxy and about a dozen others and realized that they were other galaxies. It wasn’t until the 1930s that other galaxies became widely accepted as astronomers had thought our galaxy to be the entire universe at the time, and Hubble was saying our galaxy was just one of many. Now NASA has cataloged over two trillion galaxies (that’s just what they’ve counted, we know there’s more), so less than 100 years ago astronomers thought the universe was half a trillionth of what we know it to be today. Makes you wonder what the next 100 years holds for us

  • There is a black hole in the middle of M81 that is 70 million times the mass of our sun

  • If there’s extra time we show M82 as well it’s right next to it and shows how different the galaxies can look if you’re looking edge on (M82) or more of a top view of the full disk (M81)

    • M81 and M82 collided a few hundred million years ago causing M82 to be deformed.

    • M81 is 150,000 light years away from M82 right now

    • M81 and M82 are still interacting gravitationally this has pulled some gasses from M81 to M82 letting M82 form more stars

    • In zoomed out binoculars you can get M82 and M81 in the same field of view.

  • Can’t be seen with the unaided eye but easily seen in decent binoculars

  • Can be found by using the diagonal stars of the vessel of the big dipper as a pointer (see chart)

  • Discovered in 1774

  • It’s slightly bigger than our own galaxy.

Finding M81 - Bode’s “Nebula” with the big dipper

location of M31 Andromedia

M57 - Ring Nebula [in Lyra] (back up planetary nebula: M27 [Vul], NGC 7293 (helux) [Aqr], NGC 7009 (saturn) [Aqr], NGC 6543 (cats eye) [Dra], NGC 2392 (eskmo) [Gem], NGC 3242 (ghost of jup) [Hyd])

M57 - Ring Nebula

  • The “ring nebula” is a planetary nebula

  • Looks like a little cheero ring or little poof ball

  • It’s actually about 1,000 times the size of our entire solar system

  • Sometimes you can see a little white dwarf star left behind in the middle this “dwarf” star is actually about the size of earth

  • Planetary nebulae are called “planetary” by mistake, early astronomers thought the little disk looked like a planet in a telescope.

  • The ring nebula is only seen in telescopes (you won’t see it with just your eye and won’t see it even in fairly good binoculars)

  • You might be able to notice the ring isn’t perfectly round but slightly elliptical in the telescope

  • It’s roughly 2,000 light years away but it’s hard to really tell how far it is

  • It’s about 7,000 years old

  • Usually seen as white but some eyes see it as greenish

  • “A ghost of a star”, planetary nebulae are stellar ghosts. They are old exploded star remnants

  • It was a sun like star that blew away the outer envelope leaving behind the earth size white dwarf

  • Stars are a very complex topic in astro physics, there’s a whole separate part of physics called heliophysics that’s the study of stars. You can get a PHD in heliophysics and still not know everything about stars. So this is an oversimplification and don’t worry if you don’t get it:

    • Stars are really really big

      • Our star the sun is 112 times the diameter of earth, if you square that to get the volume it’s over 1 million times the volume of earth

      • The gravity on the sun is also about 1 million times that on earth

      • If you were on the sun you would weigh 1 million times what you do now and collapse under your own weight

    • Because of the immense gravity everything on the star is collapsing to the center pushing really really hard on the center. It pushes so hard that the nucleus of the atoms in the center core of the star are being pushed to touch each other this is called “fusion”

    • Fusion causes a huge explosion (the only time we’ve ever done fusion on earth was the hydrogen bomb) this explosion starts pushing aginst the immence gravity of the sun and balances the star out creating the consistent light we’re used to from our sun.

    • This balance lasts billions of years but eventually all of the hydrogen in the star is fused up. Hydrogen is the easiest to fuse (that’s why we did it in the ‘hydrogen’ bomb) once it’s gone the gravity starts winning and pushing harder on the core.

    • This increase of gravitational pressure pushes bigger and bigger elements together in fusion at the core (until Iron which will not fuse). Fusing these bigger and bigger elements means the explosion in the core of the star can go bigger and bigger, eventually it blows apart the star, pushing all the stuff that made up the star’s outer layer away in all directions in a ball of gas, leaving behind the core as an earth sized white dwarf star in the center.

    • That is what you’re seeing in the planetary nebula an old exploded star (if the star was bigger it could have formed a black hole… but that’s probably too deep of a theoretical physics conversation than you want to read right now)

location of M57 - Ring Nebula

Aldebaran and Betelgeuse - to be seen near Mars(back up any bright stars low on the horizon : Capella, Vega)

size of Antares

  • Red giant stars in Orion (Betelgeuse) and Taurus (Aldebaran)

  • The name Aldebaran is Arabic and means The Follower

  • Both Aldebaran, Betelgeuse, and Mars are bright red causing them to be mistaken often.

  • They're both is huge!!!

    • If the sun was replaced with Betelgeuse the earth’s orbit would be well inside the star, even mars would be in Betelgeuse if we swapped it for the sun as the width of Betelgeuse is a bit bigger than mars’s orbit.

    • If the Sun was the size of a grape Betelgeuse would be the size of a car

Mizar -double star

Mizar and Alcor

  • Without looking at the chart (no cheating) can you tell which star of the seven in the Big Dipper are actually two stars?

    • This was used as an eye exam in the Roman military. If you could pick out the star in the Big Dipper that was actually two stars with the naked eye you could pass the eye exam

    • This was also seen as a double star in ancient India and represents a married couple in hinduism.

    • ..... Do you have a guess? Check again just to be sure.... You can only really take this eye exam once

    • ok hint it's in the handle.... sure of your guess now...

    • Okay, If you picked the middle star of the handle (labeled as Mizar on the chart), great news you have good eyes!

    • Once this is pointed out most people will see it as two stars

    • Looking even closer In a telescope you might be able to see one of these stars are two stars also!

  • It’s actually very common for stars to have companion stars, about 60% of stars have companion stars. Our Sun is actually in the minority for being alone.

  • It's like when you drive a desert highway at night you might see one oncoming headlight on the horizon but as you get closer you'll see it split into the two headlights. The telescope is getting you close enough to see it as two stars.

Location of Mizar

Moon (when up) Earth’s only natural satellite

  • Moves around the earth in just under one month. The word month actually comes from moon-th, the suffix -th denotes a measurement like 1/4th or 100th place, one ‘measurement’ of the moon means from phase to phase of the moon. The Month is actually a time period we inherited from a lunar calendar and aligns with the moon as good as you can hope for with our solar calendar.

  • The moon rises/ sets just under an hour different every day (~50min). So if you see the moon set tonight at 10pm it’ll set just before 11pm (~10:50p) tomorrow. Or if you see the moon rise at 5am tonight you will see it rise just before 6am (~5:50a) tomorrow

  • The moon is about 250,000 miles (400,000 km) away (I think of this as how many miles some old cars will have on them.

  • The moon is 2,000 miles across, just under the distance from coast to coast of the US

  • If we shrink the earth to be 1mm (the size of a grain of sand) the moon would be ¼ the size of earth at .25mm and would be about 30mm (or 1.25 inches) away so, two grains of sand in the palm of your hand would represent the earth and moon at this scale. Feel free to play around with this scale to what works best for you as long as you change all units it will work i.e. if the earth was 1ft (the size of a watermelon) the moon would be (1ft/4 =.25ft = 3in) 3 inches (the size of a baseball) and it would be (1ft *30 = 30ft = 10 yards) 10 yards away.

  • Monday is named after the moon like Moon-Day. Same in spanish; Lunes = monday, luna = moon. Same in french.

  • The moon is of course responsible for tides causing “king” tides (big tides) when full or new, And “neap” tides (small tides) at first and last quarter.

  • The moon is responsible for life as we know it on earth. It’s theorized life may not of evolved to leave the ocean if it weren't for the irregular tides the moon gives us

  • Werewolves might not exist but because wolves and coyotes are nocturnal hunters the full moon nights provide better visibility and means they are more active so you might actually hear someone howl at the moon.

  • The moon is best seen in phases as the shadowing causes the features such as craters to pop out more giving the viewer a better sense of depth. When studying a feature on the moon astronomers will wait all month until the feature they want to study is perfectly shadowed.

  • The half illuminated moon only gives 11% of the light of a fully illuminated moon because the craters make the moon more like a rough golf all than a smooth ping pong ball the light isn’t reflected uniformly.

  • The Moon is 400,000 times dimmer than the Sun

  • The moon only reflects 7% to 17% of the Sunlight that hits it (depending on the dark vs bright areas) so it would be dark gray to black if it weren’t for the contrast of the black background of space

  • Because the moon gets its light from reflecting sunlight you will see the side pointing towards the sun to be always illuminated. That is the western side during the evening and the eastern side at times when it's only up in the morning.

  • The closer the moon is to the sun the smaller the crescent the moon will make

  • Full moons are on the exact opposite side of the sky from the sun

  • Many astronomers hate on the moon because the natural light pollution of the moon drowns out all of the fainter features in the night sky. However I think anything the moon takes away from the sky it gives back tenfold as it’s one of the best things to see in a telescope you can’t see the carters or little features on anything else in the sky. The features of the moon spark wonder and show you it’s an actual place.

  • The Moon is the only thing bright enough you can take a picture of it through the telescope with any camera phone.

  • The Moon-Earth system is very rare we don’t see planets this close to their star with a moon this size in any other star systems we’ve seen

  • The moon broke off from the earth during a big collision in the early solar system.

  • The man/rabbit/whatever on the moon is like a cultural rorschach test, what do you see?

  • The marea (low dark regions) are about 3.7 billion years old meaning most the craters happened before the marea were formed and are mostly preserved on the highlands area of the moon

  • You can watch the moon go thru all the signs in the zodac over the course of a month

    • Watch the moon over the course of a week if you start when the moon in near regulus (the heart of leo the lion) the next night you will see the moon near the tail of leo the lion, the night after that it will be closer to Spica in Virgo, it’ll spend 2 or 3 days in virgo then visit zubenelgenubi/zubeneschamali (the balance beams of Libra), then it will visit Scorpio for a day or two, then on to Sagittarius, and so on…

    • If you watch the moon over the course of a day you might think it’s going from east to west but, if you watch it over the course of a week you will see its true rotation is from west to east. This is like watching out the side window while your mom passes a car. At first it might look like the car you are passing is going backwards but after watching for a while you will see it’s going the same direction just slower than you. Take note of where the moon is today vs tomorrow.

Orion Nebula

  • Star forming nebula

  • Not as red or colorful as they do in pictures, (often depicted on yoga pants, phone cases, etc.) because our eyes are bad at seeing color at low light levels. Many photos also cheat by showing things in the infrared and ultraviolet (reds and purples that are outside what's visible to the human eye) and paint them on as reds and purples like you can see it. This is helpful scientifically and makes for a good pic but won’t be what you see in a telescope.

  • However, The eye can see deeper into the nebula than a camera can easily as you can peer through the gas and see the stars inside the nebula. Where pictures look flat and washed out in the telescope you will get a 3D feel for the nebula that can only be seen with the human eye.

  • In the telescope it will look like stars mixed with alluring milky regions and enticing dark regions.

  • There are three types of nebulae visible in these

    • Emission nebula - clouds of gas so hot they illuminate themselves with light. Similar to the gas that illuminates a neon light

    • Reflection nebula - a cloud of gas that is near a star that is lighting it up. Like how the spotlight from the bat signal lights up the clouds over gotham

    • Absorption nebula - a dark cold cloud that blocks the light shining behind it. Like how the clouds in our sky block out the light of the stars behind them

  • These nebulae are like a stellar nursery. Stars travel through these clouds taking in more and more gas until they’re big enough to start fusion in the core of the star they then ignite and that’s how a star is born. These are baby stars sending their first light out into our universe.

Seven Sisters

Just above Orion is the Seven Sisters. The Seven Sisters look like a little smattering of stars (sometimes confused with the little dipper, as they kind of have a dipper shape too) almost directly over head. If you are able to see all seven you have exceptional vision; most people can only see six with the naked eye. However in binoculars (or a telescope) you will actually be able to see hundreds. This is called an “open cluster” and is the next step after the infant stars in the Orion nebula. These are teenage stars leaving their nursery and going their own way in the galaxy.


Saturn is currently appearing in the southwest sky at sunset.

  • Saturn is huge. It is the second largest planet in our Solar System. (Jupiter is the only planet that is bigger.)

  • Saturn is made mostly of gases.

  • Its beautiful rings are not solid. They are made up of bits of ice, dust and rock.

  • The rings are huge but thin. The main rings could almost go from Earth to the moon. Yet, they are less than a kilometer thick.

  • Saturn's rings are the only ones that can be easily seen from Earth. All you need is a small telescope.

  • It is very windy on Saturn. Winds around the equator can be 1,800 kilometers per hour. That's 1,118 miles per hour! On Earth, the fastest winds "only" get to about 400 kilometers per hour. That's only about 250 miles per hour.

  • Saturn goes around the Sun very slowly. A year on Saturn is about Earth years.

  • A day on Saturn is 10 hours.

  • The Ringed Planet is so far away from the Sun that it receives much less sunlight than we do here on Earth. it's about 100 times colder on Saturn than earth because it gets less heat from the sun being so far away.

  • The day Saturday was named after Saturn.


Jupiter is currently appearing high in the south sky after sunset.

  • Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system.

  • Jupiter is a gas giant. It is made mostly of hydrogen and helium.

  • Jupiter has a very thick atmosphere.

  • Jupiter has rings, but they’re very hard to see.

  • One day on Jupiter goes by in just 10 hours.

  • One year on Jupiter is the same as 11.8 Earth years.

  • Jupiter has over 79 confirmed moons.

  • Jupiter has been known since ancient times because it can be seen without advanced telescopes.

  • Jupiter has been visited or passed by several spacecraft, orbiters and probes, such as Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, Cassini, New Horizons, and Juno.


Dec. 8: Mars at opposition (closest Earth will be to Mars)

In the eastern sky there is a bright distinctly red spot of light that comes out fairly quickly after sunset. I’m sure you’ve guessed already this is the planet Mars!

  • Mars takes 2 years to go around the Sun where it takes the Earth 1 year.

    • This means about every 3 years we catch up with mars and pass by it. When this happens it is called ‘opposition’. Opposition means an alignment of the Sun the Earth and one of the outer planets (outer planets are planets that are further from the Sun than us: Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune). You can see when this happens by watching the sky at sunset, because the Sun, Earth and another planet is in alignment the planet is on the opposite side of the of the sky from the Sun. After you watch the Sun set in the west, turn around and see the planet that is in opposition rise in the east, for that night that planet will be as above the eastern horizon as the Sun is below the western horizon (the same phenomenon can be seen at full moon too). This will happened on Dec 8th 2022 for Mars. Because opposition is happening this year that means we are closer to mars then we will be for another ~3 years.

  • In a telescope or a good pair of binoculars mars appears as a red disk, where any of the red stars mentioned above (Aldebaran and Betelgeuse) will still be just a point of light. If you have a good telescope you might be able to see the white ice cap. With a really good telescope and a trick called occulting where you block out the light of mars you might be able to see mars's two faint moons Phobos and Deimos. Phobos and Deimos are small and irregularly shaped leading us to think they are most likely captured asteroids.

  • Mars has captured our imaginations a lot through the ages starting with the Sumerians who likened it's red appearance to blood and saw it as an omen of war and blood shed. the Greeks and Romans went along with this naming it after their gods of war Aries and Mars (Marmor being an alternate name) respectively.

  • Mars is an amazing place that captivates the imagination.

    • Valles Marineris which is a system of naturally formed canyons that reaches 4 miles deep and would stretch across mainland United States if it was on earth. If human eyes ever see Valles Marineris up close I’m sure it will be a jaw dropping sight putting the grand canyon to shame.

    • Mars is also home to Olympus Mons an extinct volcano reaching 72,000ft making it the largest mountain in our solar system (there is a case to be made for Rheasilvia a mountain on the asteroid Vela to be bigger). With science supporting the idea of frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) snow storms, some have thought about skiing down Olympus Mons and getting lots of air with Mars’s low gravity (about a third of the gravitational force we have on earth).

    • Along with volcanoes and canyons mars also has many impact craters that scar its surface. Mars is home to the greatest diversity of impact crater types of any planet in the Solar System.

Click the picture below to book a tour now and see all these things up close in a telescope!

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