If this is your first night outside, looking at the stars, there are a few things you can do make the experience much more enjoyable.
First, make sure you put your telescope outside for a while to acclimatize. Telescopes have metal bodies, glass and mirrors. These items hold onto heat very well. At about –10°C I will put the binoculars and small spotting scopes out for about one hour. For larger telescopes, I let them cool for about two to three hours. If your telescope or binoculars are not cool enough, the image might seem to swim and pulsate and there is no clear detail to be found anywhere in the eyepiece.
Just like the telescope and binoculars, the human element must also acclimatize and adjust to the temperature and the night sky. Get yourself set up properly: Set up a small table for your star charts, make sure your tripod is in a good position with a good unobstructed field of view. You will also have to let your eyes dilate for the night sky. When you are outside in the dark clear Yukon night skies your pupils dilate to let more light in. This process takes about 30 minutes. “And how do I find my gear in the dark with my eyes dilated, Mr. Cackette?” you might ask? The answer is simple. Just get a red light flashlight. The red light does not interfere with the dilation of the pupil as much and lets you find your gear, see your star charts and, most importantly, find your coffee and hot chocolate in the dark.
Another duty to perform is to align your finder scope. Speaking of finder scopes you might want to consider a little toy they call the “Telrad”. This is the most amazing and important aid you can buy for telescopes (I even have one on my giant binoculars). This truly is the ultimate finder scope. It projects three rings on a Plexiglas plate, like a targeting rectile. The rings that you see on the Plexiglas plate are 1/2 Degree,
2 Degree, and 5 degrees. This, with a Sky News or Astronomy magazine makes short work of all the little hidden treasures of the deep sky.
While you are waiting for your eyes and telescope to prepare for the night of fun, get familiar with a couple of your favourite constellations and planets that are in the current Yukon Night Sky. Notice that after about 10 to 15 minutes, you begin to see more stars and more detail in the Milky Way. This is an excellent time to grab your binoculars (every backyard astronomer must have a good pair) and go for a look-see at the Milky Way. The Milky Way is actually just part of an arm of a Spiral Galaxy we call home. Huge star fields and star cluster await the envious and eager eye.
Well, now that you are settled in on a moonless night and you and all your gear are ready to go, what will you look at? Well the first deep sky target I seek is the Double Cluster in Perseus. On a perfect night at low power in my telescope the Double Cluster looks like diamonds on wet glass. The Double Cluster is visible as a smudge to the naked eye just below Cassiopeia, which makes it easier to find.
My next favourite celestial treasure is what we call the Leo Trio. This is a triple galaxy shot. That’s right, three galaxies in the same field of view. In smaller scopes and such you may only see two galaxies. This wondrous celestial treasure is hidden in the constellation Leo. Go to the star called Denebola at the end of the lions tail. Then, going back towards the body in a straight line, stop at the first bright star, then go down vertically about 5 degrees and presto. The two brightest galaxies are about 40 million light years away and about 180,000 light years apart, and roughly the same size as our own galaxy.
Now we get to the most remote object visible to the unaided eye, the Andromeda Galaxy. This galaxy is 1.4 times larger than our own Galaxy and is about 2,300,000 light years away. In small binoculars the galaxy appears elongated and as a small fuzzy patch of light. In small and medium size scopes, the two companion galaxies also become visible. A really good, dark night with good seeing helps a lot, too. You need to find the constellation Andromeda, so look for the central star Mirach and then go up and there you go.