Your first step beyond the solar system can be taken with the naked eye. There are several deep sky objects you can observe without optical aid, such as star clusters and even some nebulae. All these objects reside in our own Milky Way Galaxy, so you’re still in the neighborhood. However, you can go a lot farther.
A dark autumn night shows the Andromeda Galaxy as a hazy smudge of light near the Great Square of Pegasus. It lies 2.9 million light years away, about as far as you can go with only your eyes.
A small telescope allows you to go even deeper; beyond lies a realm of galaxies you can spend the rest of your life discovering. It’s true, most of them are hard to track down and once found don’t look like much.
So why look in the first place? Well, besides the practical advantage of refining and improving your observational skills, there is the sense of achievement one feels after observing an object that relatively few others have seen. As you peer into the telescope, you look back in time, deciphering light that took millions of years to arrive. It’s time travel, and what can be more fun than this!
The keys to locating deep sky objects are patience, perseverance and most of all a basic knowledge of the night sky. Once you can identify key stars in the sky, it’s easy to find the way to your targets. Start with the brightest and easiest objects described below, such as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules or the planetary nebula M57, and slowly progress toward the more challenging and exotic objects like quasar 3C 273 or the extragalactic globular star cluster Mayall II.
NGC 7293 – planetary nebula
M36, M37, and M38 – open star clusters
M44 – open star cluster
M41 – open star cluster
Mira Ceti – variable star
61 Cygni – double star / high proper motion star
Albireo – double star
Campbell’s Hydrogen Star – planetary nebula
NGC 7000, the North America Nebula – emission nebula
The Veil Nebula – supernova remnant
NGC 6891 and NGC 6905 – planetary nebulae
M13 – globular star cluster
Gliese 581 – star
M47 – open star cluster
The Eagle Nebula, M16 – diffuse nebula