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.

G1 (Mayall II) – globular star cluster
M31, M32, and M110 – galaxies
NGC 891 – galaxy
NGC 7662 – planetary nebula

NGC 7293 – planetary nebula

M36, M37, and M38 – open star clusters

Kemble’s Cascade – asterism
NGC 2403 – galaxy

M44 – open star cluster

Canes Venatici
M3 – globular star cluster
M51 and NGC 5195 – galaxies

Canis Major
M41 – open star cluster

NGC 457 – open star cluster
NGC 7635 – diffuse nebula

Mu Cephei – red star
NGC 188 – open star cluster
NGC 6946 and NGC 6939 – galaxy and open star cluster

Mira Ceti – variable star

Coma Berenices
M100 – galaxy
NGC 4565, the Needle Galaxy – galaxy

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

M35 – open star cluster
NGC 2392, the Eskimo Nebula – planetary nebula

M13 – globular star cluster

Gliese 581 – star

Epsilon Lyrae – quadruple star
M57 – planetary nebula

NGC 2244 and the Rosette Nebula – open star cluster and diffuse nebula
NGC 2261 (Hubble’s Variable Nebula) – reflection nebula
NGC 2264 – open star cluster

Barnard’s Star – nearby star / high proper motion star
IC 4665 – open star cluster
The Pipe Nebula – dark nebula

FU Orionis – variable star
M42 and M43 – diffuse nebulae
M78 and NGC 2071 – diffuse nebulae
NGC 2169 – open star cluster

M15 – globular star cluster
NGC 7331 – galaxy
Stephan’s Quintet – compact group of galaxies

M76 – planetary nebula
NGC 869 and NGC 884 – open star clusters

M47 – open star cluster

M8, the Lagoon Nebula – diffuse nebula
Barnard 85 – dark nebula

M4 – globular star cluster
M80 – globular star cluster

The Eagle Nebula, M16 – diffuse nebula

M1 – supernova remnant
The Hyades – open star cluster
The Pleiades – open star cluster

Ursa Major
M97 – planetary nebula
M81 and M82 – galaxies
M101 and NGC 5447 – galaxies

3C 273 – quasar
M87 – galaxy
M104 – galaxy
The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies – galaxy cluster