Astronomy isn’t just for people who own telescopes and binoculars. There are plenty of objects to see and identify in the night sky with the naked eye. Go outside on a clear night and you’ll probably already be able to name some of the more famous constellations, but you might not be aware there is so much more waiting to be observed with your eyes alone.
It’s not just stars, though. Planets, comets and galaxies are all visible to an observer without any fancy equipment. Sometimes, seeing and identifying an object with just your eyes can be a more rewarding experience than using a telescope to find it. Below we’ve highlighted three great sights you can see while out and about on a dark and clear night. For things like the Milky Way, you’ll need to be in an area of low light pollution, but find one and the night sky is there for you to behold.
Constellation: Ursa Major
Right ascension: 10.67h
Also known as the Great Bear, the Big Dipper or the Plough, Ursa Major can be seen from most of the northern hemisphere throughout the year. The middle star is actually a famous double star comprising Mizar and Alcor. Ursa Major is found in the northern night sky, and the outside of the Big Dipper’s bowl also points towards Polaris, the North Star, with the helpful ‘pointer stars’ Merak and Dubhe.
The Orion Nebula (M42)
Right ascension: 05h 35m 17.3s
Declination: -05° 23′ 28″
The Orion Nebula is a bright star-forming nebula and is situated at a distance of around 1,340 light years away making it the closest region of great star birth to Earth. To find the nebula, locate the three stars that make up Orion’s Belt. From the left star of Orion’s Belt (Alnitak), move south in the direction in which Orion’s sword points, hanging from his belt, with the nebula visible clearly as a naked eye object at the sword’s tip (although you won’t get quite as good a view as below!).
Centre of the Milky Way Galaxy
Constellation: Towards Sagittarius
Right ascension: 17h 25m 40.04s
Declination: -29° 00′ 28.1″
Our galaxy weaves through the night sky as a powdery band of light from billions of stars. Because we are a part of it, we can only see a portion of our galaxy, which is roughly 100,000 light years in diameter. Few have seen the splendid view of the Milky Way because of light pollution. However, from a dark spot, the form of such a huge abundance of stars becomes immediately apparent.