Recommended Beginner Astronomy Targets

Before coming here, read this page, and especially note Guy Consolmagno’s book recommended at the bottom of that page. The instructions I give below for finding objects do not always agree with Guy’s instructions in his excellent book — these are my own methods, worked out before I found the book. The objects don’t move around — there are just multiple ways to find your way to a given point.

In this article, I will be building up a list of my own personal favourite objects for beginners. Consider this page to be permanently under construction, since I plan to add objects only after observing them with a variety of beginner-class telescopes, and that will take several seasons. This list consists of objects that are easy to find and observe with a small telescope, and most of them can be at least seen (if not fully enjoyed) from a light-polluted suburb. Each page contains images — usually simulations — of what you can expect the object to look like in a small telescope.

You’ll note that the majority of these objects are named M-something. These are references to the Messier Catalogue. Here is a short explanation of the Messier list, where it came from, and why it provides such good objects for beginners.

Here are the objects I recommend. There are notes below the table explaining some of the notations.

Visible #(4) in city with scope aperture:
Visible #(4) in dark skies with aperture:
Obj #(3) Kind #(6) Months #(1) Best Where #(2)
Naked Eye
60 mm
80 mm (3″)
100 mm (4″)
235 mm (9.25″)
Naked Eye
60 mm
80 mm (3″)
100 mm (4″)
235 mm (9.25″)
Saturn P varies E-S-W
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
Jupiter P varies E-S-W
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
M37 OC Nov – May Jan S
no
dim
yes
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
M38 OC Nov – May Jan S
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
M45 OC Oct – Feb Jan S, Up
yes
yes
yes
yes
wide #(5)
yes
yes
yes
yes
wide #(5)
M31 G Sep – Feb Jan Up
no
dim
yes
yes
wide #(5)
faint
yes
yes
yes
wide #(5)
M42 N Dec – Mar Feb S
star
yes
yes
yes
yes
star+
yes
yes
yes
yes
M35 OC Nov – Apr Feb S
no
dim
yes
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
M3 GC Apr – Aug Jun Up
no
dim
yes
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
Mizar MS Feb – Sep Jun N
star
yes
yes
yes
yes
star
yes
yes
yes
yes
Visible #(4) in city with scope aperture:
Visible #(4) in dark skies with aperture:
Obj #(3) Kind #(6) Months #(1) Best Where #(2)
Naked Eye
60 mm
80 mm (3″)
100 mm (4″)
235 mm (9.25″)
Naked Eye
60 mm
80 mm (3″)
100 mm (4″)
235 mm (9.25″)
M11 OC Jun – Sep Jul S
no
dim
yes
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
M13 GC Apr – Sep Aug Up
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
faint
yes
yes
wow!
wow!
M92 GC May – Oct Aug Up
no
dim
yes
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
M27 N Jun – Nov Aug Hi S
no
hard
dim
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
wow!
wow!
M57 N May – Oct Aug Hi S
no
dim
dim
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
M8 N Jun – Sep Aug Lo S
no
dim
dim
yes
yes
faint
yes
yes
yes
yes
Epsilon Lyrae MS Jun – Nov Aug Up
star
2 only
yes
yes
yes
star
2 only
yes
yes
yes
Albireo MS Jun – Dec Sep Up
star
yes
yes
yes
yes
star
yes
yes
yes
yes
NGC 457 OC Aug – Mar Dec Up
no
dim
yes
yes
yes
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
NGC 869, 884 2 OC Sep – Mar Dec Up
no
yes
yes
yes
wide #(5)
yes
yes
wow!
wow!
wide #(5)

Notes on the Table

  1. I list the months you can observe each object at reasonable evening hours (after dark but not too late) in the Northern hemisphere. Objects are sorted by the ideal viewing month, so the list reads roughly in order of season.
    • My notes on visible months are for my location in Ottawa, Canada, at latitude 45 degrees. Observers farther South (e.g. United States) will see southerly objects for longer in the year and slightly later, while observers farther North (e.g. United Kingdom) will see them for less time and slightly earlier in the year; possibly not at all for certain very southerly objects.
    • The moon and planets don’t have “best month” values because this varies from year to year. You’ll need to check a sky calendar for the schedule. All the major astronomy magazines publish such calendars, and have current information available for free on their web sites. In 2008, Saturn is a Feb-April object and Jupiter is July-October.
  2. The “where” column is to give you a rough idea what part of the sky an object is in, so you can ignore those that don’t fit your locale (if part of your sky is blocked by trees or a building, for example).
    • You’ll notice most objects are toward the South, few toward the North. This is because when we look North we are looking up out of the plane of our Galaxy, into inter-galactic space. That’s the preferred direction for seeing other galaxies, but easier objects are within our galaxy, and those are more plentiful when we look toward the core of our galaxy, with is toward the South.
  3. Clicking on the object name, if it is clickable, will take you to a page with more detailed instructions on how to find it.
  4. The “visible with” columns indicate with which telescopes, and in which conditions, I have personally observed these objects, to help you pick those that are within your grasp. (If it isn’t coloured and doesn’t specifically say “yes” or “no”, I haven’t confirmed with that scope since starting this list.)
    • “In City” means in my yard in a light-polluted suburb, but shielded from direct glaring parking lot lights and street lights.
    • “Dark Skies” means a park outside the city — not wilderness dark, but outside the city’s light dome. e.g. Camping, farm yards, etc
  5. Items labelled “wide” are very large and, to view them with the scope noted, you will need an ultra-wide eyepiece, probably something that did not come standard with your telescope.
  6. “Kind” codes: P=Planet, N=Nebula, GC=Globular Cluster, OC=Open Cluster, G=Galaxy, MS=Multiple Star

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the great info
    Very helpful for myself as a beginner.

  2. Thanks for a great Target Table. My sons and I have begun exploring the skies, and these will be our next targets, tonight, skies willing. Your step by step guides are terrific for getting to the right place. Thanks again.

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