Stargazing Side Quests – October 19th, 2022

Here’s this week’s side quest from Maighdlin Kelly, the astrologer extraordinaire: For Week 40 we will be looking for something a little different. Instead of one particular star or constellation, we’ll be looking for a “not-comet”…

Tonight’s side quest is pretty faint compared to prev side quests & therefore will be more of a treat for those of you with a pair of binoculars or access to a small telescope. If you dont have either thats ok, youll still be able to revisit the 3 stars of the Summer Triangle and from there you’ll be able to find the spot in the sky where this celestial cluster is located.

To begin, go outside and find the brightest star in the west, which is Vega. Feel free to use a stargazing app like Sky Map to help.

Vega will be forming a big triangle with another bright (but not as bright) star to the left called Altair and another less bright star above Vega called Deneb. These three stars form the Summer Triangle, which we found in a previous side quest.

Now that you have the bright star Vega in sight, look above it to Deneb. From Deneb we’re going to star-hop above it about half the distance from Vega to Deneb. In this part of the sky is where we’ll find Messier object 39 (M39 / NGC 7092).

M39 has a magnitude of only about 4.6 so just a bit brighter than the visual limit of the naked eye. For this reason it’s best viewed with a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

Because this cluster of stars takes up quite a wide area in the sky (more than the full Moon!!) it’s actually better to view it with low magnification so you can see the whole thing at once.

The reason I referred to this side quest target as a “not-comet” is because of Charles Messier, the French astronomer who compiled a list of celestial fuzzies, “so that astronomers would no more confuse these same nebulae with comets just beginning to appear.”

This list of over 100 “not-comets” has been useful for astronomers for centuries and is used every spring for “Messier marathons” where stargazers try to find as many of these objects in the sky as they can in a single night (which I have prev hinted at doing for a future #WUFO). To learn more about this “loose cluster, or rather splashy galaxy field of stars” check out this biography and to learn more about Messier check out.

Let us know if you find M39 tonight! If you cant see it, dont worry! Theres still the Summer Triangle (Vega, Altair, Deneb) to see. If you don’t get a chance to see that either, never fear, even looking outside for a sec to see if its cloudy counts as completing the side quest <3

And if you find that more often than not, the sky is cloudy when you want to go out and look at the stars, congratulations, you have been properly initiated into the life of an amateur astronomer XD

That’s it for this week’s side quest! And dont forget to tag @LiminalEarth #WUFO and I with your stargazing pics, snacks, and setup so we can boost and celebrate your stargazing side quest achievement!

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