Come on. Let me take you...

The "Backyard Astronomer" invites you to a... Spring Starhop

"We are all lying on our backs in gutter... Only some of us are looking at the stars!"

Now, dust off the 'scopes, break out the accessory case, brew some coffee, and let's head out into the night...

Leo

The constellation of Leo will be first on our quest, starting with the bright Regulus...this will be the "focal" point for this star hop. To the east you will find 52 Leonis... now nudge slightly to the south, where you will pick up a fuzzy triangle of light. That's no moon! It's a space station! And, you have just found your first challenge... the galaxy trio, M105, NGC3384 and NGC3389! Don't despair if you cannot resolve them... they are quite faint, with the M105 showing as a fuzzy ball of light! Now, let's shoot for another. Just a bit south of M105, in a relatively starless field, you will pass across the faint, silver beauty of the M96, and its' nearby companion, the M95! This pair is visible in scopes as small as four inches... but in order to gain more resolution, requires the heavy artillery! Now, go to the northeast to find Chort, a blue/white star that is going to be the next stopping point. Ready? Now a bit south will bring you to the Leo Trio of galaxies, featuring the M65 and M66.

So... Are you ready to do some serious "lion taming"? Then let's get EXTREME! The the faint galaxies of Leo await us! And I'm ready to take you there... ;)

Cancer

Next on the list is Cancer, and we'll extend our window just a bit to include a portion of Gemini... let's star with Castor. It's one of the better known, a tougher doubles in the lot! It requires steady skies and high magnification to split. Now hop on to Pollux, then southwest to Wasat... ready to hunt? Now just a few more degrees to the southwest and you should find the NGC 2392, "Eskimo Nebula"! This one is a toughie with a small scope. The best you can hope to achieve is a fuzzy, compact, green "star"... but a larger telescope and high magnification will reveal its' planetary nature!

Now, let's relax for a moment and regard this beautiful night sky while some of the most fascinating of deep sky objects rise a bit higher...

Ready yet? I sure am! Let's look to the north...

Ursa Major

Ah...there it is! The "Big Dipper"... and what riches it holds! Let's start our starhop with something familiar... Mizar and Alcore! Now let's nudge the scope a bit to the east to find the M101 "Pinwheel" galaxy! This particular one is a challenge with a larger scope... but while we're in the area, and feeling "challenged", let's go southeast... past Phecda and find the M109 galaxy. A truly tough target... and one you will quite enjoy! Now... since we know where Phecda is... let's locate Merak, and go for the M108...another challenging target for the large scope! But, let's head back to smaller 'scope range and just a bump away from the M108 is the M97, "Owl Nebula"! Visible in scopes as small as 4"... the little grey/green fuzzy needs 10" or more to resolve even a hint of the eyes! Don't forget while in the area to drop in on the old stand-bys, the M81 and M82! (And there is MORE there too!! Because this pair is also part of a group! Now I want to go to EXTREMES with you!) But we really should finish here, first! Let's move on...

Canes Venetici

Now, on to the constellation Canes Venetici...since we've been in the area of Ursa Major, let's start with familiar star, Alkaid, and move into the next realm. Near by in the area is the colorful double, Cor Caroli... which will be the starting point on this hop. By drawing an imaginary line between Alkaid and Cor Caroli, we will find one-third along the way the famous M51, "Whirlpool Galaxy". This faint fellow is a challenge with a small scope, but begins to reveal its' structure in a larger one... with its' spin-off companion NGC 5195 showing clearly! Now, back to Cor Caroli (a lot like Albeiro, isn't it?) and Beta Cvn. Roughly halfway along this imaginary path is the M94 galaxy. Compact and bright in a small scope, the M94 reveals more of its' galactic nature in larger aperatures. Now, return once again to Cor Caroli, and this time we extend the line between it and Arcturus. At approximately the center of this line, we find the terrific globular, M3, which appears in every respect (but apparent size) and dense as the Great Hercules Cluster! Ready for more? Then lets head to the M63, "Sunflower Galaxy". A very faint patch of light in the smaller scope, both it and the M106 galaxy are fine targets for the larger scopes!

Ready to go in yet? There is NO WAY that I'm letting you go!!! The best is yet to come...

Now then.. for the best for last! As we journey into this area, we are going to borrow loosely from the coordinates of other constellations...

Coma Berenices

Let us feast our eyes in the lovely Coma Berenices! By using averted vision, this constellation looks like an "open cluster" in itself! We will be starting the"hop" at Denebola... the eastern-most star in Leo. And keep heading east a few degrees toward 6 Comae, where you will find the M98 galaxy. It is very subtle, but the bright core reveals it's galactic nature in larger scopes. Now.. just a nudge southeast of 6 Comae will bring you to the M99. The "Pinwheel Galaxy" is quite visible in smaller scopes! Now, back again to 6 Comae, and nudge to the northeast, to find the M100. This is one of the larger galaxies in this set, and resembles a dim globular cluster. A bit more to the north will bring you to the M85. Very round, it will appear almost as an out of focus star. Now... time to take it easy. Let's return to the M99 (you need to be polarly aligned for this trick!!) Center it up, and let's stand back and admire the view, because in approximately 14-15 minutes, the M88 will have "walked" into the field of view! Not bad, eh? Well... stand still for three more minutes and the M91 will be happy to join us! Now... let's loosen up and return to Arcturus. By drawing that imaginary line between Arcturus and Denebola, we start at the halfway point, Alpha Comae, where just a nudge to the northeast should bring the M53 globular cluster into view! This is a perfect target for small scopes! And with a simple grid pattern northward, you will find the M94,"Blackeye Galaxy"!

Lots of terrific targets for such a small area, huh? By using a 32mm eyepiece, you can often fit more than one into the same field of view! Now, now... you come back here! Because I'm not finished with YOU just yet...

Virgo

And last, but not least on tonight's CHALLENGE starhop is the beautiful Virgo... let's relocate our "anchor" point on star, Vindemiatrix, part of the constellation of Virgo, and just slightly south of Alpa Comae. By running a grid to the west/northwest, you will locate the M60, elliptical galaxy, and in the same field of view is the M59! Now... a bump to the west should bring the M58 spiral into view. A bit more to the north, we find the M89, and ever-so-slightly to the northeast is the M90! Now, bumping the scope to the southwest, we find the M87, a giant elliptical. The a nudge from there to the northwest will capture the M86. Now, relax! Because in the same field of view is the M84! Let't change anchors by moving to the southeast of this pair to the red star, R Virginis. From that point, we will move northwest to find the M49, a dim oval shaped galaxy. And a southwest tip of the scope will find the M61, who reveals its' spiral structure to the larger scope. Catch your breath now, because we are about to move on to the cool, blue beauty of Spica... and finish our tour of Virgo! (Told you I like to save the best for last, didn't I?!) Now, let's run that grid pattern to the west, because we are hunting the grandaddy of all targets, the M104! The "Sombrero Galaxy" is an easy target... even for smaller scopes! And the dark dust lane will keep you enthralled, so save it for last, eh? (Come back here!! You've got me into this... and I've something more to share!) Take it to the EXTREME!

Now... I hope I've set upon you a CHALLENGE worthy of your time! You may find all of these targets in one glorious night of clear sky, and it may take you years to find them! (For me, it's been both... ;) Small scope users, don't despair... because I must tell you that it IS POSSIBLE with a 4.5, dark-adapted eyes and excellent sky, to see the Virgo Cluster for yourself!!! When you drift across it... you will KNOW! And never fret over identifying everything you see, or you will take the joy out of the hunt! ;-)


For now, I hope you've had a wonderful time, and that the CHALLENGE page helps you along. But, don't you dare go away!

Because when ever I'm with you, I want to go to to EXTREMES!

I'll be looking for YOU, come summer... ;)

"Couldn't have loved you more... you've got a beautiful taste. Don't let the days go by... Glycerine. I'll never forget where you're at..."

--the astronomer