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Fascinating Stars - 5 Types of Night Sky Objects

Updated on June 12, 2019
Babu Mohan profile image

I am a marketing professional holding a postgraduate degree in management. Astronomy is my hobby.

Milky Way Galaxy
Milky Way Galaxy | Source

Have you ever marveled at the night sky and wondered how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things? There is a certain order in the way the Moon, planets and the stars move across the night sky. The beauty of space science lies in its certainty. I wish I know how the stock markets will behave the next day just like I know the sunrise or the sunset timings.

There is beauty in watching a total lunar eclipse when the eclipsed Moon turns red. There is excitement when there is a Venus transit or a bright comet in night sky.

The 5 types of night sky objects are as given under.

1. Solar system planets and moons

2. Comets

3. Meteor showers and fireballs

4. Stars

5. Deep Sky Objects

I am a star gazer fascinated by the beauty of the universe. If one asks me to list my favorite sight seeing places, night sky would be up there in first position.

Saturn with its rings
Saturn with its rings | Source

1. Solar System Planets and Moons

There are 8 planets in our solar system since Pluto is no longer considered a planet. Out of these, we can see 5 planets with our naked eye. The five naked-eye planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Uranus and Neptune can be viewed with the help of powerful telescopes or binoculars and only if you know where to look.

I have seen all the 5 planets with naked eye. I am yet to spot Uranus and Neptune. Mercury and Venus are called inferior planets in relation to earth. Their orbits are closer to sun than that of our Earth. Because of this reason, these two planets would always stay closer to Sun. These two planets could be seen either in the west after sunset or in the east before sunrise when they are visible.

Venus has phases similar to Moon and one should attempt to watch the crescent Venus through a telescope. Mercury is a difficult planet to spot for city dwellers as it is visible only for a few weeks in a year. But it can be bright and is easy to spot. We get our best chance to spot Mercury on 15th December 2018 as it rises an hour before sunrise. As a bonus, we can also see the bright Venus whose crescent is visible when viewed through a small telescope.

Jupiter is the second brightest planet in the night sky and the fourth brightest object overall. A small telescope can help one see Jupiter's four moons. Mars is called the red planet because of its red tinge. Saturn is another bright planet visible to naked eye. A medium or large telescope is needed to view the famous rings of Saturn.

Comet C/2015 V2 (Johnson)
Comet C/2015 V2 (Johnson) | Source

2. Comets

It has been my wish to spot a comet from my childhood. During my school days, there was a buzz that the Haley's comet would appear in night sky. I knew it was my last chance to spot that comet as it has a periodicity of around 75 years. I stayed awake for several nights to glimpse this periodic comet but I failed. It is possible I did not know where and when to look.

I thought I would have a nice chance to spot a comet in 2013 when there was too much hype around comet ISON. But it fizzled out and I could not have a glimpse of the same. The comet was predicted to become as bright as Full Moon but that did not happen as the comet disintegrated during its close encounter with Sun.

In Jan 2015, I was lucky enough to spot Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy using my modest pair of binoculars from my home. It was not bright, but it was still a special moment for me as this was the first comet I could see.

Fireball
Fireball | Source

3. Meteor Showers and Fireballs

Shooting stars are streaks of light we see once a while across the night sky. I am fortunate to have seen many shooting stars in night sky. Most of this have happened several decades ago during my childhood. Meteor showers represent the specific periods in a calendar year when the meteor activity peaks. This is when our planet crosses the path taken by comets and the debris left behind by the comets impact our atmosphere as shooting stars.

These shooting stars are tiny particles entering earth's atmosphere. They get burnt up when they enter the earth's atmosphere. What happens when a large meteoroid enters our planet that may not be large enough to impact the planet? This creates a more fantastic sight referred to as a fireball. The fireball is also a shooting star, but it appears spectacular and fiery.

I was fortunate enough to spot one such fireball in the year 2012 a while after sunset. It so happened I looked up, and the fireball came in my line of sight. It might have lasted just a fraction of a second yet it has created a lasting impression.


Seven Sisters or Pleiades Star Cluster
Seven Sisters or Pleiades Star Cluster | Source

4. Stars

The visible stars in night sky belong to milky way galaxy. All these stars sit in the same spiral arm where our solar system is located. The stars look none different when viewed from a dark location or through a binocular.

I would list the stars worth hunting in the night sky.

1. Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.

2. Betelgeuse, a bright red star in Orion constellation

3. Polaris or the North star that is almost stationary in the sky

4. Pleiades or Seven sisters, the brightest star cluster visible to naked eye.

A nova represents a violent explosion of a dying star. The Nova would appear like a star in a place where there was none before. I was also lucky enough to spot a Nova that happened in Sagittarius constellation using my modest telescope. It helped me cross one more milestone in observational astronomy. Have you heard of Betelgeuse that could go supernova in sometime? If this bursts, it could rival Moon in brightness for a few days.

Crab Nebula
Crab Nebula | Source

5. Deep Sky Objects

Deep sky objects can be further classified as given below.

1. Nebula

2. Star clusters

3. Galaxies

Orion Nebula is visible to naked eye and through a good telescope, it reveals many details. Pleiades or seven sisters is the star cluster visible to naked eye. There are also many star clusters around Sagittarius constellation that can be spotted using a basic telescope.

Andromeda is the brightest galaxy at a distance of 2.5 million light years. The apparent size of this galaxy is six times the radius of full Moon! Still most of us would not have seen this galaxy because it gets washed away by the light pollution. A binocular is all we need to spot the Andromeda galaxy. Light pollution is no issue as I have seen Andromeda galaxy at ease from my terrace with just a binocular.

Milky way cannot be seen from the light-polluted city skies. I was lucky enough to spot this once from a remote area in Nagaland, India. It was visible to unaided eye since the surroundings were pitch dark and the milky way arm occupied half the sky. It was one of my best moments in night sky watching.


References

  1. James Mullaney. (2006, August 8). 111 Deep Sky Wonders for Light-Polluted Skies [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/111-deep-sky-wonders-for-light-polluted-skies/
  2. John Pickrell. (2006, September 4). Top 10: Comets [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9975-top-10-comets/
  3. Jamie Carter. (2018, July 17). A beginner’s guide to meteor showers [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.skyatnightmagazine.com/advice/a-beginners-guide-to-meteor-showers/
  4. Nancy Atkinson. (2015, November 25). Order Of the Planets From The Sun [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.universetoday.com/72305/order-of-the-planets-from-the-sun/
  5. Glenn Chaple. (2008, March 10). Learn the constellations [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.astronomy.com/observing/astro-for-kids/2008/03/learn-the-constellations

Please leave your valuable comments.

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    • HandyHelper profile image

      HandyHelper 

      5 years ago

      They look so close and yet they are unreachable. I find this pretty cool!

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 

      5 years ago

      The night sky is a place to invoke dreams and spice up the imagination, as it has done for all of human history. It never ceases to fascinate and is always there to be enjoyed, Nicely done lens.

    • profile image

      justinemonica 

      5 years ago

      Shooting stars always fascinate me and you added in your lens thanks for this. Nice.

    • profile image

      skakati 

      5 years ago

      Very nice and well crafted lens. Like it.

    • Zeross4 profile image

      Renee Dixon 

      5 years ago from Kentucky

      I always love to see shooting stars, on the rare occasion that it happens-it's very exciting. I really enjoyed your lens, I have also always been fascinated by the night sky, stars, astronomy, etc. Well done!

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 

      5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      my favorite subject. well written article. lovely share

    • profile image

      susan369 

      5 years ago

      I love looking at the stars too. It's best done lying on the ground though otherwise I get a stiff neck! I've never see a shooting star, but I'd love to. Lovely lens, very magical!

    • MrChipss profile image

      MrChipss 

      5 years ago

      I love looking at the stars. My earliest activity in that regard was on camping trips at the lake. I have actually seen Jupiter's moons with the aid of a telescope and that was really cool. Very nice job on the lense!

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 

      5 years ago

      You know a lot, that is great! Watching stars at night is very charming, don't you think so?

    • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Babu 

      5 years ago from Chennai, India

      @favored: The night sky from Canada must have been awesome. It always help to lessen light pollution if the density of population is low, which is the case in Canada.

    • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Babu 

      5 years ago from Chennai, India

      @tonyleather: Thank you so much for your encouraging comments.

    • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Babu 

      5 years ago from Chennai, India

      @TanoCalvenoa: Same here. I too get to see few stars only on most days. Occasionally, the sky would look better depending upon the local weather conditions and pollution effects.

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 

      5 years ago

      I love to watch the night sky, although I live in a city area where visibility is poor. So sometimes I get a real treat if I'm out in the desert, up in the mountains, or out at Santa Catalina Island. Southern California's cities are so polluted with light and other forms of pollution that you can often count how many stars are visible.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      5 years ago from USA

      Looking at the night sky is a wonderful experience no matter where I may be. The most fabulous night skies I have witnessed are those in Canada and Hawaii.

    • profile image

      tonyleather 

      5 years ago

      Fantastic lens! I always marvel that humanity still insist upon thinking in terms of human life-spans when considering space travel or evolution - we seem unable to grasp how truly insignificant we are in the great scheme of things. Well said!

    • LauraHofman profile image

      Laura Hofman 

      5 years ago from Naperville, IL

      Excellent and very informative lens! I love stars too, but we are limited as to what we can see here in the Chicago area...dark skies are indeed a rarity with all the street lights and signs.

    • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Babu 

      5 years ago from Chennai, India

      @Susan Zutautas: Thanks for your comments. I am honored.

    • Susan Zutautas profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great lens and thank you for writing this as I learned a great deal from you.

    • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Babu 

      5 years ago from Chennai, India

      @mel-kav: You are absolutely right. Dark skies are becoming a rarity these days.

    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 

      5 years ago

      Very interesting lens. I, too, am fascinated with the sky and the stars. But now, in my adulthood, the night skies are nothing compared to what I remember when I was a kid. That's why I do love the mountains - the stars are always abundant and bright.

    • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Babu 

      5 years ago from Chennai, India

      @Joebeducci: Thanks Joe for your encouraging comments..

    • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Babu 

      5 years ago from Chennai, India

      @sybil watson: Hopefully we all have a chance to see a comet with our own eyes by the end of this month. If you are a regular sky watcher, you could spot a shooting star once a while. The best bet is to wait for the Leonid meteor shower happening on 16th Nov. Many thanks for taking your time to read and comment on my new lens.

    • profile image

      sybil watson 

      5 years ago

      I would love to see a comet or a shooting star! I have seen a green flash, though.

    • Joebeducci profile image

      Joebeducci 

      5 years ago

      Indeed very fascinating! Greets, Joebeducci

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