TELESCOPIC HIGHLIGHTS


November is the best month of the year for observing the nearest spiral galaxy to our Milky Way because Andromeda (M 31) is almost straight up in the sky during prime viewing hours. This image shows where this galaxy is at its highest elevation (only 2 degrees north of straight up). If you stand facing north and look straight up, this is what you'll see. There are many ways to view this island universe. You can lie down on a blanket or a flat lounge chair and use averted vision to see it naked eye. You can use binoculars (the best way to see all of it). Or, you can look through a telescope. Using a telescope is not the best way unless you plan to photograph M 31. The telescope will be pointing almost straight up which makes it uncomfortable to look through the eyepiece unless you are using a Newtonian telescope. If 9:45 PM MST is too late in the evening for you to be outdoors, no problem! For each hour earlier, picture this galaxy about 15 degrees to the east of north. No matter which time you view M 31, you'll be looking high in the sky through less of Earth's distorting atmosphere. Through the years using different telescopes, I've enjoyed seeing much more detail especially in Andromeda's sweeping galactic spiral arms that you can't see when it's lower in the sky. Don't forget to look for Andromeda's two satellite galaxies (M 32 and M 110) close by and either side of this giant galaxy's spiral arms. Another treat is the dimmer but graceful Pinwheel galaxy M 33 in Triangulum just outside the right edge of this image. Even my old man's eyes can see M 33 on a dark moonless November night here in the obsidian skies above the Sangre de Cristo mountains. A good trick is to scan the area using binoculars to find M 33 then remove the binocs and view it with your unaided eyes. It gives me an exhilarating feeling to see 4 members of our local group of galaxies bound by their gravitational wells dancing together with us through the Universe! Look at the foggy clouds of stars along the lower portion of this image. This is just a small part of our Milky Way in which we reside. Compare it to the size of Andromeda. Andromeda and the Milky Way are the two largest galaxies in our Local Group. This image gives you the perspective of distance. Imagine an intelligent being on a planet orbiting a star in M 31 looking at us on whatever month is best on its calendar while marveling at the size of the Milky Way and wondering who is looking back at them! The majesty of it all will never cease to astound me!
I usually don't publish videos longer than 5 minutes because all of us live busy lives and most of us get bored watching movies longer than that. This time, I'm making an exception. This video is so beautifully put together that you must (at least) look at the first five minutes. See this video before venturing out into the frosty November night sky to view Andromeda. It will make your mind right for maximum enjoyment of what you are about to see!
Now that you've had your fill of looking at the Great Andromeda Galaxy, just move over to the left and just a tad above the top of the zig-zag constellation Cassiopeia to see a wonderful star cluster NGC 7789. Caroline Herschel gets credit for discovering this dense cluster in 1783. Perhaps her brother William Herschel was composing a symphony that night and she scooped him! The cluster containing many red giant stars has a total mass of over 6,000 suns and is 7,600 light years from Earth. The number of older red stars in this cluster belie its age at 1.7 billion years. This is unusual because open star clusters usually disperse by the time they age over 100 million years. This one is still relatively intact. As you can see, this cluster is embedded near the middle of the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way. I'm perplexed as to why the huge star field that NGC 7789 lies in did not pull this cluster apart. NGC 7789 is affectionately known as Caroline's Cluster or the White Rose Cluster.