Astronomy 200/210
Observing the Fall Sky

Duration: Months of October and November
Completion Date: last week of November

The following lab is intended to give you experience in:

  • using a reflecting telescope
  • simple telescope terminology
  • sketching astronomical objects
  • finding, identifying and observing open clusters, globular clusters, galaxies and planetary nebulae
  • observing and drawing the moon
  • basic introduction to astrophotography


Observing the night time sky through a small telescope can be both a rewarding and a frustrating experience. Rewarding because at times what you see can rival and even surpass many of the photographs that you will see in books and magazines. Frustrating because what you see through the telescope is usually much different that what you see when you glance at photographs. The initial reaction of many people when they finally see a galaxy or a nebula is disappointment. The objects are dim, not at all the brilliant swirls and dramatic images produced by long time exposures on huge telescopes. If you are persistent however you will begin to see a wealth of subtle detail that makes observation of these objects a very rich and rewarding pastime. Maybe some of you will even get "hooked" and want to continue this project for years to come. Sound weird? Try it and see!. The important point to remember is that what you see will be different but in a sense no less impressive.

Suggested Materials

You will be provided with necessary telescopes and eyepieces. You must supply your own drawing materials. Please use white, unlined paper (drawing templates will also be provided) and a soft lead or charcoal drawing pencil - no ink or felt. If you wish you may use black paper and a white pencil crayon. A stiff clipboard and observing light (red-filtered) are also very helpful.

Warm clothing, and head and foot gear is essential.

Part One: The Moon

Observing the moon, through even a small telescope is a delightful and fascinating event. In this part of the lab project you will be asked to observe the moon and sketch what you see. This will require that you spend some time observing at the eyepiece. You should consult the following link from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada to get some pointers (and perhaps inspiration) on how to sketch the lunar surface.

Problem #1

Prepare a drawing or drawings of lunar features. Be sure to includew date and time of the observation as well as sky conditions and magnification used. To determine the magnification you will need to record the focal length of the telescope as well as the focal length of the eyepice. To find the magnification you divide these two numbers.\

Example: If you observed the moon (or others objects) through a telescope of focal length 1200 mm and used a 20 mm focal length eyepiece, the magnification would be:

Part Two: Globular Clusters

You will observe two globular clusters M13 in Hercules and M15 in Pegasus. Sketch what you see but before you do look for several minutes and try using "averted vision". Suggested magnification is 45X to find the object and 90X to view. The star charts supplied will assist you in finding these objects.

Problem #2

Prepare a drawing of any globular clusters that you observed.

Part Three: Open Clusters

You will observe three open clusters: the Double Cluster in Persei (NGC 869), M45 - the Pleiades and M37 in Auriga. Attempt to sketch what you see and note other features (colours, brightness, etc). Suggested magnification to use is 45X or lower. These objects are beautiful in binoculars or small scopes. Stellarium will assist you in finding these objects.

Problem #3

Sketch these objects. In what significant way do globular clusters differ from open clusters?

Part Four: Planetary Nebulae

You will observe two planetary nebulae - M57 in Lyra (the Smoke Ring) and M27 in Vulpecula (the Dumbbell). These are low contrast objects that will require care in observing. Suggested magnification is 45X to locate and 90X to 135X to study in detail. Practice using averted vision on these. The star charts supplied will assist you in finding these objects.

Problem #4

Sketch these objects. In what way are the planetary nebulae much different than the open and globular clusters that you observed?

Part Five: Galaxies

You will observe the bright galaxy M31 in Andromeda as well as its companion galaxies M32 and NGC 205. This is a beautiful object through binoculars or one of the small "photocopier" scopes. Use as low a magnification as possible. Stellarium will assist you in finding these objects.

Problem #5

Sketch these objects.

CCD images

Each night we will also produce CCD images with the two imaging telescopes in King's Observatories 1 and 2. You will receive jpegs of these images and may use them to augment or help complete your sketches. An enjoyable thing to do is to compare what you see with your naked eye and what can be "collected" by a camera that can stare at an object for many minutes.

Link to CCD images created Fall 2015

Drawing Templates:

Please use the following template to record all drawings. A sample template is also given so that you can see how to use the template.