This is Messier 37, an star cluster near the constellation Auriga. It is one of four goals I have planned for tonight, each of them in or close to this constellation.
With the help of a planisphere, I’ve begun learning the names, shapes, and locations of the constellations and stars, and how to find my way around them. I already recognized a couple constellations before I started using the planisphere, so learning new ones has been easy. I locate a constellation I already recognize, and use that constellation as a reference point for determining the locations of stars in constellations I don’t know.
A star atlas provides greatly detailed views of small sections of the sky, primarily for use with a telescope. Using a star atlas will allow me to use a technique called star hopping to navigate to objects that aren’t visible to the naked eye. I’ll start by locating a star that I already know that is close to my destination (I’ll get to that in a minute). When I get that star in the eyepiece, I’ll match the star field that I see in the scope to its location in the atlas. Then I pick a star in the field that’s closer to my destination, re-center my scope on it, and repeat the process until I find what I’m looking for.
What am I looking for? Messier 37 for starters. It’s a magnitude 6.2 object, which is definitely not visible to the eye, but I think my scope will be able to pick it out. Maybe. If I am able to spot M37, I’ll move on to M36 and M38, in that order – and in the order of increasing dimness.
Finally, assuming I’m able to spot all three of the above, I’ll give M1 a try – the Crab Nebula. At 8.4 magnitude (higher numbers are dimmer), I honestly don’t think my scope will pick this out. I have doubts about the three above – but I’m fairly certain I won’t spot this guy. I’m going to try anyway, because I want to see if I can at least get the scope to the right spot in the sky for where it’d be.
With any luck, I’ll at least spot M37. It’s a little more than half the brightness of Jupiter’s moon Europa, and I’ve spotted that with ease many times. I could just be being a naive newbie, but I’m choosing to be optimistic. =)