The night sky is haunted.
There are ghastly starry specters—soft splatters of ethereal light—glowing among the eternal dark. They’ll make your eyes squint. They’ll make you question reality…am I seeing things? Is there anything really there? Why am I talking to myself?
It’s true! The night sky is filled with allllll sorts of things and all we need is biological optics (eyes).
These celestial spooks are dim, but perceptible—if you know where to look.
We explored the stars, constellations, the moon, the planets, and guess what? It’s time to meet the cosmic ghouls. Are you ready? Do you value your sanity? Don’t worry…the denizens of the dark love new initiates!
Where to begin…where to begin…You know what? I don’t know.
I honestly don’t know how to begin this tour of the cosmic asylum. I could just toss you inside and lock the door, but you’ll scream too much. Remember: cries for your momma can’t be heard in space.
Let’s begin the tour with the most popular ghost of them all, shall we?
M42 (Orion Nebula) is a wintry ghost located in the constellation of Orion. Since Orion lies near the celestial equator, that means many people will be able to easily bag this ghost. You remember how to locate Betelgeuse, right? Great! M42 lies below Orion’s belt.
See that massive green arrow? It is pointing directly at M42, which somewhat lies below the middle star of Orion’s Belt. Use Orion’s Belt as your guide and you’ll eventually see M42’s ghostly illumination—no telescope is required!
Heavy light pollution will veil any night specter, so seek out the darkest sky possible.
Are you scared? No? Think you’re pretty tough? Think you’re pretty hard, huh? We’ll see about that.
There is a faint galactic island, which so happens to be the furthest object visible to the naked eye. Located at least 2.5 million light years away—this wispy collection of stars and dust will test the limits of your visual acuity. Do you normally wear glasses? You’ll probably need them.
Do you notice anything strange? Do you see a wispy smear of light toward the center of the frame? That’s a cosmic ghost—also known as—the Andromeda Galaxy. A dark sky will greatly increase your chance of bagging this particular ghost and make sure your eyes have adapted to the night! Many people neglect, or forget that our eyes need time to adapt, so don’t run outside after watching True Blood, or whatever the hell it is you watch, and expect to see night specters.
You won’t. Trust me.
The tour continues.
Getting nervous? No? Why are you sweating? Why are you shivering? Why are you mumbling incomprehensible phrases? Prepare to say goodbye to your sanity!
I’m serious…say goodbye.
There’s another ghost, which is located not far from the Andromeda galaxy, in the constellation of Perseus. The Double Cluster is a peculiar night specter, consisting of two loosely bound open clusters. The combined clusters produce a faint light and guess what? We’re about to take a look a closer look at this light:
The Double Cluster is located toward the center of frame— Not quite as trendy, as, let’s say ** cough Pleiades **cough, but you know what? The Double Cluster is worthy of your attention and will haunt you for life.
Fine, fine, you want to see the Pleiades? Let’s get this over with.
The Pleiades is located in the constellation of Taurus (toward the bovine’s tail). Some people may be able to see individual stars within this cluster, or it may appear as a smear of light, depending on how sharp your vision is. The Pleiades is arguably the easiest cosmic ghost to locate and it certainly doesn’t require a telescope.
Ha! Why are you biting your fingernails? Did you soil yourself? Don’t lie! Our journey into the dark is not over, and by the time we’re done, you’re going to need a new pair of tighty-whities. Trust me.
The ancients noticed something.
Once in a while—a strange glowing point of light, with a tail, sometimes burned across the night sky.
So…they tried to make sense of it.
To the ancients, these uninvited cosmic guests signaled our doom and promised only disease, war, and death. Peasants would yank the hair out of their scalps while kings demanded their personal astronomer to “read the light” and spit back a very accurate prediction, like winning a war against an advisory, or if the crops will be set on fire, or if amphibians will fall from the clouds.
It’s absolutely possible to see a comet with your naked eye, but they tend to fluctuate in brightness, depending how close the comet is toward, or away, from the sun. A comet can bust through the door at any moment, so keep your eye on the sky and hope it doesn’t rain filthy amphibians.
We’ve traveled a long way along the cosmic highway and have yet to spend a single a dollar.
We explored stars, constellations, planets, the moon, and night specters—all without sacrificing our piggy-bank. Amateur astronomy is expensive, but the universe doesn’t have a cosmic price-tag…
…As long as you know where to look.