Image Credit: Bill Schoening, Vanessa Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF
If you're looking for something different to search for in the night sky, rather than one of the planets or constellations, you might want to consider looking for the Andromeda Galaxy. The Andromeda Galaxy is estimated to contain approximately 1 Trillion stars, and is 2.5 million light years from the Earth. Under moderately dark, clear skies, it can be seen with the naked eye, looking like a hazy, diffuse star. As we are just past the new moon, the next few nights should be good for trying to spot the Andromeda galaxy without the glare of the moon, if you have clear skies.
To find the Andromeda Galaxy, you'll want to look for the constellation Pegasus in the western sky, from an hour or so after sunset until your local midnight. The main body of Pegasus is made up of four bright stars in a roughly square configuration: Alpheratz, Scheat, Markab, and Algenib.
As you can see in the annotated photo below, those four stars are quite distinct, and will therefore work very well as a frame of reference for finding the Andromeda Galaxy. Once you identify Alpheratz, the brightest of the four stars at approximately magnitude 2, you will be able to Â"star hopÂ" up to Mirach, also in the constellation Pegasus. Mirach is roughly the same distance from Alpheratz as Scheat is, and is the same magnitude as Alpheratz. From Mirach, you will star hop once more, this time to the right, looking for the brightest star less than a hand width at arms length away. Continue your star hop the same distance once more, in the same direction, and you will find the Andromeda Galaxy.
The Andromeda Galaxy will be more interesting to look at through binoculars or a small telescope, but can definitely be seen with the naked eye if your skies are dark enough. So, if you want to see something a little different in the night sky, put on some warm clothes, find Pegasus, and do a little bit of "star hopping" to find the Andromeda Galaxy.
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