Hunting Deep-Sky Objects with Wolfram|Alpha
The amount of activity that takes place here on planet Earth is at times unfathomable. But it’s the merest drop in the bucket in comparison to the boundless amounts of activity in our universe—Earth is merely one planet within the Milky Way Galaxy. Most deep-sky objects cannot be seen by the naked eye, but observers looking through a telescope are treated to views of colorful clusters of light and fuzzy clouds of gas in the sky. Here we’ll demonstrate ways Wolfram|Alpha can help you find deep-sky objects such as galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters—our universe has about 100 billion member galaxies, and with so many, it’s nice to have a place to start.
Querying “galaxies” in Wolfram|Alpha will produce a list of some of the brightest as seen from Earth. Let’s compare the properties of the galaxies NGC 7544 and the nearby M 83 (well, only 15.78 million light years away). Wolfram|Alpha provides information including their approximate distance from Earth, Hubble type, apparent magnitude, equatorial position, and position in the sky and visibility from your current location. Keep in mind that object distances may not be available for all objects; one of the great mysteries of astronomy is that distance is notoriously difficult to determine except in special cases.
Wolfram|Alpha also contains information on over 240 nebulae. Nebulae are immense clouds of hydrogen gas and dust in interstellar space, which create some of the magnificent splashes of color that adorn so many famous astrophotography images. One example is the Crab Nebula, which can be found in the constellation of Taurus.
The next time you head out with your telescope hunting for objects deep in the sky, consult Wolfram|Alpha to chart your course.