By: Matthew Sandoval
October 1, 2014 11:40PM PDT
Contrary to common belief, star hopping is not a strange dance, but a technique used by amateur astronomers to locate faint objects in the night sky. In the night sky stars are very easy to find, but fainter objects such as nebulae, galaxies, and some faint star clusters are much more difficult. When someone first tries star hopping, they usually have a lot of difficulty in finding their target, but after practice, it becomes almost natural. In order to star hop, you must first obtain a telescope, a star atlas, and a finder scope which is used to only slightly magnify the field of view to locate stars used in a star hop. First, select your faint target which may be a gaseous nebula, star-filled galaxy, or glistening star cluster. After selecting your target, you must locate your target in a star atlas, probably sorted by constellations. Then, you must devise a pathway for you to follow marked by brighter stars. Each hop from star to star must be within the field of view of your finder scope. The field of view can be found written on the side of the finder scope; then use a template that came with your star atlas to show your finder scope’s field of view relative to the atlas. Then, finish planning out your route for getting to the target using this method. Once your hop is planned out, you are rewarded with the fun part. First, you must locate the star that you selected to initiate the star hop. Then, center that star within the field of view of your finder scope and look for the next star in that field of view. If you selected a faint star to hop to after your initial star, you may have trouble finding it. If this is the case, you may have to try averted vision which is the technique of looking at something from the corner of your eye so that more of the light hits your rods which are more sensitive to light than your cones. The only downside of this is that your rods are not sensitive to color, but you would not see much color anyway from faint stars. Keep following this procedure until you have located your target. Sometimes you cannot see your target because it is too faint. In this case you would want to try averted vision again. Another reason that you were not able to find your target may be that it was too faint for your location because light pollution drowns out many of the celestial wonders from urban locations. Star hopping is often viewed as scary and difficult and it is very likely to be so the first few times that you try it, but the challenge will soon become an easy feat. This technique is very useful to amateur astronomers, and if you are not one yet, you can get a head start over other future amateur astronomers. At the end of your star hop you will be rewarded with the jaw-dropping beauty of a celestial object.