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Deep Sky Objects The best and the brightest from 40 Years of Comet Chasing.

Posted by David Levy   11/16/2005 12:00AM


As he who studies fervently the skies
Turns oftener to the stars than to his book…

- Lord Byron, Don Juan 2.163, 1819.

It’s the night sky. The Sun has set, the sky is clear, our telescope is ready, and one by one, the stars are beginning to come out. Welcome to the show that never ends.

This is the sky that I’ve been watching for decades, and the objects that this book will feature have come into the eyepiece of my telescope in a procession that began on January 1, 1966, only two weeks after I started my search for comets, which a small cluster called NGC1931.

It has been almost forty years since that frigid January first. I’ve spent thousands of hours with my eyepiece, patiently moving from field to field, in my search for comets. That search has been quite successful; over the years I have discovered eight new comets crawling across the sky, as well as thirteen new comets on photographic film. And as much as I have enjoyed the thrill of each of those comet discoveries, I can categorically say that if those moments of personal discovery were the only causes of joy for my program, I would have given it up years ago. It is what I have found on the road to a comet that has kept me going. And it is what I’ve found on that road that is the subject of this book.

This book is a journey to distant objects in the night sky. Deep Sky objects are generally considered to be anything beyond the solar system. But in reality the various lists of deep sky objects that have appeared concentrate on objects so far away that they present a fuzzy appearance in a telescope. The objects I have selected are all over the sky, and they come with interesting historical stories. They include red stars, double and triple stars, unique star patterns, clusters, nebulae, galaxies, and quasars.

Two factors make this book different from other guides to the Deep Sky. First, it is not a mere listing of objects but an approach to the wonders of the Deep Sky. It includes many objects that can be found even in a light-polluted sky, which means that even someone just starting out in astronomy can enjoy them.

How the Levy list is built

…none of us so much as know our letters in the stars yet…
- Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 1870.

The highlights of the list this book offers did not come from hours of reading and research, but from four decades of actually searching the sky. I am a comet hunter. As I would search a region of sky, occasionally I would come across an interesting object—an unusually colored star or cluster of stars, a cloud of gas, or a galaxy. An object has to have something special about it to merit inclusion. Over the years I have located more than 300 objects, of which the “best and brightest” will be featured in this book. The objects will be presented in the order of their distance from us. This way the reader–-particularly the beginning reader--will be taken on a tour of fascinating objects beginning with double and triple stars and the exciting explosive variable stars, then would move out toward the open clusters and asterisms, then to the more distant nebulae, then to the galactic center and the globular clusters orbiting our galaxy, and on to galaxies and ultimately to the clusters of galaxies.

Finally, at the end, readers will have access to information on all 336 objects in the list. And once you’ve put the book down, in the years to come, you can watch as the catalog continues to grow at Welcome to my family of deep sky objects. May you enjoy meeting them.