This is a plan for a star party with some constraints:

  • Bright lighting (expected to be used at community events, at places such as school with property lights on)
  • Young observers (Scout or school audiences)
  • April (spring objects)
  • Early evening (twilight ends between 8:00 and 8:30). I expect to use this on evenings when the Moon does not rise till later. On nights when the Moon is up you could add that; it’s a good target for kids. Because the other targets in this plan are bright, they should work acceptably in moonlight.

It features:

  • Bright objects, easy to find and mostly also visible to the kids’ naked eyes
  • Examples of the major categories of sky objects
  • Fun, large, colorful objects that kids tend to appreciate more than small faint fuzzies

Plan by type of object


Different planets are visible in the evening from year to year. You will need to look up what is visible when you use this plan. The bright, easy-to-see planets that might be in the sky in the evening are:

  • Mercury (but it is always difficult to find low on the horizon
  • Venus
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn

Everybody has heard of Mars, but it usually appears as only a pale orange dot. It is exciting when you know what it is, or if you can see surface features at high magnification, but Mars is usually not a successful choice for an easy target with youth.


Only occasionally does a bright comet appear in the sky.  If you hear of an opportunity to show one, take advantage of it.


The best nebulas are easy to see in other parts of the year.

  • The Milky Way contains dust lanes, though the most obvious ones are more visible in the summer. The Milky Way is low in the sky in the spring.


  • The Milky Way is low on the horizon in the spring, and higher in the summer. This is because of axial tilt.
  • The Whirlpool Galaxy M51 in Canes Venatici. A faint fuzzy, and so not a great target for kids, unless high magnification can make the spiral structure visible.
  • M81 and M82 in Ursa Major. Faint fuzzies, but the close association may give a feeling for how common galaxies are.

Open clusters

  • The Big Dipper in Ursa Major, though it is so spread out it does not impress kids as a cluster. All but two of its stars are in the Ursa Major Moving Group. Technically, it has spread out more than groups we typically call clusters.
  • Pleiades M45 in Taurus is low on the western horizon.
  • Hyades Melotte 25, Collinder 50, or Caldwell 41 in Taurus is low on the western horizon.
  • The Beehive Cluster M44 in Cancer. May be the only feature visible in Cancer. Between Leo and Gemini.
  • Coma Berenices Cluster Mellotte 110 in Coma Berenices, high between Ursa Major’s handle and Virgo. Technically the entire constallation is not a cluster, but the Coma Berenices Cluster dominates the constellation.
  • M35 at the right foot of Gemini

Globular clusters

I haven’t come up with any that are bright and easy for kids to appreciate. All globulars look like small faint fuzzies to kids.

Planetary Nebulas

  • Dumbell Nebula M27 in Vulpecula, between Cygnus and Delphinius. Rises late at night in the spring, easier to find in the summer. Among the brightest planetary nebulas. Right ascension 19h 59m 36.340s Declination +22° 43′ 16.09″
  • NGC 3132 in Vela low on the southern horizon

Colored Stars

  • Betelgeuse in Orion (red giant) sets early in the evening
  • Arcturus in Bootes (red giant)
  • Regulus in Leo (blue giant)
  • Capella in Auriga (bright yellow star)
  • La Superba Y Canum Venaticorum, red carbon star in Canes Venatici. 12h 45m 24.2s +45d 24′ 49″

Double Stars

  • Trapezium in the Orion Nebula, 6 stars, sets early in the evening
  • Castor in Gemini, 6 stars
  • Mizar and Alcor in Ursa Major
  • ι (iota) Cassiopeiae in Cassiopea
  • Polaris
  • Cor Caroli carbon star in Canes Venatici, high, under the handle of the Big Dipper


  • Ursa Major, with asterism Big Dipper upside down
  • Ursa Minor, with asterism Little Dipper
  • Bootes
  • Canes Venatici
  • Coma Berenices
  • Corvus
  • Crater
  • Orion low in the west
  • Cassiopea low in the north
  • Zodiacal constellations:
  • Taurus low in the west
  • Gemini
  • Cancer high, but dim
  • Leo high
  • Virgo
  • Libra

Plan in target order

Canes Venatici

story of King Charles and the hunting dogs

High, beneath the handle of the Big Dipper.

La Superba

Y Canum Venaticorum, red carbon star. 12h 45m 24.2s +45d 24′ 49″

Cor Corelli

α (alpha) Canum Venaticorum, double star


belongs to the story of Andromeda and Perseus

ι (iota) Cassiopeiae

double star

Ursa Major

story of creation of constellation, Rotating Man and Woman

Mizar and Alcor

Most likely an optical double, though uncertainty in the measurements is an interesting science lesson. Mizar is a 4-star system.

Ursa Minor


double star (now known to be a triple, the third member only recently seen for the first time)



Open cluster. Iroquois story of the creation of the Pleiades.


Open cluster



red giant star


blue giant star, double star


multiple stars, illuminating the Orion Nebula

σ (sigma) Orionis

5-star system, A and B are red and blue

Orion Nebula

Canis Minor


double star, A is a main sequence star, B is a white dwarf (hard to see)



Open cluster


6 star system



ringed planet

Beehive Cluster

Story of a Star Life

Orion Nebula
Birthplace of stars.
A main sequence star.
Example of planet formation. Rings are common.
Trapezium in the Orion Nebula
Many stars are found in pairs. This is a 6 star system.
This is a multiple star system.
Open cluster. Stars are often born together, and are found in clusters after their creation.
Great Hercules Globular Cluster M13
A larger grouping of stars.
Milky Way Galaxy
An even larger grouping of stars. Galaxies are important structures in the larger universe.
A blue giant. A large star may become this instead of a main sequence star.
A red giant. A main sequence star in old age may become this.
The Ghost of Jupiter NGC 3242
A planetary nebula. An older star sheds its outer layer to make a nebula. This is the brightest spring candidate, but may be too dim to see.
Procyon B
A white dwarf is the core remnant after a giant loses mass. We probably won’t be able to distinguish the white dwarf
Crab Nebula M1
A supernova remnant. A supernova is another possible end of star life. This is not easy to see. A supernova might leave behind a white dwarf, a neutron star, or a black hole.
Sagittarius A*
A black hole. You can’t actually see it, but when Saggitarius rises late at night in the spring, you can point out the location of the black hole at the center of our own galaxy. A black hole is another possible end of star life.

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