Tips for Observing the Large Magellanic Cloud
The Large Magellanic Cloud is so rich in deep sky objects that it can be a little tricky to find your way around. Here are some of the things that I have found helpful in using the charts on this site to identify objects in the LMC. If you have other tips that you think people might find useful, please email me at patrick@clouds ofmagellan.net.au and I can post them in this section.
Finding the Large Magellanic Cloud. You may find the LMC very easy to locate – just look south on a dark clear night - the LMC is the larger of 2 patches of cloudy luminosity near the South Celestial Pole (SCP). If it is not visible at first, you might find these instructions useful. First, find the SCP by tracing a line through the long axis of the Southern Cross and extending it 4 times the length of the cross from the foot of the cross. If you extend the line another 2 cross lengths, you will find the Small Magellanic Cloud. The Large Magellanic Cloud rotates around the SCP behind the SMC (ie clockwise from the SMC if the pole is the centre of the clock face). For observers in latitudes south of about 18 degrees south, the LMC never sets, but is still best observed when it's highest in the sky. If you observe at about ten pm, this will mean observing from November to March (earlier months if you observe later in the evening).
Navigational aids. I find the magnified finderscope that comes with most telescopes very useful for navigation in the Magellanic Clouds. The patterns of stars and bright cluster that show up on the key chart are quite visible through a standard 8x50 finder. If your scope only has a red dot finder, use this to direct the scope at the LMC and then use your lowest power eyepiece to find your way around.
Cluster hopping In most parts of the night sky, identifying star patterns on charts and using these to hop from star to star to deep sky object is standard practice. In the Magellanic Clouds, star cluster are so numerous that you can hop from cluster to cluster in the denser parts of the LMC. Please note that in the outline below, north/south/east/west mean the directions when the LMC is highest in the sky as shown on the key chart. As the Cloud rotates about the pole, you may need to tilt your chart so that it matches the view to make sense of it.
Hopping from NGC 2070 In your finderscope or low power field you will make out the bar of the LMC and most notably a bright notch at the north-eastern end of the bar. This is NGC 2070 - the Tarantula nebula. Apart from being one of the most superb objects to observe in a telescope of any size, it is a fantastic starting point to cluster hop to many targets in the LMC. Most of the objects in the eastern part of the bar area are easily found from NGC 2070 (ie charts 8 and 9 and inset A)
Hopping from NGC 2018 A bit to the south of the bar, directly opposite NGC 2070 is a bright patch easliy seen in a finderscope. This is NGC 2018 and it is a good jumping off point for the southern part of Chart 9
Hopping from NGC 1910 Another useful bright landmark is NGC 1910, a bright notch in the bar itself towards the western end. At the western end of the bar, NGCs 1858,1854 and 1850 stand out in the finder. These and NGC 1910 are excellent landmarks for the western bar area.
Stars near the bar To the west of NC 2070 is an obvious star to the north of the bar about 1/2 way along. This is 60 Doradus and is a very useful landmark for Chart 8. I find it obviates the need to cluster hop from 2070 to the many objects around NGC 1962. The bright star north of the bar near its end is Theta Doradus and is a useful guide for the western part of Chart 5.
Away from the bar. When observing further away from the bar, I find a number of asterisms (patterns of stars) that are apparent in the finderscope are useful landmarks. I have marked these with green lines on the charts. To the north of the bar, there is a roughly equilateral triangle formed by the stars Delta, Epsilon & 63 Doradus. This is a useful pointer for charts 2, 4 and 5. A line extended to the east at right angles to the base of the triangle leads to the stars Eta Doradus 1 & 2 which are good guides for Chart 1. To the south of the bar is a wide triangle of stars, made by 53, 55 and 63 Mensae. This a useful guide to Chart 14 and the southern part of chart 11.