Second only to the rings of Saturn, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (GRS) is probably the most iconic planetary feature in the solar system. Unlike the rings, which aren’t going away any time soon, recent observations of an apparent unraveling of the GRS suggest big changes in this iconic feature, if not its impending demise [Read more…] about The Disappearing Great Red SpotShare This:
When sight-seeing larger nebulae (like the North America Nebula) and big star clusters (like the Double Cluster or Beehive), it’s usually best to stick with lower magnification and wider fields of view to take in the entire object. But most deep sky objects benefit from greater magnification, sometimes much greater. To demonstrate this, I prowled around in the constellation of Hercules, using my 8-inch Celestron Edge HD scope and an 8mm eyepiece, giving a magnification of 250x.
The first object on my tour was the planetary nebula NGC 6210. Like many planetaries, it has a high surface brightness that enables it to bear high magnifications well. At low powers it looks like a tiny bluish dot. 250x brings out considerable visual character in this 16 arc second object. Slightly oval, its edges are diffuse. Colorful as many planetaries are, it shows an aqua tint with hints and flashes of a fierce electric blue. I found that an 8-inch scope isn’t quite big enough to show these colors strongly in this particular object, but a 12-inch or larger instrument will make them unmistakable, and then you’re viewing an exotic object indeed. I did not consistently see the nebula’s central star, though this should not be difficult at magnitude 12.7. This may be due to the consistently rough seeing I experience in this valley of the southern Sierra Nevada range, where I’m surrounded by mountains on all sides. This tends to muddle the faint star into the bright glow of the nebula.
So many galaxies, so little time! A good place to begin an evening of galaxy hopping on a northern spring or summer night is with the Messier galaxies M81 and M82 in the constellation Ursa Major (see above). Conveniently located by drawing a line through the Big Dipper stars Phecda and Dubhe and extending it an equal distance beyond the Big Dipper asterism, this is probably the finest galaxy pair in the sky. Separated by just 38 arc-minutes, both fit into the low power field of a small telescope. With a 22mm Panoptic eyepiece in my 8″ EdgeHD telescope, I had 93x and a field of view of 45 arc minutes, so I had to slew the mount a little from one to the other to see them both well [Read more…] about Hopping Galaxies in the Bear’s DenShare This:
In dark sky, northern-hemisphere observers can see the winter Milky Way as a featureless, inconspicuous band of haze running east of Orion and disappearing below the horizon south of the constellations Canis Major and Puppis. In light-polluted sky, the winter Milky Way is hard to see at all. But further south, into the far southern constellation Carina, the Milky Way suddenly explodes into one of its brightest, most spectacular, and most detailed sections, running through Crux, Centaurus, and beyond [Read more…] about Careening Through CarinaShare This:
The best way for an amateur astronomer to literally expand his or her horizons is to venture to the hemisphere opposite your home, to take in the starry wonders hidden from view by the pesky curvature of our globe. This is especially true for natives of the Northern Hemisphere, because the southern circumpolar sky offers some of the most spectacular sights available to any observer. Fine as the Big Dipper and the Double Cluster may be, they struggle to compete with the Magellanic Clouds and the southernmost parts of the Milky Way.
This is the philosophy that led to my three visits to New Zealand. I’m writing this from the Bay of Islands on the North Island, at 35o south latitude. I’ll share some of my observations in this inaugural edition of my observing column, Eyes on the Deep Sky. [Read more…] about Touring the Small Magellanic CloudShare This: