Deep Sky Highlights – Sunday 18th January 2015

M1/NGC19523 The Crab – Supernova Remnant – An expanding cloud of dust from the explosion of a Supernova that was observed by the Japanese, Chinese in 1054 A.D. One of the brightest & conspicuous examples of a SN remnant. Back in 1054, the exploding star was so bright that it was visible during the daytime for several months. The Crab is located in the Constellation of Taurus. The cloud of dust is still expanding at about 1500KM per second. At the centre of the Crab is the collapsed core of the star that went supernova in 1054. This is now a Pulsar which is in fact a rapidly rotating and extraordinarily dense Neutron star, only a few KM in diameter and yet 1.4x the mass of our Sun, that emits a pulse of high energy X-ray radiation every 0.033 seconds as the Neutron star rotates at 30 times per second. The Crab is about 6 Light Years across and at a distance of 6,500 Light Years from Earth.

M1 The Crab

M1 The Crab

Below is a Hubble Space Telescope image of the Crab SN Remnant for comparison:

M1 - The Crab. Credit: Hubble/NASA

M1 – The Crab. Credit: Hubble/NASA

IC 434 The Horsehead Nebula – Slightly better resolved image (than last week) of the Horsehead Nebula in the Constellation of Orion. A Dark Nebula of dust silhouetted against the feint glow of Emission Nebula IC 434 behind.


The Horsehead

The Horsehead

Comet C/2014/Q2/Lovejoy – A visitor from the Oort Cloud in the outer Solar System and travelling at a speed of 133,000 Km per hour. Comet Lovejoy is known as a long period comet and it orbits the Sun once every 11,000 years. It comes closest to the Sun on 30th January at a distance of 1.3 Astronomical Units or 1.3 x the distance between the Sun and the Earth. It is currently about 95 Million KM from Earth and now passing through the Constellation of Aries.

Lovejoy is the brightest comet for some time at visual magnitude of about 5.0, just about visible in binoculars from London. Difficult to see in image below but I think a feint tail is detectable to the upper left of the comet’s head.

Comet C/2014/Lovejoy

Comet C/2014/Lovejoy



Comet PanSTARRS visible in March

Look out or Comet L4 PanSTARRS  during March.

With a clear western horizon, the comet will be visible as shown in the locations below. The comet is passing close to the Sun and is only visible shortly after sunset. A pair of binoculars will probably be required.

It will make its closest approach (about 45 million km) to the Sun on the 10th March and will proabably be best place to spot from 12th March onwards after which it will be come feinter.


Credit: NASA

L4 PanSTARRS was discovered & named after the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System located on the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii over 18 months ago.


Image credit: Astronomy Education Services/Gingin Observatory

Image of L4 PanSTARRS earlier this month from Mount Dale in western Australia

L4 PanSTARRS is known as a long period comet and originates from the Oort cloud which is a distant region of the outer solar system the contains icy debris and planetesimals. The Oort cloud is through to extend out to a distance of about 1 light year or so from the Sun.


Credit: NASA