Sunday in the Solar System

A couple of images from a brief observing session on Sunday 09th March.

First up is Jupiter which is high in the sky at the moment. Early evening 18:30-19:00.

The moon Io can be seen to the upper left and its shadow can be seen transiting across the face of the planet. The great red spot can also be seen.

Jupiter with IO in transit and GRS F20 - 090314 - 18

Next stop the Moon – The area below is in the southeast corner of Mare Nubium – Just below centre right is a neat little triple crater formation called Thebit , Thebit A lies across the rim of this crater and the rim of Thebit A is overlain in turn by the even smaller Thebit L. The largest of these little craters is just under 60km wide and 3km deep. Adjacent, to the left is is a 110-kilometer-long rille named Rupes Recta,  more commonly known as the Straight Wall which rises to a height 240 metres.

Moon - Thebit - 09.03


Close up of the supernova SN 2014J in star burst galaxy M82 in the constellation of Ursa Major.

The Type 1a supernova is the bright star like object just above the centre of the galaxy. A Type 1a supernova occurs in a binary star system when one of the stars is a white dwarf which accretes material from its companion until it exceeds a certain size and then explodes.

Type 1a supernova are used as standard candles because they all reach a certain specific peak luminosity and can therefore be used to determine the distance to remote galaxies.

It is the closest Type 1a supernova to be discovered in 42 years and was discovered by chance by students from UCL in London in mid January. Since its discovery it has been the subject of extensive follow-up observation by astronomers around the world.

Apparently the supernova is now starting to fade away.

M82 with Supernova 2014 Ursa Major - 2014.02.13

M81 Bode’s Galaxy  below, also in Ursa Major, a ‘grand design’ spiral galaxy, not far from M82. Discovered by Johann Bode in 1774.

M81 Bodes Galaxy Ursa Major 2014.02.13

B0th M81 and M82 are approximately 12 million light years away and are interacting with one another though their gravitational attraction. This is causing interstellar hydrogen to fall into the core of M82resulting in vigorous star formation.

Both galaxies are part of the Virgo super-cluster of galaxies.

The core of  Bode’s Galaxy harbours a supermassive black hole  equivalent to 70 million times the mass of our Sun.

Both images taken at home in London on 13th February using a 200mm telescope and a high sensitivity video camera.

The Eskimo Nebula

Object NGC 2392 or Caldwell 39 is known as the Eskimo Nebula (nicknamed for its slight resemblance to someone wearing a parka) and is a double shell planetary nebula that was discovered by William Herschel in 1787 from Slough.

This object is around 3000 light years away in the constellation of Gemini. A planetary nebula a is somewhat misleading description as it is actually a medium sized star, not dis-similar to our Sun which is in the process of shedding its outer layers of gas as it starts to run out of fuel towards the end of its life. In this case the central star is a highly luminous dwarf type star of about 40,000K in temperature.

The strong radiation from the star excites the outer layers of the shell nebula of doubly ionized oxygen. These outer shell layers are expanding at a rate in the order of 100km/second and are currently about one light year in diameter. This is one of the youngest nearby planetary nebula’s known and is thought to have formed lest than 10,000 years ago.

Low resolution image below obtained from home in London on Thursday evening 13.02.14:

Eskimo Nebula crop 2014.02.13

High resolution Hubble/Chandra image for comparison (combined X-ray and visible light image):


Credit: Nasa



Sunday observing session between the clouds

Results of a very brief observing session this evening between tea and the clouds rolling in here in London.

More magnification than last week with a larger telescope and also using a UHC filter to improve contrast.

First up is M42 The Great Orion Nebula, the nearest star forming region with reflection, emission and dark nebula all evident.

Orion Nebula M42 -2014.02.09

Next up is M82 in Ursa Major with supernova 2014. M82 is a starburst galaxy 12 million light years away in Ursa Major (The Plough). The 2014 type 1a supernova can be clearly seen in the upper side of the galaxy. M82 is apparently 5 times more luminous than the Milky Way.

M82 with supernova 2014 -- 2014.02.09

Next is an edge on spiral galaxy in the Lynx constellation called NGC 2683. Just visible as a slender fuzzy strip but with a particularly bright core. Discovered by William Herschel in 1788, and often referred to as the UFO galaxy it is located about 20million light years away and receding from us at about 400km/second.

NGC2683 Edgte on spiral galaxy in Lynx 2014.02.09

Lastly but not particularly visually impressive but rewarding to find none the less is the globular cluster called NGC 2419, the ‘Intergalactic Wanderer’, again in the Lynx constellation (the fuzzy grey blob in the centre of the image below). This object is a gravitationally bound group of up to 1 million stars that orbits the Milky way at a great distance of some 300,000 light years and is one of the most distant globular clusters in our galaxy. It orbits the centre of the galaxy only once every 3 billion years or so. It was also discovered by William Herschel in 1788.

NGC 2419 Globular cluster - Intergalactic wanderer in Lynx 2014.02.09

Sunday’s deep space adventure

A rare night of reasonably clear skies in London so there was nothing for it but to have a go at some deep sky objects:

A handful of images below show what was to be found – all observed in real time using a small refractor and a video astronomy camera.

First up is M1 the Crab nebula (the fuzzy smudge) which is a supernova remnant in Taurus, the supernova itself was observed as the brightest star in the sky in 1054. In the middle of the nebula is a neutron star 30km across that rotates at 30 times per second.

M1 The crab - supernova remnant

Next up is NGC 2169 which is a lovely open cluster in Orion and is commonly known as the ’37’ cluster for obvious reasons. The image doesn’t do it justice as the stars are a variety of colours when seen with the naked eye.

NGC 2169 - The 37 cluster in Orion

Third is M82 or Cigar galaxy in Ursa Major. This captures the supernova SN2014 which is highlighted and which is currently at its peak magnitude and which will shortly fade away. The SN was discovered by students at UCL a couple of weeks ago and is the closest Supernova to be observed since 1987. M82 resides in UM a mere 12 million light years away.

M82 with supernova SN 2014

And finally the wonderful M42, the Great Orion Nebula, located in the sword of Orion:

M42 The Orion Nebula

Some fitting music….Enjoy!

The Great Nebula of Orion

The Great Orion Nebula

The Great Orion Nebula

The Great Nebula in the Sword of Orion – Messier 42 (NGC 1976).

The Orion Nebula is a diffuse emission & reflection nebula where star formation is taking place. The stars here are very young and only about 1 million years old.

The nebula is one of the closest star formation regions to us at an approximate distance of 1600 light years and the nebula is about 30 light years across.

However the field of view above is only 9.4′ x 12.6′ across, so equivalent to about 1/3rd the width of the full moon showing just the very central region of the nebula.

The four stars seen in the very centre are called the Trapezium cluster, a tight open cluster that was discovered by Galileo in 1617.

These young bright stars (each between 10-30 solar masses in size) emit immense quantities of high energy ultraviolet radiation causing ionisation of the surrounding molecular clouds of mainly hydrogen. This process causes the ‘lighting up’ the surrounding turbulent nebula as the excited electrons in the hydrogen atoms cascade back down from their excited states, emitting lower energy radiation in the process which can be seen as the distinctive red and green tones in the image above. Regions of dark nebula containing interstellar dust can also be seen in the foreground.

The image above is a single 20 second exposure using an 11″ SCT telescope from the back garden in London on 19th January. The drawing below is a drawing by famous astronomer Charles Messier in 1774  (Wikipedia).