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


Deep Space……from the Orange Skies of Camberwell

The results of a brief real time video observing session last night.

First up is a very feint Horsehead Nebula in Orion. An impossible visible target from the light polluted skies of London but within reach with a 30sec video exposure using a Lodestar Colour camera and the free Lodestar Live software.

The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is located to the south of Alnitak the Eastern of the 3 stars in Orion’s belt. This dark cloud of molecular dust is about 1500 Light Years from Earth.

The Horsehead shape is just about visible as the dark indentation to the red emission nebula behind. The Horsehead is dark because it is an opaque molecular dust cloud that lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. The Horsehead is a stellar nursery and within it many young stars are forming as the dust and gas coalesce through gravity and begin the process of star formation.


Horsehead Nebula Orion IC434

Horsehead Nebula Orion IC434

Next is the Great Nebula of Orion M42 is an emission and reflection nebula, illuminated by hot luminous stars emitting high energy ultra violet radiation. Located in the sword of Orion, M42 is the closest and most prominent star formation region to Earth (about 1500 light years distant). Again an area of massive star formation within immense molecular clouds of gas and dust with some 700 stars in various stages of star formation.  The nebula is about 30 light years across. The bright area at its very centre is a very young open cluster of stars known as the trapezium cluster. M42 is thought to contain the mass equivalent to 2000 Suns. The smaller M43 or Flame Nebula is to the upper right in the image below.

M42 The Great Orion Nebula

M42 The Great Orion Nebula

Click on the artist impressions below showing the location of the Orion Nebula in relation to our Sun/the Solar System and the rest of the Milky Way.

Orion Spur Credit Wikipedia


Artists impression of Milky Way

Artists impression of Milky Way Credit Wikipedia

Lastly, Hubble’s Variable Nebula NGC 2261.

This peculiar object is located in the constellation of Monoceros, to the East of Orion. Discovered by W Herschel in 1783.

This is an emission and reflection nebula that is enveloping the erratic variable star R Monocerotis and is at a current visual Magnitude of 10.0. The variable nature of the brightness was first noted by Edwin Hubble in 1916 from a series of photographs. The unpredictable variation is thought to be due to shadows cast by the dense regions of dust passing by the star at its tip which cannot be seen directly and the light is only visible as the scattered light reflecting on dust particles in the surrounding molecular cloud.

Hubble’s Variable Nebula is about 3000 Light Years away. The cone shaped nebula is about 3 Light Years long and 1.5 Light Years across. The variable star R Mon is a very young star some 300,000 years old, of a mass of 10x our Sun  and has the illumination equivalent to 80x that of our Sun.


Hubble's Variable Nebula

Hubble’s Variable Nebula

For comparison is an image of the Hubble Variable Nebula taken using the Hubble Space Telescope:

Hubble Nebula using Hubble Space Telescope. Credit NASA

Hubble Nebula using Hubble Space Telescope. Credit NASA


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!