The objects featured in this months guide are selected as excellent imaging objects. However, M51 & C14 are superb visual objects. both can viewed with binoculars, in fact C14 is probably best observed with binoculars.
C33 & C34 – The Veil Nebula
The remnants of a supernova that occurred sometime around 3000BC to 6000BC but not actually discovered until 1784 when William Hershel got off his lazy backside and spotted it. C33 and 34 are just the two largest parts of the nebula and the whole thing is known as the Cygnus Loop.
Distance: 1,470 light-years (so we’re looking at the light emitted by the nebula from 548AD – a leap year that began on a Wednesday).
Main Components: Oxygen, Hydrogen and Sulphur.
Best viewed using an O3 filter which you can borrow from Ewan.
C33 is known as the Eastern Veil, which is a rather dull name for something that looks quite special. C34, the Western Veil has been given lots of names such as The Witches Broom and the Finger Of God, even though it looks nothing like a finger.
The Veil is an Emission Nebula, meaning the light comes from the ionised particles of gas and is the reason why it appears to be blue (O3), red (Ha) and yellow (S2).
C33 and C34 can be easily found by starting with the summer triangle. Altair in Aquila, Vega in Lyra and Deneb in Cygnus.
From Deneb go to the star that’s about three finger with to the right of Deneb, this is the Magnitude 2 Sadr.
Head down another three(ish) finger widths to the magnitude 2.45 Aljanah.
The outer edge of the veil nebula is about a finger width down and to the right of Aljanah.
The Iris Nebula
This is a reflection nebula – a cloud of gas and dust that is made visible because of the light it disperses and reflects from nearby stars. William Hershel discovered this one too.
Distance: 1,300 light years (718AD – Gregory II was Pope and the year began on a Saturday)
Did you know that if you look up Cepheus on Wikipedia it says “Cepheus is a constellation in the northern sky which is named after Cepheus”? This piece of information is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.
Cepheus in mythology was married to Cassiopeia and father to Andromeda. After Cassiopeia blabbed her big mouth about how pretty her daughter was, Cepheus had Andromeda chained to a rock as a sacrifice to Cetus the Kraken. She was rescued by Perseus who killed Cetus using the head of Medusa and for more information you should watch the 1981 documentary “Clash of the Titans” or the 2010 remake of the same name.
The Iris nebula is found by starting with Deneb and going left about the distance between your index and little fingers stretched out as far as you can manage, without dislocating them, to the magnitude 2.45 star Alderamin.
Now go left three fingers width to the magnitude 3.2 star Alfirk The Iris nebula sits about two fingers width up and to the right of Alfirk at the 2 o’clock position
M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy
Another object that’s “always up” and a great target for astrophotography, the Whirlpool galaxy has nothing to do with William Herschel for once. This one was catalogued by Charles Messier as a spiral nebula and eventually confirmed to actually be the two galaxies we know today when Hubble (the man not the space telescope) got involved.
Constellation: Canes Venatici (but really it’s just off the handle of the Plough)
Distance: over 15 million lightyears (Miocene era. Man’s ancestors were still swinging from trees and flinging poo at each other; much like a Friday night in Leeds or Liverpool)
Not only can you see M51 with just a pair of binoculars, but it responds well to an unmodified camera attached to a telescope and tracking mount. That means you can take your standard Canon DSLR, set it to “Manual” mode and ISO of 800 or above, pop it on 30 second exposures and come back an hour later to find you’ve got lots of lovely pictures to stack together.
Finding M51 should be easy, the star at the end/beginning of the handle of the plough, magnitude 1.85 Alkaid is where we start, then we drop down about the width of your index finger. M51 sits at the 6 o’clock position beneath Alkaid.
C20 – North American Nebula
William Hershel is back in the picture for this one. Seriously; someone should have told him enough was enough and to leave some bits of the sky for others to discover. No one likes a show-off!!!
Magnitude: 4, but most of it is faint clouds and nearer mag 8.
Distance: 1,600 light years (418 AD The Romans stole all the treasure in Britain)
In typical American fashion, this nebula covers a huge amount of space but lacks substance. The more interesting parts are the gassy bits and a light pollution or UHC filter will allow you to spot the nebula under dark skies without a telescope.
UHC = Ultra High Contrast
Probably the easiest object to find, The North America Nebula. It sits below Deneb about the width of your little finger.
C14 – The Double Cluster
Two for the price of one!! The Double Cluster is the common name for two open clusters first catalogued in 130BC by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus. William Hershel had to get in on the act too, just like everything else in the night sky, when he identified the object as two separate clusters.
Magnitude 3.7 & 3.8
Distance: 7,500 light years (5,482BC – A really dull year that began on a Monday)
The Double Cluster a circumpolar object, so it’s always above the horizon at this latitude. It’s also the approximate radiant of the Perseid Meteor Shower, so finding it now means you know where to point your camera when the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle hits us again in August
The Double Cluster in Perseus is also fairly easy to find, Start with the magnitude 2.65 Ruchbah in Cassiopeia head down and very slightly left, towards Miram in Perseus. C14 can be found about two thirds of the way between these two stars.