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Fanning the Flame in Auriga


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My primary aim this Friday night was to frequently visit Auriga and explore the part emission, part reflection nebulae within its boundaries, which will include the Flaming Star nebula and to take advantage of improving transparency as the night progressed. 

I reached my intended dark sky bolt-hole and as is typical required a period of time for orientation to comprehend the seasonal constellation adjustments, a planisphere is always a valued resource. The winter constellations were quite clearly beginning to jostle for space, yet summer constellations were still apparent and the milky way shone brightly through Cygnus and beyond. 

Easing into the session, I began with the Andromeda group, M2, M33 and with the UHC filter installed, M76 The Little Dumbbell nebula. Fixed on Auriga and based on good advice from another thread, I aimed for a chain of stars between Alnath and Hassaleh. In the vicinity is IC 410, the Tadpole nebula and IC 405 Flaming Star nebula, the later being particularly expansive.  Initial observations were thwarted a little by thin mist in which transparency improved considerably later on. Encompassed in the space occupied by IC 410 is an open cluster NGC 1893. I found aspects of the nebula and the cluster to be observable, with improving contrast as the night wore on, it took the form of a small curve of nebulosity with the cluster embedded and forming a  dark patch in the centre, a tadpole with a tail perhaps. IC 405 was patchy and sketchy yet there was very apparent nebulosity around, just a little less defined in terms of structure. Patches of nebula were detected almost as far as M36. During each visit I alternated between UHC and OIII filters with each providing interesting if slightly inconclusive outcomes. 

The night held much promise and as the temperature dropped away, later provoking the dob to creak with the build up of frost, I wished to pay one final visit to Cygnus and to absorb the North America, Pelican, Cygnus Arc, the Veil and the nebulosity around Sadr. Then onto Cassiopeia, the Pacman nebula appearing bright and defined and to my delight the Bubble nebula was also clear, I had not encountered this for two years. More nebula ensued as I went onto Gemini and reveled for a time in NGC 2392 the Eskimo nebula. A break from Gemini led into Orion, the drama and pleasure with all three filters and without unbeatable with M2, M43, combined with the Running man nebula and the trapezium was simply stunning.  Back to below Gemini and (without filter) the enigmatic Hubble's variable - NGC 2261, the fan shape sharply defined, NGC 2264 the Christmas tree cluster quirky and fun and (with filter) the Rosette nebula vast and vibrant.

Plenty of further open clusters to enjoy such as M38, M36, M37, M35 NGC 2158, NGC 1778, M44 Beehive cluster and later on with a plossl eyepiece for a different kind of appeal the double cluster. The show just went on, reflection nebula M78 in Orion and drifting back and forth, encountering the beautiful multiple star systems Sigma Orionis and Beta Monocerotis.

At 2am Orion hung in a clean and crisp dark sky. My attention had been more so with the Flaming star, yet of course there is another Flame and Orion just looked too good not to give it a try. Out went the paracorr and Ultra wide angle eyepieces and in went an extension tube and my TV 20mm and 25mm eyepieces. With Alnitak just out of view there were subtle yet wisp-full strands of nebulosity, just a hint really but the conviction for the next stage became too irresistible. I fitted the H-beta and drifted downwards to align with the three stars below and again keeping Alnitak out of the field of view. When positioned correctly I relaxed my eye to adjust to the task ahead.  The Horse Head could be seen as a blacker than the shades of grey, in which it was situated, notch and quite distinctly with averted vision.  It is larger than perhaps you would anticipate and there is a particularly velvety jet blackness about it. I had seen it before but this was the first time I have had a real opportunity to absorb and relax in the observation. My 20mm just out performed the 25mm in so far as the contrast was slightly improved. Whilst it does not have the glitz of the near by Christmas tree cluster or the curious peculiarity of Hubble's Variable nebula, B33 is a magnetically enticing quest and now that I have learnt how to see the Horse Head nebula I will enjoy this encounter more often.

At nearly 3am the sky was enthralling, the landscape around was white with frost and so I suspected were my feet, a 45 minute journey home ensued,  

Happy hunting this winter














Edited by scarp15
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3 hours ago, alan potts said:

Very nice report though I have to say I am turning a bit green with you doing the Horses Head, something that I have not managed yet with a fair few attempts.


You will get it Alan, if I can then you certainly will. It was almost the last object that I approached, at the optimum time in terms of sky clarity and Orion was gracefully high. My observers eye had become finely tuned after several hours of hunting and I also felt in complete harmony and at ease in my location and nicely chilled to. I mentioned in another thread that resilience and gaining familiarity will get you there, when you have assuredly positioned the eyepiece, permit your eye to fully relax, employ averted vision that is the trigger - good luck.

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I have the Jellyfish marked for the itinerary for next time Peter, that is if there is going to be another night of uninterrupted and hopefully cold clear sky. I would also like to revisit the Monkey Head and California nebula. Grasping the sense of perspective and scale with regard to B33 is interesting. This drawing, The Belt of Venus, is precisely accurate to my own observational experience.



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