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John

Barnard 33: The Horsehead Nebula - At last !

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John    18,083

Well, I didn't think I'd be making this post but here it is - tonight I have managed to see the Horsehead Nebula, Barnard 33 :hello2:

The sky here tonight is the best and darkest I've experienced for a long, long time. The transparency is excellent although the actual seeing is mediocre in terms of star images, splitting doubles etc.

M31 is a direct vision naked eye object and notably extended too. The double clusters in Perseus are clear without any sort of optical aid as is M35 in Gemini and the brighter 3 star clusters in Auriga. I don't know what the naked eye limit at the zenith is - probably close to mag 6 ?

This is as good as it gets from my back yard.

By 12:30 Orion was well above the rooftops and the streetlights have gone out. Neighbours have gone to bed and there are no lights on in our house or any in the vicinity. It's all "come together" for a change and my 12" dob is definitely the right instrument for these conditions.

I've been trying to see the Horsehead Nebula for a few years now. I've got to know the star field around the star Alnitak (lowest of the "belt" stars) well and I've read the advice pages on the target plus reports from those who have seen it many times. 

All lights off. Laptop screen is dimmed, curtains are closed tight. I spend 20 minutes outside just looking around the sky, getting as fully dark adapted as I can.

First stop on the path to the Horsehead is NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula, which is right next door to Alnitak. Good start tonight - the Flame Nebula was not only visible without a filter, but the dark rifts that run through it, like the branches of a tree, were also visible. Even the dazzling Alnitak in the same field of view could not drown out the illuminated lobes of the Flame.

Ok, time to add the Astronomik H-Beta filter to the eyepiece of choice for this search, the 24mm Panoptic. Filter in place, I was pleased to see that the Flame Nebula,it's shape and form were still quite visible. Time to push Alnitak and the Flame out of the field of view and to concentrate on the 1 degree of sky that is home to the Horsehead Nebula. 

There are 3 stars that frame this patch of sky on one side, one of which is bathed in faint nebulosity which this evening was visible with and without the filter. This is NGC 2023, a faint emission and reflection nebula. I had seen this before but not as clearly as it was showing tonight. Another hopeful sign.

Now the big challenge. I knew that the key to seeing the Horsehead Nebula was to detect the faint glow of the emission nebula IC 434 but in previous attempts this was the fence that I'd fallen at (Horsehead - get it ??!!:rolleyes2: ). Tonight though, as my eye adjusted to the filtered light across the field of view, the elongated but rather amorphous band of slight cloudiness that is IC 434 gradually became apparent, varying in density here and there, almost not there sometimes but re-confirmed subtly over and over as my eye swept around the field of view.

And there it was. A bay, an intrusion, a dark overlay, a piece of IC 434 was missing !. Quite a large piece as well or so it seemed as my eye moved from one side of the field to the other bringing various degrees of averted vision into play. It's been described as a dark thumbprint and I'd concur with that. Not a chesspiece, no snout or ears, but a soft edged, ill defined shark bite chunked out of the side of the nebulosity, leaving the black sky to spill into that cove and the nebulosity of IC 434 to curve around it. One side of where the dark intrusion started was marked with a very faint pair of stars which I believe I've read Swampthing / Steve describe as his indicator of the Horsehead location.

I kept observing for 20-30 minutes trying all the tricks I know to keep all stray light from around my eye and the eyepiece. The clarity of what I was seeing ebbed and flowed, possibly after a while because my eye was just trying so hard !. But the more I observed, the more confident I became that I was seeing this long sought target. Ok, it was very indistinct - well I'd thought it would be, especially if I ever managed to see it from my back yard, but I was pretty sure that I was looking at Barnard 33, at last !.

I rather reluctantly dragged myself away from the eyepiece and tried a couple of other eyepieces with the H-Beta filter attached - a 30mm plossl (Vixen) and the 17.3mm Delos. Each time I came back to the eyepiece I needed 10-15 minutes to get back "into the zone" again. But the same pattern of vague nebulosity was indeed replicated with the darkened bay pushing into the cloudy edge of IC 434 in the same place, to the same extent and at the same angle, each time. The original 24mm eyepiece seemed to provide the most distinct view but I should really say the least indistinct !. Not a spectacular view at all, just suble variations of dark and slightly darker patches of space peppered with stars. Without the filter the stars brightened but only the Flame and NGC 2023 were visible in terms of nebulosity. IC 434 and the large, dark, thumb shaped indentation were nowhere to be seen.

OK. Back inside to warm up (it's cold out there despite the adrenalin flow that the hunt has prompted). Take stock of what has been observed. I turn to one of my favourite web references on deep sky observing - Jeremy Perez and his wonderful "Belt of Venus" website. Here is what Jeremy says about his observations of this target, albeit with a smaller aperture scope than mine (from a darker sky though, I'll bet !):

http://www.perezmedia.net/beltofvenus/archives/000379.html

Re-reading the above has confirmed 100% for me that, tonight, I have seen the Horsehead Nebula :grin:

So much of what Jeremy describes chimes with my experiences and my impressions tonight :thumbright:

I got into astronomy 40+ years back with the help of Sir Patrick Moore's "The Observers Book of Astronomy" and in that little volume there is a greyscale long exposure image of the Horsehead Nebula which made a big impression on me then and has stuck with me to this day.

Quite possibly this is the least impressive target I've seen though a scope in all those years observing but the pleasure that seeing it at last has delivered is very tangible indeed.

If you have got this far, thanks for bearing with my rambling descriptions :smiley:

 

 

 

 

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Sp@ce_d    504

Brilliant.. I can feel the excitement leaping of the page!.. well done & congratulations :hello2:

One of the reasons I hang out "on the dark side".. I doubt my eyes are that good & waiting 40 years!!! ... Nice one

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Paul73    2,562

Well done John. The sky is exceptional tonight. 

I'll not hijack the thread, but a first view for me too. Using that dud filter that you sold me! Very rewarding.

Cracking writeup too.

Paul

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Luna-tic    191

I am so envious. I spend a lot of time around Orion, but the seeing here, mainly due to LP, just won't let me see much other than M42 and 43. Even trying for a 20-30 second exposure at ISO 6400 won't give me much. Night before last, I got just enough of the Flame to make out the general shape, with a 45 second exposure. Forget visual (Edge HD 800 and 25 and 40mm EP's), it just wasn't happening.

Great post, I felt like I was there.

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Sunshine    58

Thats Awesome! i thought the horse head was next to impossible to find without an 18" Dob or better, that you found it with your 12 inspires me actually!

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alan potts    3,821

Great report John and I am very pleased for you, I know you have been looking for a good while, longer than me maybe. I did after thing, is that it. I have a feeling I was expecting the Spanish Inquision or the start of the Grand National, all horses falling at Beech's Brook first time round. Not looked for it since I was so upset.

Alan

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Alan White    1,170

So pleased for you John,

Not any rambling in your report at all, just clear explanation and excitement at achieving a long term observing goal, wonderful.

I know what you mean about the seeing last night, very so so here to.

Edited by Alan White
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Stu    15,217

Fabulous report John! Really chuffed you finally saw it, and to know it is possible from your back garden is all the more pleasing. Do you will find it more easily in future now, or was it very much a cause of the 'stars aligning' in terms of conditions?

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YKSE    2,094

Great report and congratulations:smiley:, it took me many nights under mag 6.1-6.3 sky to see it.

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Fozzie    1,323

Excellent John... a joy to share your excitement in a fabulous report..

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David Levi    232

Congratulations on viewing a long time elusive target! An excellent report and good read with lots of detail for us newcomers to astronomy illustrating how to combine techniques to view a difficult object.

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chiltonstar    1,473

Well done John! A nice report and a nice night - I gave up here after trying for an hour or so; the Flame Nebula was only just visible, and the HH not at all. It is a target surprisingly dependent on transparency, it seems.

Chris

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Tim    2,774

Brilliant John. It really is an elusive filly, great that it all came together for you, I don't think there are many that have seen it in a 12" from suburban skies, a real tribute to your perseverence.

As you say the close pair of fainter stars make the position certain.

Just a thought, have you ever tried it with your Lumicon UHC? In an 18" we thought it gave a comparable view of B33 to the Astronomik Hb filter, enhancing the curtain of brighter nebula and making the notch stand out well.

My best view of it to date was also my first, just happened to chance past an astronomer who was scouring for it with his 16" Meade and Hb filter. Another dob user nearby knew I'd know the location and star patterns well from imaging it, and he asked me to help, although I'd never seen it visually. Dropped to the position and BOOM! There it was, a fantastic sight ( you know, for us!), a real eyepiece filler.

Now you need another "must see" tricky target :)

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Tim    2,774

PS, we got that irritating band of patchy cloud right overhead, ruining the night, so packed up at around 2. Had been imaging. Target? B33 :)

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Moonshane    10,306

Superb John.  One day maybe one day. Until then I'll continueto (eq)uine about not seeing it.

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scarp15    2,237

Excellent, detailed and vivid account John, very enjoyable to read congratulations. Great to hear of these exploits, taking advantage of some exceptional conditions. 

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John    18,083
6 hours ago, Paul73 said:

Well done John. The sky is exceptional tonight. 

I'll not hijack the thread, but a first view for me too. Using that dud filter that you sold me! Very rewarding.

Cracking writeup too.

Paul

Congrats to you Paul - I think the reason that I parted with that filter was frustration with me and my regular skies rather than the filter !

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John    18,083
2 hours ago, Stu said:

Fabulous report John! Really chuffed you finally saw it, and to know it is possible from your back garden is all the more pleasing. Do you will find it more easily in future now, or was it very much a cause of the 'stars aligning' in terms of conditions?

Thanks Stu.

I think my experiences last night will help next time around but the transparency of the sky last night was exceptional for here. Probably the best I've seen in 12 months or more. If we get a cold winter this time around and a few more nights similar, who knows though ? :icon_biggrin:

One further indicator that I had that the night was particularly good was that late in the session a quick look at M1.  That nebula, which can be rather dull visually, was bright, contrasty and showed structure even with the H-Beta filter in place. Normally I'd observe The Crab filterless or with the DGM NBP filter and David Knisely reckons that M1 is virtually invisible with a 10" using an H Beta so goodness knows what it would have looked like with the NBP !. Apart from this quick foray into Taurus, I spent at least 3 hours exclusively in Orion :rolleyes2:

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John    18,083
1 hour ago, Tim said:

Just a thought, have you ever tried it with your Lumicon UHC? In an 18" we thought it gave a comparable view of B33 to the Astronomik Hb filter, enhancing the curtain of brighter nebula and making the notch stand out well....

It did cross my mind at one point to try my DGM NBP filter (similar to a UHC) but I was so much "in the zone" with the Astronomik HB that I was afraid that I would loose my concentration if I swapped filters. Next time I will give it a try :icon_biggrin:

 

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niallk    1,581

Great report John - and congrats! Sounds like conditions came together nicely.  Wonderful to finally catch a long sought after target :)

I hope to pick up a H-beta filter sometime to try (might be a while though as funds are low after succumbing to H-alpha this year!!)

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carastro    2,239

Interesting read and congratulations.  I don't normally read observing reports being an imager.  I really admire the perseverance of observers to find and see these faint objects that can be picked up so easily with a camera.  

I did a few years of observing when I first got a scope, but these days I image and the only observing I do is when my imaging is up and running and then I wander round looking through other people's scopes whilst it is "capturing data", this is when I am at a star party of course.

Carole 

Edited by carastro
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John    18,083

Yes, The Horsehead does seem to be relatively straightforward to image. I could probably get it with my Canon DSLR in my EQ mount with a little guidance from imagers. But it does seem to be a notable challenge for observers. I guess imagers have their "Everests" too ? :icon_biggrin:

 

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John    18,083

Down to earth with a bump this morning. I've just had to deal with one of my childrens pets that passed away in the night.

From now on Barnard 33 is going to be known as "The Dead Gerbil Nebula" to me commemorate of this event :rolleyes2:

I'll notify the IAU later......

 

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