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Attempting the Pillars of Creation


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Out last night to see about ticking the Pillars of Creation off the bucket list. I haven’t seen many reports on observing this visually, so didn’t (and actually, still don’t) know whether it would be possible. But if you don’t try, you never know! And I think I read somewhere that the Pillars probably don’t even exist any more, so no time to waste!

Would love to hear any other experiences of observing this iconic feature. I’m on the fence about whether I actually saw something of it.

Kit of choice: The 10", with 24, 14 and 8.8mm wide eyepieces, plus nebula filters.

A bit about the conditions:

I felt transparency was average rather than great, and the target region of sky low in the south was also affected by a dome of light from town.

The Milky Way showed some structure including the Cygnus Rift, Fish on Platter and Funnel Cloud, but away from the zenith was looking more washed out; The Scutum Star Cloud was visible but I think has been brighter previously. The leading arm of the Aquila Rift was quite subtle.

M31 naked eye, with the dust lane immediately and consistently seen in the eyepiece. M33 not naked eye, but the scope showed the elliptical shape and the jauntily angled central bar, but no spirals. M81 bright, but no spiral arms seen.

At zenith, the Veil showed itself without filter, with delightful intricate structure seen in the Oiii. I could easily have stayed here for a long time! The North America and Pelican  nebulae both nice and bright.

Closer to the target, Barnard’s Galaxy was attempted but not seen.

So, the headline act:

I tried most combos of eyepiece and filter, not knowing what might work best, finding a balance between image brightness and image size. I eventually settled on the 8.8mm eyepiece, in which the Eagle was dim but still visible.

After an unsuccessful warm up with the UHC, the H-beta filter didn’t show a great deal. I never glimpsed anything that could have been the Pillars.

Back in with the UHC and I immediately sensed a dark feature near two bright marker stars. This came and went, visible maybe 10% of the time.

With the UHC showing promise, but not much going on in the H-beta, I tried the Oiii, figuring it’s a UHC minus the seemingly unhelpful wavelengths and might improve contrast. Again I had glimpses of that dark shadow.

But I’m not sure I can tick it.

I was led to the location by a very good reference image, rather than spotting the dark feature myself and confirming it afterwards, which makes me less confident than I might be. Could just be imagination/hope at work.

The dark feature also didn’t quite match the image in either shape or alignment. But in the same way that the Horsehead appears to me to be almost a thin capital letter D with the bottom chopped off, I see how the tiny, low contrast, dark feature might correspond to the image in low resolution averted vision.

In fact the whole experience was rather like the hunt for the Horsehead. Except much warmer and with chirping grasshoppers!

As above, would love to hear other folks views about observing this iconic feature.

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1 hour ago, Size9Hex said:

would love to hear other folks views

I observe them in the15"+ scopes, not this year as I cant see it because of trees up on the ridge, but last year. I must put my 10" down by the lake and try them if its not too late. A 17mm EP is my goto for this, forget which filter as both the UHC and OIII are in the slide and I bounce back and forth, the OIII IIRC.

Great obs Paul!

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An excellent report. I've never come close to seeing it but I admire your tenacity and in your shoes I would be very close to claiming it. The clincher for me is whether I can see it a second time. 

On a different note, what about Barnard's Galaxy? I've tried it a few times now and have never seen it. Is it especially difficult? I've seen things that are dimmer and have less surface brightness. I thought it must be because of light pollution. Have you seen it on other occasions? 

Anyway, concentrating on trying to pick out stuff like the Pillars of Creation are what it's all about for me. That's when the time whizzes by. Congratulations and good luck with the second observation.

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1 hour ago, jetstream said:

I observe them in the15"+ scopes, not this year as I cant see it because of trees up on the ridge, but last year. I must put my 10" down by the lake and try them if its not too late. A 17mm EP is my goto for this, forget which filter as both the UHC and OIII are in the slide and I bounce back and forth, the OIII IIRC.

Great obs Paul!

Thanks Gerry. Great to get your comments. When I did a forum search, the only hit that came up (outside imaging and night vision) was one of your reports. Interested in your experience in the 15". If borderline with that aperture (and your skies too of course), it makes my observation doubtful. But if there was room to spare, then maybe I did see it (or at least worthwhile persisting with it!). Would be great to hear how you go with the 10".

I’m thinking a filter slide would have been perfect for this - more time at the eyepiece and less time trying not to drop stuff in the dark while swapping!

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1 hour ago, domstar said:

An excellent report. I've never come close to seeing it but I admire your tenacity and in your shoes I would be very close to claiming it. The clincher for me is whether I can see it a second time. 

On a different note, what about Barnard's Galaxy? I've tried it a few times now and have never seen it. Is it especially difficult? I've seen things that are dimmer and have less surface brightness. I thought it must be because of light pollution. Have you seen it on other occasions? 

Anyway, concentrating on trying to pick out stuff like the Pillars of Creation are what it's all about for me. That's when the time whizzes by. Congratulations and good luck with the second observation.

Thanks Domstar.

I think you’re right about seeing something multiple times being an important test. Seeing enough signal in the noise enough times! 🙂

I’ve never seen Barnard’s Galaxy, although only a couple of tries on it. There’s no hope from home, so dark site only, and not helped by the light skies in summer - needs a very late night indeed, or waiting a month by which time it’s dropping towards the west. Thought it worth mentioning for context in the report that the conditions didn’t seem good enough for this target though - allowing that a more skilled observer might have managed better of course. I’ve never checked the reported surface brightness of this target - I think I need to. I think I recall someone else writing that it’s one of those targets with no hard contrasty edges - nothing for your eye or brain to latch onto - so harder than might be expected from the numbers. The advice I read was for very low power. Good luck with it and let us know how you go.

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On 08/09/2021 at 11:11, estwing said:

Nice report....yes seen the pillars clearly from Elan valley, two fingers were observed, the third is impossible visually...but I may be wrong!.

Thank you Estwing, really appreciate your comment. That sounds like a view that would knock my socks off. I certainly didn't see anything at that level of detail or confidence. If I may ask, was that with the 18" in your signature please? From your experience, would you judge it as a feasible target for a 10" (to any extent, e.g. as a dark line/shape even if not recongisable as the pillars)?

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22 minutes ago, estwing said:

Remember it's all about the quality of your dark skies....

Wise words. For me even a few miles up the road from home makes a good difference, though really dark skies would be a long trip for sure. Hopefully I'll get another chance to try this one before the season changes. Great image too, that must be a stunner to see! 👍

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Great report! I saw Barnard's Galaxy for the first time a few weeks ago. Surprisingly bright. I also observe with a 10 inch dob, although I'm in Australia where Barnard's Galaxy is overhead so that's a help. I have not yet tried for the Pillars of Creation in M16. I will put it on my list of targets. Good luck and I hope you can observe it if it's possible. Clear skies

Edited by Epick Crom
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2 hours ago, Epick Crom said:

Great report! I saw Barnard's Galaxy for the first time a few weeks ago. Surprisingly bright. I also observe with a 10 inch dob, although I'm in Australia where Barnard's Galaxy is overhead so that's a help. I have not yet tried for the Pillars of Creation in M16. I will put it on my list of targets. Good luck and I hope you can observe it if it's possible. Clear skies

Thanks Epick. Great effort on Barnard's Galaxy. 25 degrees above the horizon is about the best we get for this in the south of the UK (and worse in the north of the country of course), but I'll keep at it I'm sure! All the best with the Pillars - will be interesting to hear how you get on. Since writing this report, I've stumbled upon other reports elsewhere that suggest that one finger plus the "base" may be a feasible observation in a 10" as a V shaped feature.

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