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What to see near Alnitak?

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Silly question time, I checked my book and finderscope twice so I'm sure I focused the scope on the right star tonight! lol! But I couldn't see anything? I understand there should be quite a bit there nebula wise, but how close to the star? I started with a 25mm EP and then the 10mm on the star itself but nothing. The moon was bright and close by, would that have an effect? Although I had a good view of the Orion nebula!? :)

Edited by Ben478
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I do believe, that below Alnitak, is Horsehead. I have yet to see it, but when I get opportunity, I'll be searching. It is a small dark cloud against a dark sky, so will be a tricky one to say the least. The moon will wash out such things for the next couple of weeks I'd say, but perhaps with good seeing you may be lucky.

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Visually there's not too much to see.... sorry...all those Gee Whizz images are taken with long exposure camera shots.

Even in the very dark skies of northern Victoria, Australia we were hard pressed to see the horsehead visually with anything less than a 12" and good seeing.....


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Close to Alnitak is NGC2024, the "Flame Nebula". A little farther in the direction of M42 is IC434, which is a broad nebula of general background glow. Then, Barnard 33, the Horse Head nebula, is a dark cloud set against the background of IC434.

All of these are very dim and you don't have a hope of seeing them in bright moonlight or light pollution. To see these objects you need to get to a dark site on a moonless night, and have pretty good aperture. I've seen them with a 200mm SCT, but nothing smaller. A narrowband filter helps, especially Hydrogen Alpha or Hydrogen Beta.

They do show up nicely in long-exposure images, but this can lead you to expect more visually than is reasonable. They are really challenging visual targets.

The image below is in Hydrogen-Alpha light. The bright star is Alnitak, Flame on the left, Horse Head on the right.


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Hi Ben, M42 stands up very nicely against moonwash, but the Flame Nebula needs fairly dark skies and averted vision... but it's not too difficult. The trick is to move Alnitak out of the fov so the glare's gone. ;)

Here's a sketch i'd posted in a different thread. You really don't need an 8" aperture though, the first time i ever saw the Flame was through my 22x100 binoculars.

The only time i ever saw the Horsehead was in my dreams. :)

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I'm still determined to catch it though........... maybe when I've sorted out a larger scope.

Absolutely, it's a great objective, just a challenge. When you finally see the Horse you'll be very proud. Save the search for dark nights, though.

A couple of other hints:

  • The horse head is smaller than you think - quite tiny in a typical wide-field eyepieces.
  • It helps if, once you work out your bearings, you move the scope to put bright Alnitak just outside the edge of your field, so even its bright light is not swamping your eye.

- Richard

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Absolutely, it's a great objective, just a challenge.

This is one of the things I love so much about my astronomy, the searching for stuff which you know is there but cannot see it until you actually nail it. I haven't yet experianced goto/auto guiding yet and I have to admit that I'm happy not to be hankering for such luxuries. The (almost) spur of the moment trek up to Wuhan for the eclipse, the hunting and nailing of Andromeda Galaxy and this mornings Mercury result are all up there along with that first view of Saturn.

Such a wonderous sky we are so lucky to have, right above our heads.

Edited by yeti monster
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