Saturday, October 16, 2010

Spooky Sky Sights!

Fall is my favorite time of year. We finally get some relief from the high temperatures of late summer, and the humidity drops. In addition, some very interesting things begin to appear in our skies. Halloween is almost here, and with the prospect of the local candy supply increasing significantly, I thought it might be appropriate to ring it in with some spooky sights.

Just off the star Rigel, in the constellation of Eridanus, lies a faint reflection nebula cataloged as IC 2118. The popular moniker for this object is the Witch Head Nebula. You need very dark skies and a fairly large telescope to see this nebula visually--8" aperture to see the brighter portions, 16" for a chance to see any detail--but I was able to get an image using 3-minute exposures with my little ST80.

The "head" is a profile view, with a long, pointy nose, an open mouth, and a pointy chin. Rigel is located out of frame to the right.

IC 2118, the Witch Head Nebula
No self-respecting witch would go without transportation. This one left her broom parked in the Cygnus constellation:

NGC 6960, the Witch's Broom.  Also known as the Western Veil Nebula.
NGC 6960, which is sometimes called the Witch's Broom, is part of a vast supernova remnant called the Cygnus Loop. The Loop is about 3 degrees across, which is about six times the width of the full moon. The star that created it exploded about 15,000 years ago.

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