Monday, 7 October 2013

A HUGE planetary nebula

The Helix Nebula, a large death shroud of a star, floats across the Southern sky in October and November and never climbs higher than about 23 degrees altitude. The width in our sky (as it is quite close) is around half the size of the moon but it is very much fainter and usually buried in the murky low atmosphere. I used the large aperture of the 20 inch telescope and the society's Atik 383L camera to capture it. I got 6 minutes through each of 5 filters: Red, Green, Blue, Ultra High Contrast, and Luminance (all white light). The scope is due a drive upgrade soon but it was working more or less satisfactorily last night on this object. There were a few jitters, but no guiding was required, now that the pointing model has been reset. This planetary nebula has thrown off another fainter wisp of gas that you can make out to the lower left. The centre is glowing mainly from the emission of doubly ionised oxygen atoms and the outer part, hydrogen atoms. It was a splendid starry night, with transparent sky right down to the horizon initially, before a little mist started to form and was wonderful to look up at the Milky Way while I waited for the camera to do its thing.

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