Friday, April 29, 2016

The Owl Nebula

Is it unachievable to Bino-viewers?

Probably as old as the wheel itself, this planetary nebula could be the Achilles heel for new stargazers anxious to complete the whole Messier List. In my experience, this is one of the toughest objects to see, especially with a bright sky or bad transparency.

I learned that a truly dark sky is not the only need to catch this elusive roundish spot especially for small apertures. You will think that a bigger telescope is the answer but let me tell you that there is a lot of excess fabric to be trimmed in regarding this topic.

My first try to catch M97, the Owl Nebula, was when I first tried to make the whole Messier List with my 15x70 Binoculars: the well-known Messier Marathon. I failed M97 for two reasons in my opinion: I’d never seen it before and the dew was having a party in my binoculars.

As soon as I had a chance, I tried with my telescope under my usual Bortle 5 skies. With only 37.5 of magnification and an excellent transparency it was easy peasy. I did not see the Owl eyes in it, but I must confess that I did not expect to see those with only my 6 inches of aperture.

I was happy with the view, but still felt itchy to try it once again with my binoculars. I guess this is what it is about: challenging myself again and again.

April had been a mostly cloudy month and I guess it is announcing the wet season here in Lijiang, so I hadn’t had the chance to try the owl nebula with my binos again. I am glad that before the month ended I had a quick chance to try. I choose a spot about 2 miles north from the city where the northern sky was dark enough to see stars up to about 5.7 of magnitude. I caught a glimpse of M97 with averted vision. It was tough to see but there it was with only 70mm of aperture and 15X of magnification on a blue zone1.

With binoculars it is definitely hard to discern what it is, but it is definitely not unachievable. Expertise, a moderately dark sky and good transparency will let you accomplish one of the toughest objects in the Messier list and as a bonus you can also get M108, the surfboard Galaxy, a barred spiral Galaxy located at only 45.9 million light years from us.

Clear and dark skies,


Edited by: Jennifer Steinberg (editor in chief)

1 Information according lightpollutionmap


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