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Flying with the Swan

Map 9: North Equatorial 6
Lyra to Andromeda
north_am_noao_as
The North American Nebula is located in the constellation of Cygnus.
Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF

This map shows the stars corresponding to autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. The eastern regions of Cygnus the Swan and the northern part of Pegasus the Winged Horse dominate the chart. Cygnus lies along the Milky Way and is packed with clusters and nebulae.

Start 3° east of Deneb (Alpha Cygni) and locate the North America Nebula (NGC 7000). Many observers can see this object's outline even without binoculars, but others require help. It's big (2° by 1.7°), so use binoculars or a wide-field view through a telescope to attack it. If you're still having trouble, use either a nebula filter or a more restrictive OIII filter. Some observers report positive results by hand-holding the filter and not using a telescope at all.

If you have an OIII filter, observe the Veil Nebula (NGC 6992–5). The Veil is the remnant of a supernova that exploded 30,000 years ago. It lies 2,500 light-years away and measures an immense 2.7° by 3.8°. You can approach this object in two ways: Try to capture all of it in one view, but you'll need an eyepiece/telescope combination yielding a 4° field. While you'll capture it, you won't see much detail. To get a clearer view, use an eyepiece (plus OIII filter) in the 50x to 75x range and scan the Veil by moving your scope to follow its full extent.

On Map 3, about 1½° east-northeast of Theta Cygni lies the Blinking Planetary (NGC 6826). Through small scopes, you'll see the central star if you look at NGC 6826 using what's called direct vision. Look a bit away from the central star with "averted vision," and it will be swallowed in the planetary's nebulosity. So, look directly at — and then away from — the star to "blink" the planetary. Use a small scope to try this because telescopes larger than 6 inches keep the central star visible at all times.

Fall in the Northern Hemisphere often is called "planetary season" because of the large number of planetary nebulae visible. Magnitude 10.7 NGC 7008 (also on Map 3) lies in a region devoid of bright stars. NGC 7008 lies almost 10° north of Deneb and measures 83" across.

For a new perspective on planetary nebulae, turn your scope toward the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in Vulpecula. M27 is one of the largest and brightest planetaries in the sky, mostly because of its distance, a scant 800 light-years. Binoculars reveal this object, and a small telescope shows its lobes (the ends of the dumbbell). With a 12-inch or larger scope, you'll see irregularities in M27's surface and thin, faint arcs at both lobe ends. More than a dozen faint stars lie superimposed over the Dumbbell, which measures about 6' across.

As we've progressed through the past few star maps, we've also moved farther from the Milky Way, so more galaxies are visible. Start with magnitude 9.5 spiral galaxy NGC 7331, which lies 4.3° north-northwest of Eta Pegasi. This galaxy is part of a group that numbers less than a dozen. Use a low-power eyepiece through a 10-inch scope to see several other members. The galaxy is 10.5' long and a third as wide. The bright, elongated central region washes out the fainter spiral arms through telescopes less than 12 inches in aperture.

Finally, if you have access to a large scope, train it on Stephan's Quintet (NGC 7317, NGC 7318A, NGC 7318B, NGC 7319, and NGC 7320), a collection of galaxies ½° southwest of NGC 7331. In the quintet, NGC 7320 is the brightest, glowing meekly at magnitude 12.5. The faintest, NGC 7317, shines 13 times fainter at magnitude 15.3.

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