Dark Skies Dorset

The Iris Nebula

I’d like to start by acknowledging an amazing letter from one of the readers of the Blackmore Vale Magazine in last month’s edition. I was thrilled and humbled to read that my new article is inspiring others to look skyward and to get into the amazing hobby of astronomy and astrophotography! Sharing this wonderful passion makes the long hours and cold nights (especially in winter!) worthwhile! If anyone would like any advice I am more than happy to answer any questions, just check out my Facebook page for my contact details and I will do my best to help!

Now, August has been such a challenging month for UK based astronomers! It seems as though we’ve only had a few clear nights to look skyward without thick coveted cloud obscuring our view of the heavens! I have managed to witness a couple of amazing events though by visual observations, such as seeing one of Jupiter’s moons, io transiting in front of the huge gas giant which was rather amazing! Sadly though, no images to share of that, as planetary imaging is not something I’m geared up for… yet! I can see my wife rolling her eyes already!

I have however been focused on imaging some more amazing nebulas that fill the cosmos, and theres so many more on the list as we get back to some proper astronomical darkness as we head into autumn. The image this month is of the Iris Nebula (NGC 7023) which I managed to acquire a total of 3 hours of data for on the few clear nights this month. The Iris Nebula is a stunning reflection Nebula located some 1,400 light-years away from Earth, the Iris Nebula’s glowing gaseous petals stretch roughly 6 light-years across. What’s interesting about this nebula is the dark clouds of dust surrounding the nebula, almost ghostly in their appearance! The image was taken using a Skywatcher 200 PDS Newtonian Reflector Telescope and dedicated Cooled Astro Camera.

NGC7023 Iris Nebula

The sky at night this month – September 2021

As the Autumn weather starts to make its presence known, the night sky gives way to some watery but dim constellations over the southern skies! Observable are Aquarius (the Water Carrier), Delphinus (the Dophin), Capricornus (The Sea Goat) and Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish). Sticking with the fishes, Pisces and Cepheus (the Sea Monster) will also be observable.

Something that’s unmistakable on a clear still night is our own galaxy, the Milky Way. This month is perfect for taking a tour down the spiral arm that’s viewable from our planet. Take a tour of our vey own back yard with some binoculars and you’ll be able to pick out star cluster and nebulae as you travel down the spiral arm. Also look out for a black region between the stars in the galaxy band, almost like a rip in space itself, this may well be the Great Rift in Cygnus that you’ve stumbled across. If you can’t see enough with your binos, and you have a DSLR type camera with manual mode and a wide angle lens (10-35mm), set your camera to M, an shutter speed of 20-30 seconds and an ISO of between 3200 and 6400. Set the camera on a sturdy tripod and if you have one, use a shutter release cable to press the shutter to avoid camera vibrations, alternatively use the cameras timer mode. You’ll be surprised what detail even a amateur camera will reveal taking this relatively simple shot! Give it a try!

Other special events to look out for this month include:

On the 9th of September, a thin crescent Moon will lie to the right of Venus, with Mercury low on the horizon, with the Evening Star (Venus) forming a beautiful duo alongside crescent Moon the following night.

On the 14th, Neptune will be opposite the Sun, and at its closest to Earth this year, just as Jupiter and Saturn were in August, but it’s not too late to catch a great view of these 2 super giants! They’ll be overtaken by the Moon on the 16th. Also on the 14th is chance to see Mercury early in the evening, as its maximum separation from the sun and Neptune is also closest to Earth, but you will need binoculars or a telescope to see it, it is 2688 million miles away after all!

On the following nights the 17th and 18th, Jupiter and Saturn continue to dance with the Moon appearing to the right and then left of it in the night sky.

On the 21st, the full Moon closest to the Autumn Equinox is known as The Harvest Moon.

On the 22nd, enjoy the Autumn Equinox at 7:21pm GMT as the sun moves south of the Equator.

The Moon will pass under the Pleaides, known as the Seven Sisters, a group of more than 800 stars located about 410 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.

By: Rob Nolan RPN Photography

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *