Dark Skies Dorset

The Elephant Trunk

Whilst most are mourning the long summer days, astrophotographers across the country are excited to see the longer hours of truly dark sky.

The longer nights allow us to gather lots of data on a target, and that is what provides us with the detail we need to produce some spectacular images.

The Elephant Trunk

The image this month is of the Elephant Trunk (IC 1396A). Called the Elephant Trunk for its appearance, it is a concentration of interstellar gas and dust within the much larger ionized gas region IC 1396, located in the constellation Cepheus about 2,400 light years away from Earth.

This image was taken using a Skywatcher 200 PDS Newtonian Reflector Telescope and dedicated Cooled Astro Camera with around 5 hours of total integration time. Another piece of equipment that I wouldn’t
be without is the computer that helps orient my targets, and gathers the image. Some choose a setup that requires them to keep watch throughout the imaging session, sometimes staying outside all night, even during those freezing nights. We less hardy souls chose a system that can automate many of the tasks required. I choose

to use the ZWO ASIAIR Pro, and have also been chosen as an Experience Officer for the later ‘ZWO ASIAIR Plus’, a very clever bag of tricks that simplifies the minefield of astrophotography, and automates the process. I’ll be releasing a review of this device on my Facebook page in the next couple of weeks, so please do keep a look out if you’re interested in what it can do. There are lots of different solutions and software out there, so its worth investigating to see which might be best for you if you’re starting to get into the hobby.

The Night Sky, October – what to see this month:

October is a subtle month for astronomy and star gazing.

Pegasus dominates the southern skies this month, with Andromeda, our nearest cosmic neighbour, firmly attached to his side. Soon these dimmer autumn constellations will be superseded by the brilliant lights of winter. Among these, the beautiful star cluster of the Pleiades is sure to delight and dazzle any star gazer.

Watching Andromeda

October is a great month to start looking at the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) in the darker night skies. Visible to the unaided eye, the galaxy fills an area of our night sky that is four times bigger than our Full Moon. It appears in the sky as a fuzzy patch of dust and stars with a brighter elliptical core.

Andromeda is a spiral galaxy much like our own Milky Way, and in around 2.5 million years, the two galaxies will collide to create a new giant elliptical galaxy, fondly nicknamed ‘Milkomeda’.

The Seven Sisters

The next bright target to look out for is the Pleiades star cluster, a leading feature in our winter sky. The Seven Sisters, as they are known, are just a small fraction of the larger 1,000 star cluster, and great to view even using binoculars to truly appreciate their beauty.

Look to the planets

On the 9th October, looking towards the south-west after sunset, viewers will be rewarded with a stunning view of a narrow crescent moon adjoining Venus, with the Antares star to the left. Jupiter and Saturn are still well within view albeit moving away from the Earth now, and are clearly visible on the nights of the 13th, 14th and 15th dancing around our Moon, with Jupiter appearing on the left and Saturn on the right.

Halley’s comet

On the nights of the 21st and 22nd, the peak of the Orionid meteor shower will be visible, as debris from Halley’s Comet collides with our atmosphere. The Moon may somewhat spoil the event this year unfortunately. Halley’s comet itself is only visible from Earth every 75 years, with its last appearance back in 1986: I was 2 years old then! I look forward to hopefully being able to see it myself in 2061. Also on the 22nd, whilst waiting for the meteors to appear, take a look at the Moon near the Pleiades. On the 31st October at 2am, we formally bid British Summer Time farewell, and the long nights really start to draw in. I for one cannot wait!

by Rob Nolan

Find RPN Photography on Facebook here and on Instagram here.

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