The equinox on March 20th is a sad day for stargazers as that’s when days become longer than the nights, says expert Rob Nolan. But there’s still lots of astral excitement to observe.
Spring is starting to make some appearances, marking the end of a rather cloudy and dull autumn and winter! If you’ve started to take up star gazing recently, you’re probably starting to notice that we seem to get the clearest spate of night skies during a full moon! This is rather troublesome for us astrophotographers, as this makes it more challenging to capture the clarity we want from the blackness of space. However, for observing the lunar surface, there have been some very good seeing conditions; do get out and take a look.
This month, I thought I’d take you to North America … well, the nebula anyway, which is considerably further away than the North American continent! The North America Nebula (NGC7000 or Cadwell 20) is an emission nebula in the constellation Cygnus. The shape of the nebula resembles that of the continent of North America, complete with a prominent Gulf of Mexico.
The portion of the nebula resembling Mexico and Central America is known as the Cygnus Wall which is seen toward the bottom of the image. This region exhibits the most concentrated star formation.
On 24th October 1786, William Herschel, observing from Slough, England, noted a “faint milky nebulosity scattered over this space, in some places pretty bright.” The most prominent region was catalogued by his son John Herschel on 21st August, 1829. It was listed in the New General Catalogue as NGC 7000. In his study of nebulae on thePalomar Sky Survey plates in 1959, American astronomer Stewart Sharpless realised that the North America Nebula is part of the same interstellar cloud of ionized hydrogen (H II region) as
the Pelican Nebula, separated by a dark band of dust, and he listed the two nebulae together in his second list of 313 bright nebulae as Sh2-117.
This image was taken in December last year using Altair 70-EDQ-R Pro Refractor Telescope and Cooled Astro Camera. More thean seven hours of total integration time reveal the most prominent details.
The night sky, April 2022 – Rob’s tips for your stargazing this month:
With Winter now officially over, it’s a race against time to maximise how long we get under the stars
as the dark nights begin to recede. Three bright stars dominate the spring skies: Leading the way we have Regulus in Leo, then Spica in Virgo is to the lower left, and finally the unmistakable orange glow of Arcturus in Boötes. One of the best constellations to look for this month is Leo (the lion); one of those rare constellations that actually resembles the imagery it is named after – in this case a crouching lion.
The star Regulus marks the Lion’s heart, and using a small telescope you can pick out Algieba, which makes up the Lion’s shoulder. Using the telescope, navigate to the beast’s underbelly where you’ll find a clutch of spiral galaxies.
There’s also some great planetary action this month in the dawn skies, with Mercury’s best display in the evening towards the end of the month.
Starting early on in the evening of the 4th to 5th, the crescent Moon passes by the Pleiades and Aldebaran. For early risers, also on the 5th before dawn Mars will pass below Saturn to the right of Venus.
On the 24th to the 27th before dawn, the crescent Moon passes below the planets Saturn, Mars and
Venus. Look towards a clear horizon in the east, and use binoculars to get an even better view.
On the 30th April, Mercury passes the Pleiades in the Northwest.
The big event this month has to be the Lyrid Meteor Shower, on the night of the 21st to 22nd. It promises to be an excellent year for observing the maximum of this display, due to the fact that the Moon doesn’t rise until 3:30am. Make sure to be ready if the skies are clear on the 21st April – look towards the constellation Lyra in the north east skies as the debris from Comet Thatcher burns up in the atmosphere which will leave a glowing trail of dust.
by Rob Nolan – Find RPN Photography on Facebook here