Solar System

(The Sea Serpent)

Monstrously large, Hydra is so huge that it winds its way past four of the zodiacal constellations! In fact it is actually the largest constellation in the sky and expectantly it contains many different deep sky objects that consist mainly of galaxies but there are plenty of planetary nebulae.

In Greek mythology, Hydra was the hideous nine headed serpent and one of the twelve tasks of Hercules was to slay it. In theory this seemed like a simple and easy quest but it was one of the greatest challenges that Hercules ever faced. For every head that was severed, two more would grow in its place. What seemed like an impossible situation was easily resolved, the nephew of Hercules helped in the titanic struggle by burning the stump of each head that was chopped off, this staved off the regeneration and replication of the heads and Hercules was able to neutralise the serpent forever.

Southern Pinwheel Galaxy  
Arguably the greatest barred spiral galaxy, M83 is a spectacular galaxy with an enormous amount of star formation occuring in the spiral arms. If you look carefully, you can see that there are three spiral arms, a unique trait that isn't found in many other galaxies.
Image copyright S. Mazlin

M68 is a globular cluster that is fairly bright at magnitude 8, it isn't very spectacular in comparison to other globulars in the Messier catalogue but is still satisfying. It is very close at 33 000 light years away and contains 42 variable stars. These belong to a class of variables called RR Lyrae variables. This type of star is found in many other globular clusters.

M68 is one of the most southern globulars in the Messier catalogue and can be challenging to find by northern observers. One way of finding it is extending an imaginary line from the two stars on the left side of Corvus, Beta and Delta Corvi.

Southern Pinwheel Galaxy (M83):

One of the greatest examples of a grand design barred spiral galaxy, M83 will fill you with awe and wonder. One thing that is immediately noticeable is the prodigious amount of nebulae and blazing star clouds that adorn the three spiral arms. This shows the vast prevalence of star formation across most of the galaxy.

To counteract the massive rate of star birth is the rapid rate of stars exploding as supernovae, altogether six have been observed in the past 100 years. This makes M83 second to NGC 6946 in Cepheus, which has produced eight in total.

In the vast wilderness of the universe, M83 is part of a group of about a dozen other galaxies that include Centaurus A and NGC 5253 in Centaurus. One factor that these two galaxies share with M83 is that they are starburst, NGC 5253 is unusual in the respect that it is a dwarf galaxy and this behaviour is unexpected in this type of galaxy.

Ghost of Jupiter Nebula (NGC 3242):

One of the greatest aspects of astronomy is the romanticism and the celebration of the night sky and how this has survived for millennia. This isn't any more evident than in the names of celestial objects, from the Shakespearean inspired names of the moons of Uranus to the fanciful extravagant names of nebulae given by the poetic watchers of the sky in the 18th and 19th centuries.

From the name given to this deep sky object, it couldn't possibly be anything except a planetary nebula. What it doesn't share with Jupiter is its striking blue green colour, the name arises from its generous apparent size as well as its brightness. It looks rather large with telescopes due to its nearby distance of 1400 light years.

Even though it shines at a magnitude of 7.5, it is surprising that it was missed by Charles Messier, it wasn't until 1785 that it was discovered by William Herschel, just four years after he discovered Uranus in the constellation of Gemini.

NGC 5078 and IC 879:

NGC 5078 is a large lenticular galaxy whose appearance is similar to a sandwich. The cause of the resemblance is a huge dust lane that obscures the southern part of the galaxy. This dust lane isn't smooth and uniform, it is warped and knotted due to interacting with its spiral companion galaxy, IC 879.

The interactions have twisted the spiral structure of IC 879 into an 'S' shape. Triggered by the interaction is a frenzied rate of star formation, this is indicated visually by the many patches of blueish star clouds. Both galaxies are 80 million light years away but they still manage to look pretty large in a medium sized telescope. It is likely that NGC 5078 is the product of two galaxies merging in the past, this would explain both its ample size as well as the dust lane.

NGC 3621:
NGC 3621 is an intriguing spiral galaxy that shines from a distance of 20 million light years. Smaller telescopes will easily show the main bright central region with a patchy tempestuous texture. What can't be seen with small telescopes is the incredibly dim outer regions, these are featureless and empty next to the main central region which contains many star clouds and HII regions.
Ghost of Jupiter Nebula   Hydra Galaxy Cluster (Abell 1060):

One of the more interesting galaxy clusters, Abell 1060 contains many blue spirals and yellow ellipticals. As with other galaxy clusters, large apertures are needed to see them clearly.

The galaxy that is the most apparent is an edge on galaxy called NGC 3312. It is interacting with an elliptical called NGC 3311. The effects of the interaction are clearly irrefutable, an irregular shell surrounds the side that faces NGC 3312.

One of the greatest surprises is found in Abell 1060, a spiral galaxy called NGC 3314. What makes this galaxy so mysterious is that it overlaps with a vastly more distant galaxy. In high resolution images, the impression is of two galaxies merging, the truth suggests otherwise. This galaxy is an example of the many mystical cosmic coincidences found throughout the entire universe.

The Ghost of Jupiter Nebula is a glowing gem of a planetary nebula guarded by the monstrous Hydra. Fortunately you don't have to be a mighty hero to snatch a glimpse of it through a telescope! Click for a larger image.  
Image copyright Capella Observatory/
R. Sparenberg
Abell 33:
What could make seeing a magnitude 13 planetary nebula more tricky? The answer is being situated next to a bright magnitude 7 star! Abell 33 is like a phantom of Abell 39 in Hercules, complete with limb brightening and a darkening of the gas near the centre. If you let your imagination wander, you might be inclined to think of this planetary nebula as being a crystal ball grasped by the hand of an imaginary mystic!
Abell 35:

Almost as large as the Helix Nebula in Aquarius, Abell 35 is one of the most interesting nebulae in the Abell planetary nebula catalogue. It has a strange bow shock feature near the centre. This was formed by the binary system at the heart of the nebula. The brightest of the pair is wildly erratic and rotating at an almost destructive speed, if it spun any faster it would be torn apart! The other star is an unremarkable white dwarf that is responsible for both the creation of the shell of gas as well as releasing the ultraviolet radiation necessary to ionize the gas.

The nebula is very large because it is a very close 400 light years away and the diameter is approximately one light year. A fairly large telescope is needed to see the magnitude 12 shell, an OIII filter makes visibility slightly easier. Despite its quirky nature, Abell 35 is largely unknown due to its southern placement as well as its extreme faintness.

Hickson 40:

A huge void of 300 million light years separates this quintet of galaxies from us, it seems miraculous that this is even visible with amateur telescopes. Two of the galaxies are spirals and the other three galaxies are an edge on, an elliptical and a lenticular. The whole group is classed as peculiar and is also known as Arp 321.

Ever since the introduction of large telescopes in the 1970's, a severe affliction has spread throughout the amateur community. Some individuals have had the strength to fight this 'disease' but others have succumbed to it. What is this mysterious 'disease'? This severe 'illness' is known as "aperture-fever" and the only cure for aperture fever is also its greatest symptom, buying a bigger telescope and not being satisfied by the view and then proceeding to purchase an even larger telescope! Aperture fever has even crept into the realm of professional astronomy, a proposed next generation telescope has a staggering diameter of 100 metres and quite aptly is named the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope!