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Thread: 24 Planetary Nebulas for the Binoculars and Small Scopes

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    Default 24 Planetary Nebulas for the Binoculars and Small Scopes

    Hello friends of the deep skies objects hunting,

    the planetary nebulas offer a very specific class of the deep sky objects for the visual observers. Some of the planetary nebulas reveal their bluish-greenish emerald color to the eyes even through the binoculars, and small scopes. Their form and color is what makes the planetary nebulas amazing to view.

    This thread concentrates on the startegies of fixing and star hopping to the planetary nebulas, and how to observe these nebulas. Some bright and sufficiently large planetary nebulas, do not require sophisticated ways to observe them. However, most of the planetary nebulas appear in the binoculars star-like, and they can be more comfortably fixed by means of blinking with the filters. It has turned out over many years of observations, that a very helpful way is to mount a dark blue/violet filter #47 in one of the binocular eyepiece barrels, against a narrow-band OIII filter in the other barrel, and to blink with the eyes. Some binoculars have threads for the 1.25" filters, in the other binoculars the filters can be fastened with help of the rubber eye cups, see also Hunting Planetary Nebulas with Binoculars . As soon as the nebula has been located, the blue/violet filter can be replaced with another OIII filter, or the UHC filters can be mounted.

    The planetary nebulas are sorted according to the seasons, followed by the northern circumpolar planetaries, which can be observed throughout most of the seasons. The final section of the list indicates the challenging and tough planetary nebulas.

    Planetary nebulas throughout the seasons, starting in summer:

    The Turtle Nebula NGC 6210 is a bright star-like nebula in Hercules, showing a color contrast with the nearby stars. Follow the line connecting the stars Beta and 51 Herculi, cross the rich star field, and the nebula makes a flat right-angled triangle with the two nearby stars (7.3 and 7.4mag). The nebula can be fixed with the binoculars as small as 10.5x70. Discovered by F.G.W. Struve in 1827.

    The Emerald Nebula NGC 6572 is one of the brightest (8.1mag) planetary nebulas with a striking color contrast. I start as a rule moving from the bright 70 Ophiuci, or from the very large open cluster Melotte 186, and go 4deg to the north. The nebula is easy seen through the 10.5x70 binoculars. Discovered by F.G.W. Struve in 1827.

    M57 The Ring Nebula NGC 6720 in Lyra is the most popular face-on torus planetary nebula in the skies. Its bright disc is highly enjoyable at the magnifications as small as 15x and 20x. It can be fixed with help of an OIII filter as a non-stellar object through the binoculars as small as 10.5x70. Small scopes at the magnification around 80x and larger show its oval-like donut form. Discovered by A. Darquier de Pellepoix in 1779, and described as a fading planet.

    There is also an interesting optical illusion on this Ring Nebula, known and documented in the drawings and sketches since the 19th century. At the middle magnifications, the ring seems to decay into a swarm of sprinkling faint stars, when viewed through the small scopes, like a 6incher. The nebular light may be close to the threshold of the activation of the color sensitive cones in the eye, and the sparsely distributed cones may flash random signals. Telescopes with larger light gathering powers activate these cones, and the nebula shows a hint of color.

    The Little Gem Nebula NGC 6818 in Sagittarius can be fixed through the 25x100 binoculars with the OIII filters. This nebula is a bit tricky to find the first time. I start with the large sparse open cluster NGC 6774 at the top of the Sagittarius asterism, and then slowly move towards the 54 and 55 Sagittarii. The nebula is about 2deg to the north. The nearby Barnard's Galaxy NGC 6822 requires clear and dark skies. Discovered by W. Herschel in 1787.

    The Blinking Planetary Nebula NGC 6826 in Cygnus is another very popular planetary nebula. The 'blinking' as used in the name, is the change of the nebular appearance with the direct and averted vision when viewed through the telescopes at some magnifications. Go to the Theta Cygni, which makes an aligned triple with the orange/red R Cygni (spectral class S7), and move nearly 1deg east to the 16 Cygni, which is a wide binary star, Struve 46. The planetary nebula is immediately to the east, below a loose curved rope of 8-9mag stars. The Blinking Planetary nebula pops up through the OIII filter, and it can be fixed with the binoculars as small as 10.5x70. Discovered by W. Herschel in 1793.

    M27 The Dumbbell Nebula NGC 6853 in Vulpecula is another showpiece in the northern skies. The nebula can be easily fixed with the binoculars as small as 8x40, and the 25x100 binoculars reveal with concentrated viewing the central 'apple core' form, surrounded by an oval halo. My 6incher refractor at the magnifications close to 50x shows under the best backyard skies the outer 'ears' at the outer oval halo. The nebula responds very well to the UHC and OIII filters. The H-Beta filter dims the view, but the apple core becomes extracted with more contrast. To fix the nebula, I start as a rule at Gamma Sagittae, and then move about 4deg to the north to find the asterism of the bright stars 12, 13, 14, 16 and 17 Vulpeculae. This asterism reminds of an inverted letter W, and it is best recognizable through the wide field binoculars. One of the first discoveries of the planetary nebulas, Ch. Messier in 1764.

    The Saturn Nebula NGC 7009 in Aquarius is another very bright nebula, showing the greenish color contrast. To fix the nebula, I follow the wings of Aquila about 10deg to the SE to find a flattened triangle of the stars Epsilon, Mu and 7 Aquarii. Following the direction to Nu Aquarii, the nebula is about 1deg to the west. The Saturn Nebula should be easily visible even through the small binoculars, but my light polluted southern horizon requires the 25x100 binoculars to see the nebula comfortably as a small bright disc. The nebula responds very well to the OIII filter. The name giving outer "antennae" require a telescope operated at the maximum magnification. Discovered by W. Herschel in 1782.

    The Magic Carpet Nebula NGC 7027 is a star-like bright nebula, south of the North America Nebula in Cygnus. The nebula makes a flattened triangle with the bright stars Ksi and Nu Cygni, and thanks to its color contrast it can be fixed in the binoculars as small as 10.5x70. The nebula pops up through the OIII filter. My 6incher refractor shows its nearly rectangular form at the magnifications around 180x. Discovered by É. Jean-Marie Stephan in 1878.

    The Helix Nebula NGC 7293 in Aquarius is worth of making a trip to a good observing site. The nebula is bright, but due to its very large size of nearly 15 arc minutes, its surface brightness is low. I have enjoyed the Helix nebula in the Dolomiti Mountains through the 25x100 binoculars: a large fairly bright oval-shaped donut rising above the legendary 3.000m Fanas Mountain - something I will never forget. The Helix Nebula can be seen even with the small binoculars, but I use to take to the Dolomiti Mountains the best 'little toys' I have. Discovered by K.L. Harding before 1824.

    The Blue Snowball Nebula NGC 7662 has been named according to its bluish color contrast, better perceived through the telescopes. Finding the Blue Snowball the first time may be a bit tricky. I start at Lambda Andromedae, and hop to Kappa, Iota, to find the 13 Andromedae. The nebula is then 1/2 deg to the SW. The nebula responds very well to the OIII filter and it can be easily seen through the 15x85 binoculars. Discovered by W. Herschel in 1784.

    The parallelogram of the bright stars Iota (with the orange RX leporis), Kappa, Lambda, and Nu Leporis shows the way towards the Spirograph Nebula IC 418. The nebula is found 2deg east of Lambda Leporis. The 25x100 binoculars with the OIII filter are required under my backyard skies to fix this nebula. The nebula shows a small non-stellar disc through the 82mm Leica APO Televid at the magnifications 40x-50x. The 6incher refractor at the magnification of 75x reveals a bright greenish disc.

    M76 The Little Dumbbell Nebula is an edge-on bipolar torus, looking box-like, also known under the NGC numbers 650 and 651. Easily found 1deg north of Phi Persei and immediately west of an orange/yellow 6.70mag star. An OIII filter shows its nearly rectangular stretched form through the 15x85, and the 25x100 binoculars reveal its bipolar appearance. Discovered by P. Méchain in 1780.

    The Cleopatra's Eye planetary nebula NGC 1535 in Eridanus requires blinking with an OIII filter, as it is low above my light polluted winter horizon. The nebula can be easily fixed moving the 15x85 binoculars either 4deg NEE off the bright Gamma Eridani, or 2.5deg south off the wide (88.3") binary star 39 Eridani (Struve 516) with the faint secondary component. Discovered by W. Herschel in 1790.

    The Eskimo (Clown Face) Nebula NGC 2392 is enough bright also for the smaller binoculars, and very easy to find. Go to Delta Gemini and move 1.5deg to an arc of 4-5 stars around 63 Geminorum. I have nicknamed this arc of stars as the 'Necklace Asterism', due to its importance for the navigation. The Eskimo Nebula makes an apparent double with a star, 1/2 deg SE of the Necklace Asterism. The nebula shows a turquoise color contrast, and it can be easily fixed with the binoculars as small as 10.5x70. Discovered by W. Herschel in 1787.

    The NGC 2438 is a fairly bright and large planetary nebula in front of the open cluster M46. The nebula is sometimes difficult even through the 25x100 big binoculars, as the rich swarm of the faint starts in the cluster distracts the concentrated vision. The 6incher refractor reveals at 75x through the OIII filter a faint ring. This nebula can be regarded as the second best ring-like nebula within the reach of the small scopes. Discovered by W. Herschel in 1786.

    The NGC 2440 is another large planetary nebula in the constellation of Puppis, even if less known as a binocular object. To see this nebula more comfortably, I leave the backyard for a nearby meadow with less interfering street lights. The nebula is located nearly 4deg south off the M46 open cluster. The nebula reveals through the 15x85 binoculars with the UHC filters a small, but still well recognizable cloudlet. Discovered by W. Herschel in 1790.

    The Ghost of Jupiter Nebula NGC 3242 is with its 7.3mag one of the brightest, and also easy urban planetary nebulas. It shines very bright through the 15x85 binoculars, and the UHC filter still increases its contrast. The Nebula is 2deg south of Mu Hydrae, and it is pointed to by a chain of 8-9mag stars, nicknamed as the 'Ghost of Jupiter's Pointer Asterism'. This is one of the most southern planetary nebulas accessible from my backyard, and in a short observing time window only. Discovered by W. Herschel in 1785.

    Circumpolar planetary nebulas:

    M97 The Owl Nebula NGC 3587 is one of those large (200") but low surface brightness nebulas, best observed with the UHC and OIII filters. The 15x70 and 15x85 binoculars are the minimum requirement under the suburban backyard skies. The nebula is easily located about 2deg SEE of the bright Beta Ursae Majoris. Follow the loose chain of stars pointing towards the M108 edge-on galaxy, and at about 1deg distance, the nebula makes an irregular parallelogram with the three 7-8mag nearby stars. Discovered by P. Méchain in 1781.

    The Cat's Eye Nebula NGC 6543 is one of those bright, but difficult to locate planetary nebulas in a rich field of stars in Draco. Fix the two bright stars Phi and Chi Draconis, and confirm your position looking at the W-form asterism, the Kemble 2. Move to the wide pair of stars 37 Draconis, about 3deg to the south. Follow a loose curved chain of stars another 2.5deg to the SSW, and here you are. I need as a rule the OIII filter to blink this nebula. The nebula looks star-like through the binoculars as small as 10.5x70, but large scopes may show a segment of its outer shell, the IC 4677. Discovered by W. Herschel in 1786.

    The binocular challenging planetary nebulas

    The IC 2149 planetary nebula in Auriga is one of the binocular challenges in this list. Even if the nebula can be easily navigated to about 1/2deg west off the yellowish Pi Aurigae, the nebula requires a patient blinking of OIII against the blue/violet filter. I have had good luck with this nebula on the exceptionally clear nights in December 2010 with the 15x85 binoculars, and in February 2011 with the 25x100 binoculars.

    The IC 2165 is another challenging planetary nebula for the binoculars, 5deg north off the bright Beta Canis Maioris, and slightly more than 1deg south off a four stars group including the FR CMa (Struve 3116). The nebula looks star-like through the 25x100 binoculars, and it can be fixed when blinking the UHC filter against the blue/violet filter. The best skies in March 2011 have been just good enough to fix this nebula.

    The White Eyed Pea planetary nebula IC 4593 in Hercules is tough to be found and fixed, possibly also due to the interfering bright central star (11.2mag). It has been quite a hard and time consuming job to fix this nebula on one of the very clear and dark nights in August 2011 through the 15x85 binoculars. The best star hopping path found, has been from the Omega Herculi moving SW through a rich star field, also known as the Harrington 7 (16h18m +13°00'), and further down to the pair of orange stars FQ/FS in Serpens Caput. About 1.5deg north off this pair of stars is a flattened parallelogram of stars (16h10m +10°00'), crossing the border between Hercules and Serpens Caput. Another 2.5deg to the north is the nebula located in a loose nearly NS chain of stars. The observation has been made with the 15x85 binoculars blinking the UHC and OIII filters against the blue/violet filter. This planetary nebula will require repeated observations.

    The two more planetary nebulas, NGC 6790 and NGC 6804 in Aquila, are still on my list of the binocular challenges, and they will require a trip to a site with the really clear and dark skies. The observations through the 6incher refractor have been reported in: Report on two amazing planetary nebulas in Aquila: NGC 6781 and NGC 6790

    Wishing you happy hunting,


    Read full thread here.
    Last edited by dmbryan; 05-16-2013 at 12:17 AM.
    khalid likes this.
    Binoculars: Leica Ultravid 7x42, 8x42HD; Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Swarovision; Nikon 10x70 Astroluxe; Docter Nobilem 7x50 Porro; Jenoptem 7x50W, 10x50W; BA8: 10.5x70, 15x85; 25x100FB, AsahiPentax 8x40, Refractors: Sky-Watcher 150mm/750mm; Leica APO Televid 82mm (25x-50x WW ASPH); EPs:Baader Classic Orthos; Fujiyama ortho, Leica B WW, ultrawide zoom ASPH, Periplan GF, HC Plan S, L; DOCTER UWA; Wild UW mil; Tele Vue Delos, Nagler Zoom, Plössls; Swarovski SW; Pentax XW; ZEISS diascope B WW T*, Carl Zeiss E-Pl; Hensoldt mil; Filters: Astrodon, Astronomik, Baader (CCD), TS; Astrophotography: AstroTrac; Leica R7: Leica 2/50, 2/90mm, 2.8/180mm lenses
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