Birds of the Night Sky


The Owl Nebula (M97) is a planetary nebula
in Ursa Major (click for larger image)

I didn’t realize how often birds are called upon when we give names to things astronomical. Check it out, there are eight constellations in the night sky that are named after birds: Apus (Bird of Paradise), Aquila (the Eagle),  Columba (the Dove), Corvus (the Crow), Cygnus (the Swan), Grus (the Crane), Pavo (the Peacock), and Tucana (the Toucan). Additionally, the last two installments of this astronomy blog deal with nebulae named after birds. I am sure there are a number of other night sky objects named for birds and someday I will get around to checking that out. Better yet, maybe one of our readers might enlighten us.



Planetary Nebula

The Sun is currently a 4.5 billion year old yellow dwarf. In about five billion years it will expand into a red giant engulfing the orbits of Mercury and Venus. After this the Sun will collapse and expel a huge diffuse ball of gaseous material which will become what we call today a planetary nebula. The nebula will be lit by the the white dwarf that our Sun would then become. The some 3000 planetary nebula we have discovered represent a small point in time for the overall history of the stars at the center of these planetary nebulae  Who can say what the Sun will look like to those living in our corner of the galaxy when it becomes a planetary nebula. Perhaps the connection between birds and astronomy on earth will continue and Sol with expand into the Bird’s Nest Nebula or the Egg Nebula.

The name “planetary nebula” was given to these objects by the English astronomer William Herschel who said that they looked a lot like gas giant planets like Uranus which he had discovered in 1781.

The Owl Nebula (discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1781, the same year Herschel discovered Uranus) was formed only about  6000 years ago, a flash-in-the-pan in astronomical time. Look closely and you can see a pair of distant galaxies.


Celestron EdgeHD 14″ at f/11 using QSI 583ws, 70 minutes.  Observant viewers will notice that this is my first posting in eight months. After spending many months shooting at a very fast f/2 focal length creating the large scale images seen in prior shots found on this site I decided to move to f/7 focal length set up. Going from a fast system to a more powerful but optically slower system creates a huge number of challenges involving various hi-precision guiding issues and precision focusing issues. Bad weather this past Fall and Winter limited the number of nights to work on the issues. Most issues were solved (at least to the point of taking decent images).

However shooting at f/7 requires using a focal reducer.  When I started on this f/7 journey no one had a focal reducer out that produced satisfactory flat field images at f/7 on a EdgeHD 14″ scope.  Celestron has now released a f/7 focal reducer designed specifically for the scope, but at $600 I think I will wait until I see a review or two of its performance before purchasing. So I have done the next best thing, I have taken the focal reducer our of the light train and am now shooting at the native F/11 of the telescope. The above image is First Light at that focus for Jupiter Ridge Observatory.

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3 Responses to Birds of the Night Sky

  1. Great shot Russ. Love the color depth.

  2. John Parsons says:

    Russ, awesome photo and great article.

  3. Wow, that’s what I was exploring for, what a
    stuff! present here at this website, thanks admin of this web page.

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