A joyride through the vernal sky

 tl;dr - One week ago, two students of the astronomy group joined a virtual sightseeing tour through the vernal sky, led by their teacher Christof Wiedemair. With the remotely controlled camera and telescope of 'torretta observatory' the three eagerly jumped from one celestial gem to the next, taking pictures and discussing the physics behind the various objects.

We, beyond any doubt, live in a beautiful part of the world. However, when it comes to observational astronomy it all boils down to three key factors: a clear sky, steady air and no light pollution. Unfortunately, from that point of view the heart of the Alps is not a privileged spot at all. While light pollution is still okay though worsening, the god of weather often puts on a ruthless show here in South Tyrol, especially in spring time. Usually, from March to May there is little hope to get hold of a decent night. As soon as the capricious spring rains cease, wind arises and when it after days finally tails off the next batch of clouds stand ready to roll in. 

That is why on 8 April 2021 Mara (1aR), Maximilian (5eR) and me were eager to exploit one of the rare cloudless (and moonless!) nights to plough through the April firmament and to discover its secrets, that far too often remain hidden. Some of the snapshots of that memorable night are presented here.

The three joyriders! Mara is a new entry to the astronomy group,
while Maximilian can easily be called an old hand.

We started our walk through the constellations in the West, where Monoceros and Taurus were setting, picking the Rosetta Nebula and the famous Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant, as our targets.

Messier 1, the Crab Nebula. This fuzzy cloud started expanding in 1054,
after Chinese astronomers observed its bright progenitor supernova.

Next we went for the splendid open star cluster M35 with its much more distant little brother NGC 2158. More than 10,000 stars on a heap, what a splendid sight.

The two open clusters M35 (partially visible in the top right corner) and NGC2158. 

The large field of view of the telescope of 'torretta' observatory is fun with clusters and star forming regions, however, it's not the best choice for small objects like planetary nebula. Can you spot the Eskimo Nebula in the next image?

The Eskimo Nebula. Need a hint? It's right under your nose.

Found it? Let's dim down the lights for you.

This 'planet-like' ball is not a star, it's a stellar remnant! Playing with the histogram settings
reveals an outer shell, which the star has blown away about 10,000 years ago.

Switching to the East side of the meridian we enter the reign of the galaxies: Coma Berenice, Virgo and Canis Venaticorum. Good to go? Let's commence with the best, the great Whirlpool Galaxy.

Messier 51, alias the Whirlpool Galaxy, in Canis Venaticorum. This beautiful and
renowned face-on galaxy owns a special place in every astronomers heart.

Galaxy zoo around the Galactic North pole. 
Clockwise from top left: M95, M65, NGC4565 (needle galaxy, seen edge-on)
and M87 (with a hint of its black hole jet in the inset)

Galaxies NGC3147 with the supernova SN2021hpr (arrow)
in constellation Draco and M65 in Leo with a satellite trail.

Finally, after three hours of joyriding, we ended our session with a much closer view. The globular cluster M3 is a real firework of approximately 50,000 stars, packed in a spherical volume of only 90 light years across. Seen from a hypothetical planet in the centre of this object, every square degree of the sky must be crammed with dazzling stars. What a spectacular view this must be.

The globular cluster M3 in constellation Canis Venaticorum.

Now, if anyone of our estimated readers thinks that these images would look even better if they were in colour, we are inclined to agree! A single shot color cam would do the trick, so feel free to contact us! We are always happy to welcome some new warm-hearted sponsors. 😌

Christof Wiedemair


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