An Owl and a Ghost – Astronomy Now


The excellent Owl Nebula (Messier 97) is among the sky’s showpiece planetary nebulae. Notice Lord Rosse’s ‘eyes’ characteristic, the darker patches on the 2 o’clock and eight o’clock positions. Picture: Peter Goodhew.

The March sky at observing prime time just isn’t precisely overflowing with planetary nebulae which might be nicely positioned. Nevertheless, the excellent Owl Nebula, using excessive in Ursa Main, the Nice Bear, is, and the spooky Ghost of Jupiter, mendacity nicely south of the celestial equator in Hydra, the Water Snake, is an accessible although difficult object.

The Owl Nebula (Messier 97) lies near Messier 108 (NGC 3556), the fantastic inclined spiral galaxy.

Swoop down on the Owl Nebula

Messier 97 (NGC 3587) is a superb planetary nebula that’s considered one of simply 4 elevated with Messier standing, the others being the Ring Nebula (Messier 57) in Lyra, the Dumbbell Nebula (Messier 27) in Vulpecula and the Little Dumbbell (Messier 76) in Perseus.

Messier 97, universally generally known as the Owl Nebula, is situated in Ursa Main, the Nice Bear, an incredible constellation of the far northern sky whose territory is basically circumpolar (by no means units) from UK shores. As soon as skies darken on March evenings, the Nice Bear’s well-known Plough (or Large Dipper) asterism of seven vibrant stars is climbing excessive within the east-north-east, culminating at round 11.30pm GMT. 

The Owl Nebula (Messier 97) lies to the south-east of Merak (beta Ursae Majoris), the southern ‘pointer star’ within the Nice Bear’s Plough asterism. The Ghost of Jupiter (NGC 3242) lies within the western reaches of Hydra, the Water Snake. It’s situated just below 2° south of magnitude +3.8 mu (μ) Hydrae. AN graphics By Greg Smye-Rumsby.

Monitoring down the Owl’s location is simple, given the rudimentary process of finding the Plough. As soon as discovered, zero-in on magnitude +2.3 Merak (beta [β] Ursae Majoris), the southern ‘pointer’ star marking the south-western nook of the ‘bowl’ of the Plough. Messier 97 handily sits simply 2° to the south-east.

Sadly for binocular viewers, the Owl flies fairly below the radar owing to its low floor brightness, its elusiveness (magnitude +9.9) rendering it past their grasp. It may be snared below a darkish, clear sky by a 80mm (three-inch) telescope and from suburban skies in a 100mm (four-inch) telescope fitted with an O-III filter, although life can be simpler by using a 150mm (six-inch) aperture. The Owl is a big planetary, spanning over 3’ at its fullest extent.

Messier 97 is called the Owl owing to its most well-known characteristic, a pair of spookily darkish ‘eyes’ peering again at observers. Lord Rosse noticed Messier 97 along with his 72-inch Leviathan telescope in 1848, coining the nickname after sketching two darker patches inside Messier 97’s general nebulosity. Superior modern-day instrumentation means you’ll not require such a monstrous aperture to see the eyes, but it surely’s possible that not less than a 250mm (10-inch) telescope should be pressed into service.

The Ghost of Jupiter is a time period coined for the planetary nebula NGC 3242 by early observers, who have been reminded of the planet Jupiter owing to the nebula’s squashed disc. Picture: Jim Misti.

Spirit wanted to glimpse the Ghost

NGC 3242, imaginatively nicknamed ‘the Ghost of Jupiter’, is situated in direction of the western finish of the sprawling constellation of Hydra. It may be situated on a fantastic night time via a moderate-aperture telescope, whereas imagers can seize a handsome object with a flattened disc that’s harking back to a small Jupiter.

The Ghost of Jupiter is simple to find, mendacity below 2° south of mu (μ) Hydrae, although you’ll want a 100–150mm (four- to six-inch) telescope to identify its ninth-magnitude disc which spans 30” to 40”. It’s southern declination of 18° 45’ is lower than excellent from mid-northern latitudes, which incorporates the UK. From the south of England it peaks at an altitude of round 20° at about 10.30pm GMT, tracing a shallow arc throughout the southern sky; attempt to catch it for an hour or so both aspect of fruits.

When you’ve discovered the Ghost, strive including a UHC or O-III filter whereas ramping up the facility as a lot because the seeing permits; you may even see a disc inside a disc, an interior, brighter zone, the place the eleventh-magnitude white-dwarf remnant resides. The nebula glows with a faint however unmistakable blue-green hue.


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