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Out there

Delicacies on Via Lactea

Mark Wagner

NGC6543, Cat's Eye Nebula sketched by Peter Natscher.

NGC6520 and B86, photographed by Mischa Schirmer, Germany

Veronica Lake


If all you like are hunting fuzzy little galaxies, stop reading now. Contained in this article are objects located in the Milky Way, what professional galaxy hunters refer to as the ZOA — the zone of avoidance.

Although some of these objects may be viewed in your backyard, why not have some real fun? Look at TAC's "observing sites" page ( for local sites where the skies are so much darker. all within short drives. Join other observers at these sites by watching the mailing list on TAC near observing weekends. It is a friendly and helpful group!

Here are a few good targets for this month:

NGC 6543 is the Cat's Eye Nebula in Draco. With good steadiness, the shell can reveal some intricate inner detail. At mag 8.1 it is easy to see. Local observer Peter Natscher noted "the bright blue/purple planetary shows its two overlapping oval lobes and ring detail along with the inner darker area surrounding the bright central star."

Does the Blinking Planetary blink? Put sufficient power on NGC 6826 to show its shell. Don't over magnify it. With the object centered, you'll see the small puffball. Concentrate, staring directly at it and suddenly you'll see the shell "blink out" leaving only the pinpoint central star. As soon as you move your eye though, the star hides and the puffball shows itself again.

NGC 6802 is a little open cluster very near "The Coathanger" (Melotte 111). From my backyard it is "small, dim, and looked like an unresolved globular cluster." While there, be sure to enjoy The Coathanger in a binocular.

NGC 6633 is an open cluster in Ophiuchus described by Jane Houston Jones as "best viewed in a wide-field at low magnification, the 30 star loose cluster, at mag 4.7 resembles a ... retriever? ... it looks just like a miniature Canis Major, complete with ears, snout, bared teeth, four legs . and a tail!"

Here is a dim one viewed from my backyard in a 10" dob. "NGC 6781, mag 12.0, 1.8', in Aquila is a smallish planetary nebula. I suspected it without a filter, but upon installing the UHC it was an easy target. Although it is described as a "planetary ring" I saw no evidence of a ring, just a fairly solid circle. The object is easy to locate, one third the distance between Delta and Zeta Aquilae."

Robert Leyland, an excellent north bay observer, describes "a couple of open clusters, between Delta and Nu Aquila, NGC 6755 a large loose open cluster, with two more concentrated knots of stars, nearby NGC 6756 is smaller, and tighter like a scattering of salt grains."

Jamie Dillon is fun, writing about an open cluster in Scutum. "Veronica Lake Cluster, 6704, just north of the Wild Duck, with a trailing arm of stars curling out from the center, like Ms Lake being sultry with her hair over one eye." Jamie. how do you come up with them?

The Little Gem. Two objects with the same name? Both are planetaries. David Kingsley, using a 7" dob, writes NGC "6818, also known as the Little Gem, is a bright tight planetary with a clear hint of a hole visible. This gives it a mini-M57 appearance, with the nice additional feature of a triangular corral of field stars surrounding the nebula. A very pretty view." Steve Gottlieb describes NGC 6939 "At 380x this was a beautiful annular planetary about 30 arc-second diameter with a well-defined 15 arc-second dark central hole. The rim was clearly brighter along the N edge and slightly weaker on the following edge." Two gems, same name?

Let's finish with a wonderful pair of objects in the same field of view. Make sure to be at a dark site to view this. Albert Highe describes B86 and NGC 6520 as "located in a rich area of the Milky Way, I would normally consider these objects unremarkable by themselves. But I find the juxtaposition of the higher density of stars against the near absence of stars to be fascinating. It is one of those objects I return to every opportunity I get." I couldn't agree more. It is a beautiful and amazing sight!

There are many objects worth visiting. See the box for a list of some, including those above.

NGC 654317 58 00.0+66 37 00.0PNCat's Eye
NGC 682619 44 00.0+50 31 00.0PNBlinking
NGC 682319 43 00.0+23 18 00.0OC 
NGC 680219 30 00.0+20 16 00.0OC 
NGC 663318 27 00.0+06 34 00.0OC 
NGC 678119 18 00.0+06 32 00.0PN 
NGC 675619 08 00.0+04 41 00.0OC 
NGC 675519 07 00.0+04 14 00.0OC 
NGC 671218 53 00.0-08 42 00.0GC 
NGC 651718 01 00.0-08 57 00.0GC 
NGC 681819 43 00.0-14 09 00.0PNLittle Gem
NGC 664518 32 00.0-16 54 00.0OC 
NGC 644517 49 00.0-20 00 00.0PN 
NGC 644017 48 00.0-20 21 00.0GC 
NGC 658318 15 00.0-22 08 00.0OC 
NGC 651418 02 00.0-23 02 00.0ER 
NGC 636917 29 00.0-23 45 00.0PNLittle Gem
NGC 640117 38 00.0-23 54 00.0GC 
NGC 663818 30 00.0-25 29 00.0GC 
NGC 635517 23 00.0-26 21 00.0GC 
NGC 654018 06 00.0-27 45 00.0GC 
NGC 652018 03 00.0-27 54 00.0OCwith B86
NGC 652218 03 00.0-30 02 00.0GC 
NGC 652818 04 00.0-30 03 00.0GC 


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