Small Wonders: Cygnus
guide for the beginning to intermediate amateur astronomer
The PDF is available.
20h 41m 38.7s
45 17' 59"
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27 58' 18"
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44 32' 16"
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44 12' 13"
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30 44' 12"
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32 10' 14"
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31 44' 16"
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38 30' 58"
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48 26' 40"
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50 32' 21"
21h 06m 31.4s
47 52' 28"
20h 12m 20.0s
38 22' 18"
20h 35m 01.0s
60 10' 19"
PK 64+ 5.1
19h 35m 02.3s
30 31' 45"
is a spectacular summer constellation. For observers
at mid-northern latitudes, it passes directly through zenith and thus
some of the best views of the Milky Way one can see without traveling
There’s a little of everything in Cygnus and I could spend the next
months doing it justice – so instead, I’ve picked out a small
sample of objects for this month’s Small Wonders.
One extremely fun thing to do with the summer
is to grab a decent pair of binoculars and just scan from horizon to
horizon and ogle the rich field targets that pop into view. Many
of the targets this month are easily visible in binoculars. In
fact, many of
the targets are best seen in binoculars. Heck, there’s even one
that I'll talk about (it's not in the list however) that's best seen
with the naked eye!
We’ll start with the constellation itself.
(amazingly enough) a constellation that even we unimaginative modern
luddites can visualize as its namesake – the swan. But from
whence did this celestial avian come? Rumor has it, one
explanation for the
Swan’s presence in the celestial sphere lies in ancient
Greco-Roman mythology. Cygnus, is really the god Zeus
in Swan form. Why you might ask? Well, it's obviously to
seduce Leda (the king of Sparta’s wife). For reasons unclear to
this writer, he apparently thought his odds would be better as a swan
than the head
god in the given pantheon. He was evidently right, and the result
Go figure. Another possible origin for the celestial bird, lies
with Cycnus, Posidon’s son.
Abandoned by his parents and raised by a swan, Cycnus was eventually
into one by Posidon after he was killed by Archillies. (Do these
/ Roman myths remind anyone else of today’s soap operas?)
In any case, the bird form is not much of a
stretch, and has
in fact, been seen as one avian or another from ancient times and
across many cultures. However, just in case,
some of us have problems connecting the dots (and adding a few
feathers) the constellation is also nicknamed “The Northern Cross”.
Two of the more interesting stars in the
found at the tip of the head and the tail respectively. Alpha
Cygnus (Deneb) marks the tail of the celestial swan and is one of the
components of the Summer
triangle – the others being Vega (Lyra) and Altair (Aqila). At mag 1.25
the 19th brightest star in the night sky.
It’s brightness is
somewhat amazing in relation to its distance. Most bright stars
relatively close. Not Deneb. Distance estimates place it at
3229 +/- 1165
light years. While it’s not a particularly huge star, if
placed at the center
of the solar system, it would swallow earth and be 160,000 times
the sun. Jim Kaler (on the STARS website) reports that it’s
fusing hydrogen and is due for an explosion in the next couple of
years. I guess the motto is enjoy the summer triangle while
you’ve got it.
The bird’s head is marked by a beautiful double
that’s a favorite at
summer star parties. Beta Cyg (Albireo)
is a widely separated double whose colors of blue and gold offset each
While color is often subtle thing in the night sky, it helps that these
are right next to each other to provide contrast.
Albireo has a separation
of around 34 arc seconds, and the primary is magnification 3.5 while
the dimmer component is mag 5. Multiple stars are estimated to be
more common that singlets,
making our solar system (again) something of an odd man out.
Albireo is at it’s best in small telescopes and moderate
by Bill Warden
Another area to take a long glance at around here
is the Milky
Way itself. Starting just below Deneb and heading south,
we can see the beginning of the “great rift” a massive dust lane that
blocks our view of the
Cygnus arm. The area just south of Deneb where the great rift
begins (visible to
the naked eye) is catalogued as LDN 896 and referred to as the Northern
Coalsack. Just north
of Deneb, there’s a more prominent hole in the sky that’s often
Northern Coalsack – and with good reason. While gazing at this
area with my
naked eyes one night, I was struck by the chunk of Milky Way that
removed from the galactic arm there and seemingly transported to the
There’s a plethora of wonderful telescopic deep
in Cygnus, so let’s get started.
NGC 7000 and IC 5070
Three degrees almost directly east of Deneb, we
one of the most photographed nebulae in the night sky. The North
Nebula is spectacular in long exposure photographs, and unlike many
objects in the sky clearly resembles its
namesake. Until recently tho, its been considered a challenge
object. I’ve found its visibility is heavily dependent on sky
frequently have found it easier to view in smaller instruments than
ones. Two of the reasons for this are undoubtedly the vast amount
of nebulosity in
the region and its sheer size. At over three degrees, only a
scope of pair of binoculars will allow you to see it in it’s
of visibility with the naked eye vary. While I can see a haze in
proper position, I’ve never been convinced that I’m actually seeing the
instead of a mass of unresolved stars in the Milky Way. Others
say they can clearly
make out the form. Take a look and make up your own mind.
On a good night, I’ve viewed it with instruments as small
as 12x36 binoculars, and not found it particularly difficult.
*Slightly* larger scopes do tend to provide better
From a dark site, and observing buddy and I were recently treated to an
view of the North American using a 66mm telescope coupled with a 20mm
eyepiece and UHC filter. With my widest field eyepiece, the
Nebula just fits
in the field of view of my 880mm focal length 4” apo. A friends
4” 540mm apo
framed the target much better. In my opinion, larger telescopes
than this tend to
provide too much magnification and thus to narrow a field of
view. For the
best views, I like an eyepiece telescope combination that provides at
three degrees (six times the width of the full moon). I find the
to be the Mexico / Central America area, which points towards the
an eye out for orange Xi Cygni off the cost of California. This
celestial beacon can interfere your your views of the nebula. If
it does, be sure to
place it outside of the field of view.
IC 5070 (Pellican) - Image contributed
by Nick King
While you’re in the area, take a moment
and scan the Atlantic coast off the Florida region for the Pelican
find it easier to see than pictures of the region would leave you to
and find it surprising that many people don't seem to bother even
looking. Again, it’s a
large diffuse target so low powers and wide fields are a must. In
the 66mm Petzval
(coupled with a UHC filter and a dark site) I’ve found the beak of the
to be amazingly like Nick King's long exposure photograph above.
Surprisingly, it’s not
that difficult of an object, but like the North American is dependent
fields, low powers and sky conditions.
Chauveau - Observing from France writes;
My best views of the North
been with a 6" Mak-newt. It has a combination
(high transmission lenses and
superior baffling) which makes
that it's the only scope with
which I can see
the NA shape clearly.
filter is an UHC-type, though a deep-sky type helps too for low magnifications,
dark skies. Only in "arctic Canada" is the
the limit not defined
well (I guess that's because of
our melting polar caps); the
"edge" is the Gulf of
I do not notice
features within the
nebula, only slight changes in
luminosity. I also noticed that "Florida" is much more
you would expect from
the photographs. The Pelican is
right off the
and I can see
some "draping" features in
it, much like
what you see in the pictures..
I find Matt’s comments about trying to observe the
American with a large scope to match my experiences perfectly
On my 16"
dob, the magnification is
too high: you
notice the sky
is not as dark
as it was before, but it's like trying to see the shape of North America in a
plane at 30,000
feet: not enough distance. Also,
with 16" of aperture, the starfield (even
with a narrowband filter) is much too
bright to see the nebula well (remember,
the brightness of extended objects
depends on the exit pupil, but the
brightness of stars depends on the aperture). My recommendation
is that if
you try to look at this thing with anything less than 1.5° of fov, you
for a frustrating experience.
7000 image contributed
by Njec Ucman
The Veil – IC 1340, NGC 6992/6995, NGC
by Nejc Ucman
15,000 years ago, a supergiant star in Cygnus (at
times the mass of the sun) died in a Type II Supernova.
The result is easily one of the most spectacular
the night sky - in any aperture. I’ve seen it in everything from
to 25 inch telescopes, and every size telescope has something to offer
usually a jaw dropping, time stealing, eyeball popping view. If
you think the
still Messiers are the best objects in the night sky, you are gonna be
in for a
There are three main sections: 6992/6995 (the
Bridal Veil or
Network Nebula), 6979/6974 (Pickerings Triangular Wisp), and 6960
of God or the Filamentary Nebula), and viewed from a dark site, in a
large scope, the nebula seems to be nearly without end.
The Finger of God is visible in small telescopes
but the glare from 52 Cygni can make observations difficult. If
you have access
to an OIII or UHC filter, you might give that a try. I see the
The Finger of God as a
broom like shape that runs north/south through 52 cygni, with the broom
southern side. Views at moderate magnifications with a large
telescope clearly reveal how it got it's nickname.
The most obvious section is the Bridal
Veil. With decent
sky conditions, and a NELM of 5.5, the Bridal Veil is easily visible in
of Canon 12x36 image stabilized binoculars as an arcing wisp of
against the night sky. It becomes far more visible in my 66mm
telescope – especially
when an OIII or UHC filter is used.
I find both of these sections difficult to pick
out from the
background until a filter is used, and then you wonder how you ever
For larger apertures, I feel the Veil responds better to an OIII filter
UHC type, but both can provide you with spectacular views depending on
the particular passband of the filter in question. With a
sized telescope, you can spend hours tweaking out the detail present.
have some serious aperture, you’re in for an immense treat. I was
treated to the best view I’ve ever had of the Veil while comparing my
a buddies NP101. We were both using OIII filters, but his
telescope provided a
slightly wider true field of view and thus framed it a bit better
to drink in the entire nebula at once. This is a LARGE object, if
you want to
appreciate it in it’s entirety, you need a minimum of a three degree
view. If you want to give a detailed inspection of it’s
structure, point as much
aperture as you can at it. Views of the Veil through an 18" to
25" (or larger) telescope equipped with an OIII filter is enough to
inspire awe in the most jaded amateur.
If you get both halves, take a while and scan for
triangle (the triangular patch near the middle). I’ve glimpsed it
in scopes as
small as 4”, but to really appreciate it I find it takes something
Messiers in Cygnus - M29 and M39
I find it curious that with the plethora of
objects in Cygnus,
only two were recorded by Messier, and both of those rather loose open
Of the two, I find that I generally prefer the views of M29 through
or a small telescope. I find that M39 does not stand out from the
as well, and tends to be come lost in the jungle of the Milky
Way. M29 is a neat little cluster that tends to jump out at me
through nearly any
aperture and magnification. I tend to see M29 as a small chalice
of the constellation Crater), the goblet of Cygnus if you will, and
best views to be in small scopes that will provide me around a two
of view. I think this is aesthetically the most pleasing way to
view the cluster;
set against the splendor of the Milky way. M39, I find to
be large and
sparse, a bit too much for my taste. Take some time and
investigate both clusters
in binoculars and a small telescope. Binocular observers have
of stars, similar to Eric Graff’s wonderful sketch, running through the
contributed by Eric Graff
The Crescent Nebula – NGC 6888
This is an exceedingly tough target for a small
From a dark site, I grabbed it only with difficulty in my 4” apo.
I had to
use 40x, an OIII filter and charts to actually confirm the exact
order to convince myself that the slight brightening I was seeing was
actually the nebula and not unresolved
stars in the Milky Way background. In a larger scope, it becomes
far easier. In my
18” I found it quite obvious, and reminded me of the Bridal Veil
portion of the Veil
nebula when seen through small telescope from a dark site. I
filters do improve the views – particularly the OIII.
Contributed by Carol Lakomiak>
6888 Image contributed
by Florent Pioget
NGC 6826 – The Blinking Planetary
Planetary Nebulae are, without a doubt, my
favorite class of
objects in the night sky. Cygnus is particularly blessed with
these little creatures,
and one of my favorites is 6826. I’ve seen 6826 in a variety of
apertures, and I get a kick out of it every time.
Like most planetary nebulae, the surface brightness is rather high, and
be viewed in a large class of telescope. The best view I’ve ever
had 6826 was
through my clubs 25” telescope, and the most unique, through Gary
Gibb’s 15” I3
equipped Obsession. Both presented interesting, and similar, yet
views to your eye. If you aren’t familiar with the I3 eyepiece,
you might want
to check out their website here: http://www.ceoptics.com/
Think night intensifier equipment mated to TeleVue optics. While
it does not
work equally well for all DSO’s, it does provide some very interesting
planetary nebulae, usually makes nailing the central star a snap.
6826 is often called the blinking planetary, and
for good reason. In
smaller apertures, I find the shell seems to blink on and off when
between direct and averted vision. This curious effect can keep
entertained for entirely too long. To see what I'm talking about,
use a moderate power (I
find for smaller apertures 100x or so works) then glance away
from the nebula and view it with averted vision. The shell will
appear to swell in
size. Glancing back to the planetary and viewing it with direct
vision then causes
it to shrink. Planetaries are one of the few objects most
users will be able
to see color in. I find 6826 to show a vivid shade of blue, even
in scopes as
small as 4”.
Reader John Kocijanski writes:
...it is neat to
see the double
star 16 Cygni and NGC 6826 in the same field of view. I use 16 Cygni to
it. Once I find the double finding the planetary is easy.
planetary just floats in a sea of stars.
6826 Image contributed
by John Grahm
NGC 7026 – The Cheese Burger Nebula
I found this to be an odd little planetary
non-stellar at lower powers than I expected, and appears a bit extended
even in small scopes. When
viewed with a large telescope at high powers, it’s obviously bi-polar
lobe being much brighter than another.
Curiously, an observing partner and myself noted a
running just off center of the planetary in my 18” telescope at
but when we increased the magnification, the line appeared to
pushed the magnification on this little guy up to around 800x (and
no sight of the mag 14.2 central star. I suspect that the
of the planetary tends to mask it. I’d be most interested in
anyone who has actually seen it.
Visually, it does not look much like a
through the eyes of a CCD – well, judge for yourself.
NGC7026 - Image contributed by John
While we’re talking planetary nebula and Cygnus,
want to take a minute and visit NGC 6894 as well. This 40”
a mini-M57 when viewed through a moderate aperture telescope.
Cygnus truly has one of everything – maybe.
rare in this area – the collection of gas and dust in the arm of the
tends to block just about everything extra-galactic, but 6946 makes it
through. On the far northern border of Cygnus we find the spiral
galaxy 6946 - *right* on the border. SkyMap and the Observing Handbook and
Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects both place it in Cygnus, but the Night Sky Users
Guide places it in Cepheus. To most of us it probably
won’t matter, as it’s
awful hard to see that dotted line running through the center of the
view in any case. Like many galaxies, this one is typically a
mere blip in
smaller scopes, but does begin to show some structure in larger
you have a 15” or larger, take the time and see if you can pick out
Challenge Object: Campbell’s
Hydrogen Star (PK 64+ 5.1)
This one is, well, honestly, I’m not sure what it
used to be considered a planetary nebula, but if it is, it’s an odd
not positive the camp that thinks it shouldn’t be classified as a
figured out exactly where it should be put yet either. Some of
guesses seem to class it as a wolf-rayet star with a shell.
ok, so is it.
Whatever it is, it bears a look – not only for
it's name, but for the rare chance to see red in the night
Thanks to Brian Skiff, at least the history of this object is a bit
although it was first brought to the communities attention by Campbell
1890’s, it was actually discovered via a series of plates by Williamina
working at Harvard.
Even at high powers, it’s nearly stellar, and
an easy catch (if you know exactly what you are looking for) it’s
visually non-interesting in small apertures. In larger scopes,
look for a
reddish tint and a very small extension. It looks stellar at all
highest powers, and does not respond well to OIII or UHC filters
planetary nebulae). There are reports of H-Beta filters being
used to some success.
In order to spot this one, you’ll need to have
some good charts
in the field.
Bonus Challenge Object:
I’m throwing this one out for all you jaded folks
seen the Messier’s 1,000,000 times, worked your way though both the NGC
IC, knocked off the Palomar’s and the Hicksons and want something a
unusual. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be any fun at all
if I told you what
it was or where to find it, or how difficult a catch it might be, now
If and when you DO observe this one, please be
sure to drop
me an e-mail and let me know.
Night Sky Observers Guide –
Kepple and Sanner
Objects – Stephen James O’Meara
Catalog of Deep-Sky Objects – Luginbuhl and Skiff
The Aintno 100
love to hear
of your experiences under the night sky - please feel free to
e-mail me or send any observing reports to: email@example.com
Please indicate if I can cite your observations in future columns.
If you like these articles, you may be interested in browsing the rest of the series.
Photographic Images Courtesy DSS: copyright notice
Star Charts Courtesy Chris Marriott, SkyMap Pro 10 Printed
Special Thanks to Collin Smith for his editorial
and to all the readers who contribute their observations, images and