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Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge



If you're like me, you have probably seen Jupiter, Saturn, the Orion Nebula, and all of the sky's showpiece objects more times than you can count. And while they are truly spectacular and well worth revisiting, you may be looking for something new, something challenging to observe.

That's the premise behind this new monthly e-column here on Cloudy Nights. Each month, we will look for objects that, quite honestly, many amateurs don't even know exist!



Cosmic Challenge: Ring Nebula Central Star and Galaxy IC 1296

Sep 01 2020 05:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

As we say goodbye to summer and get ready to welcome in autumn, I thought I would offer not one, but two challenges this month to bridge the seasonal change. Both appear right next to each other in our sky but are millions of light years apart. And both require all the aperture you can throw at them to be seen.

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Cosmic Challenge: NGC 6445, The Box Nebula

Aug 01 2020 05:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

The sky is full of weird sights. And among planetary nebulae, NGC 6445 is one of the strangest. Discovered by William Herschel on May 28, 1786, NGC 6445 shines at 11th magnitude. That's bright enough to be seen even through giant binoculars. Although visible in smaller apertures, it takes a 6-inch telescope for NGC 6445's true, if bizarre, nature to shine through. The nebula's brighter central shell looks like a dented rectangle. Nature rarely creates an amorphous form with sharp edges, and indeed, the peculiar appearance of NGC 6445 is due largely to our perspective as well as its age. But the look is very odd nonetheless. No wonder NGC 6445 has been nicknamed the Box Nebula.

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Cosmic Challenge: Seyfert's Sextet

Jul 06 2020 03:00 PM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Seyfert's Sextet, known to many as Hickson Compact Galaxy Group 79, is a tight gathering of galaxies in the northern corner of Serpens Caput. Serpens Caput is the western segment of this bisected constellation, marking the triangular head of the serpent that Ophiuchus is handling. Observing Seyfert's Sextet has been one of my pet projects for years. It's a fun little galactic rat pack for summer outings before we plunge headlong into the summer Milky Way.

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Cosmic Challenge: Rupes Recta (Straight Wall), Huygen's Sword, Birt, and Rima Birt

Jun 01 2020 05:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

What is your favorite lunar feature? Maybe it's the mighty craters Copernicus or Tycho. Or could it be the historic Sea of Tranquility? Perhaps you enjoy visiting the rugged southern highlands around Clavius, or the Apennine and Alp Mountains. If I had to come up with my favorite target, it would have to be a far more modest sight. I always enjoy looking for and at the Straight Wall.

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Cosmic Challenge: Two Pairs

May 01 2020 05:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Most agree that the Messier catalog of deep-sky objects stands as the finest single compilation of star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies visible from the northern hemisphere. When it comes time to single out the finest of the list's 109 entries, however, we often have trouble agreeing. Is it the Orion Nebula, M42; the Great Globular Cluster, M13; or maybe the Ring Nebula, M57? So many choices! One thing is for certain -- you'll never find Messier's 40th entry on anyone's "finest" list.

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Cosmic Challenge: Leo Trio 2

Apr 01 2020 05:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

You have undoubtedly heard of the Leo Trio, made up of M65, M66, and NGC 3628. But how about the Leo Trio 2? The Leo Trio 2 are tucked snuggly into the constellation's northernmost quadrant, some 7° north of the Leo "sickle."

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Cosmic Challenge: Arp 82

Mar 01 2020 07:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

The constellation Cancer the Crab may not be much to look at, but it holds some fascinating objects within its emaciated body. Case in point: Arp 82, the 82nd entry in Halton Arp's Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies. Made up of NGC 2535 and NGC 2536, Arp 82 is a strange pair that seems to be experiencing a galactic version of arrested development.

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Cosmic Challenge: February 2020 NGC 2298

Feb 01 2020 07:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Although most globular clusters line the summer sky as they huddle around the core of our galaxy, there are a few renegades that have stepped out on their own to occupy regions far beyond the rest. One such globular, nestled behind the rich Milky Way star fields of Puppis, is NGC 2298.

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Cosmic Challenge: NGC 1535

Jan 01 2020 07:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Planetary nebula NGC 1535 is a victim of circumstance. Take a look at its facts. Its bluish disk spans about a minute of arc, which is quite large as planetaries go, and shines brightly enough to be visible through giant binoculars. Its central star glows at magnitude 11.6, creating a surreal scene resembling a disembodied human eye, which led to the nickname "Cleopatra's Eye." Those in the know rate NGC 1535 as one of the sky's finest planetary nebulae. Yet this enticing target remains unknown to many backyard stargazers.

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Cosmic Challenge: NGC 1 and NGC 2

Dec 01 2019 07:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

As 2019 draws to an end, let's talk about a first. I am always interested in seeing the first of anything, whether it's the first day of a new year, the opening day of baseball season, the first robin of spring, the first snowflake of winter, or the first object in a particular deep-sky catalog. In the case of the latter, NGC 1, along with NGC 2, create our final challenge of the year.

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