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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: Emission Nebula Simeis 57

Sep 01 2019 10:16 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Simeis 57 is one of the most intriguing emission nebulae in the late summer sky, yet it is almost unknown to visual observers. Photographers, however, know it as a pair of opposing arcs of reddish light, one extending to the north, the other to the south, that appear to be spinning symmetrically away from a common center. Its unusual appearance has led to its two nicknames: the Propeller Nebula or the Garden Sprinkler Nebula.

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Cosmic Challenge: Planetary nebula IC 4732

Aug 01 2019 04:55 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

M22 is right in the thick of it, not far from the galactic center of the Milky Way. As such, it has lots of company. One particular planetary nebula proves a worthy adversary through 10- to 14-inch scopes: IC 4732. IC 4732 lies just 1.4° north-northwest of M22. Cataloged at magnitude 12.1, its tiny disk is difficult to pick out from the mob of field stars -- difficult, but not impossible.

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Cosmic Challenge: Lunar craters Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins

Jul 05 2019 11:22 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Last month, I challenged you to find all six of the Apollo landing sites. This month, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's and Edwin Aldrin's historic landing and moon walk, we return to Mare Tranquilitatis, the scene of Apollo 11, to find three small craters that bear the names of that historic mission's crew members.

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Cosmic Challenge: Apollo Landing Sites

May 31 2019 11:46 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Between July 1969 and December 1972, six teams of United States astronauts ventured across the gap between Earth and Moon to land and walk on that distant world. Have you ever visited their landing sites? If not, let's do so now.

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Cosmic Challenge: M51's spiral arms

Apr 30 2019 07:52 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Of the thousands of spiral galaxies visible through backyard telescopes, one stands above the rest in terms of visual interest: M51, the famous Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici. Everything adds up in M51's favor. We are seeing it very nearly face-on, its spiral arm halo is bright and peppered with star clouds and vast regions of nebulosity, and it brings with it a friend in the form of a smaller companion galaxy that can even be seen through giant binoculars.

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Cosmic Challenge: Leo III

Mar 30 2019 09:54 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

A springtime rite of passage started here two years ago. It started in the April 2017 edition of this e-column, when I challenged readers to find the dwarf galaxy Leo I. Leo I is one of many dim dwarf galaxies gravitationally bound to the Milky Way. The fact that its surface brightness rates only 15th magnitude, coupled with its position just 20' north of Regulus makes Leo I a tough challenge to land.

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Cosmic Challenge: NGC 2363 and NGC 2366

Feb 28 2019 04:59 PM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Will the real NGC 2363 please stand up? For years, there has been an ongoing debate over the true identity of the 2,363rd entry in the New General Catalog.

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Cosmic Challenge: Sharpless 2-301

Feb 01 2019 02:39 PM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

While a few of Sharpless's entries, such as Sh2-25 (better known as M8, the Lagoon Nebula) and Sh2-49 (M16, the Eagle Nebula), are well known to visual observers, most are among of the most challenging objects to see visually. If you have never made a concerted effort to see some of the lesser known Sharpless objects, then this challenge, Sh2-301 in Canis Major, is a good introduction to the sport.

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Cosmic Challenge: Jonckheere 320

Jan 01 2019 06:04 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

On January 22, 1916, while revisiting some of the stars in his Catalog and Measures of Double Stars discovered visually from 1905 to 1916 within 105° of the North Pole and under 5" Separation, French astronomer Robert Jonckheere returned to a vague double in Orion, which he had previously designated as entry number 320. Jonckheere was later to write of this encounter through the 28-inch refractor at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, "I noticed that the object I have catalogued as J 320 is not a double star, but, like J 475, it appears with the larger instrument to be an extremely small bright elongated nebula. As is the case with J 900, this object also appears to be new as a nebula."

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Cosmic Challenge: Globular clusters in M31

Dec 01 2018 06:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

The Andromeda Galaxy, M31, was probably one of the first galaxies you ever saw first-hand. It was mine. That was all way back in 1969. Since then, I have grown to appreciate it as far more than just the ill-defined oval blur I drew in my logbook. But in 1969, the thought of looking for individual objects within M31 never crossed my mind.

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