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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: Simeis 147

Jan 01 2021 07:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

The year 1054 must have been an active one for stargazers. That was the year that the famous Crab Nebula supernova blasted forth, shining brightly enough for Chinese and Native American skywatchers to note a "new star" blazing near what we now call the tip of one of Taurus the Bull's two horns. The 1054 supernova was so bright that it was visible in broad daylight during the summer of that year and remained visible to the naked eye for nearly a year. Today, we know the fading gaseous remnant of that all-consuming event as the Crab Nebula, M1.

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Cosmic Challenge: NGC 1360

Dec 01 2020 01:01 PM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Many stargazers consider Fornax, the Furnace, to be a constellation of the deep south, and therefore, invisible from mid-northern latitudes. While it is true that Fornax scrapes the southern horizon on early winter evenings, it does so at much the same altitude as Scorpius does during the summer. If you can see Scorpius from your observing site in July, you can see Fornax tonight. Assuming it's clear, of course!

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Cosmic Challenge: The Eye of Mars

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

With Mars just having passed opposition on October 13, I thought it might be fun to challenge you to see a specific surface feature on the Red Planet before it slips too far away.

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Cosmic Challenge: Spotting Uranus

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

On March 12, 1781, the solar system was a simple, very well-behaved place that was best summed up with the phrase "what you see is what you get." There were the Sun, the Moon, and the five planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Apart from a handful of moons orbiting some of the planets and the occasional faint comet that required a telescope to be seen, the entire contents of the solar system was naked-eye territory.

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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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