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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: Mons Hadley and Rima Hadley

Jul 01 2021 05:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Fifty years ago this month, on July 30, 1971, Commander David Scott and Pilot James Irwin navigated their Apollo 15 lunar module, nicknamed Falcon, to land among the lunar Apennine mountains, while Alfred Worden remained in orbit aboard the command module, Endeavor. Scott and Irwin guided Falcon to a soft landing between the edge of a deep precipice and the base of a tall mountain to establish Hadley Base, as the landing site became known.

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Cosmic Challenge: Alcor and Mizar

Jun 01 2021 05:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Is there any constellation in the sky more universally known than Ursa Major, the Great Bear? Most of us learned of it as a child, perhaps from a relative or friend, or possibly as a Scout working our way toward a merit badge in astronomy. The seven brightest stars in the group, known in North America as the Big Dipper or in England as the Plough, always draw our attention, especially in the spring when they ride highest in our sky.

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Cosmic Challenge: Markarian's Chain

May 01 2021 05:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Aim your telescope anywhere in the large, seemingly empty gap between the stars Denebola [Beta (β) Leonis] and Vindemiatrix [Epsilon (ε) Virginis] and, given sharp eyes and a dark sky, you are bound to see one or more faint splotches of light somewhere in the eyepiece's field of view. You've entered the Coma-Virgo Realm of Galaxies, a collection of upwards

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Cosmic Challenge: Abell Galaxy Cluster (AGC) 1060

Apr 01 2021 05:00 AM | PhilH in Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge

Finding AGC 1060 is a simple task as long as you can spot 4.5-magnitude SAO 179041. This red giant sun overlaps the center of the cluster and lies 4¼° north of Alpha (α) Antliae. Of course, finding Alpha Antliae presents its own challenge, since it shines at only magnitude 4.2 and lies far from any handy reference stars.

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Cosmic Challenge: Zeta (ζ) Cancri

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

Although it is one of the faintest constellations along the zodiac, Cancer the Crab hosts a variety of targets to test our mettle during the early spring. Spotting M44, the Beehive Cluster, by eye alone may prove very challenging for suburban observers, while the Crab's underappreciated second open cluster, M67, may also reach naked-eye visibility from more rural environs. While the constellation boasts a variety of challenging galaxies, in the test here, we will try our luck with one of the constellation's prettiest binary stars, Zeta (ζ) Cancri.

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Cosmic Challenge: NGC 2438

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

M46 in Puppis is one of my favorite open clusters and a striking sight through just about any telescope. More than 500 stars are crammed into an area just a Moon's diameter across, creating one of the most jam-packed throngs in the winter sky.

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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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