The Eagle Nebula, M16. All rights reserved. Photo: Kent DeGroff

EYES TO THE SKY: Amateur astronomers soar: The Eagle Nebula

Avid observers, known as amateur astronomers (amateur from amour, love, lovers of) are also very social, gathering together in clubs, at star parties, around observatories and planetariums.

September 30 – October 13, 2019

Mount Washington — Looking up to the sky, I receive in solitude nighttime’s cosmic darkness awash with infinite stars. During the day, I find myself gazing into the depths of the soft blue heavens. As a student of astronomy, I seek out accomplished sky observers, known as amateur astronomers (“amateur” from amour, love, lovers of), who gather together in clubs, at star parties, around observatories and planetariums.  I am enjoying friendships with amateur astrophotographers whom I met through astronomy clubs and conferences. In this “Eyes to the Sky,” we have the pleasure of looking into space through the eyes of Ken Blumberg and Kent DeGroff, who have awed us in past issues.

Looking through a telescope, we travel in light years. Be prepared for big numbers. One light year is equal to 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers or nearly 6 trillion miles. Take the lens covers off!

About the Eagle Nebula, Kent writes: “This object, about 7000 light years away, includes a cluster of about 8500 stars. The Eagle or ‘Pillars of Creation’ can be seen near the center of the field. Consisting of gas and dust, the columns act as incubators for star formation. Lumpy areas on the surface of the columns are denser areas with ‘Evaporating Gaseous Globules’ (EGGS) where more stars are forming. The longest pillar extends about 9.5 light years. (Wikipedia) Overall, the nebula is an emission region of H-alpha (hydrogen) radiation. That’s the red color. The bluish areas are caused by reflection of light from nearby stars.”

Eagle Nebula, Plainfield, Mass., July 29, 2019. Photo: Ken Blumberg

Ken offers: “The Eagle nebula is a well known bright nebula in the constellation Serpens. My photo was taken at the Rockland Astronomy Club Summer Star Party at Peppermint Park Campground in Plainfield MA on July 29, 2019. I was planning on only viewing but did have my new Canon 1DX Mark II camera that I use for wildlife and bird photography and adaptor to attach it to my 9.25 inch F10 Celestron Schmdt-Cassegrain Telescope. Taking advantage of the superb ISO range of the camera I tried various exposure and ISO combinations, keeping the exposure 30 sec or less. This photo … was a single 30 second exposure at ISO 20,0000. No special filters or modifications on the camera. The photo was cropped and only contrast and exposure tweaked in lightroom. The color is true color in that no filters are used and the single shot taken shows the blues and reds very well because the sensor is sensitive to blue and red. Your eyes would not see these colors because the retina is more green sensitive. We see the nebula as a white or greenish white.”

Kent continues: “This is a good object to observe with small amateur telescopes in a dark sky. It is located in the Sagittarius star clouds not far from our Galactic Center along with other nebulae and clusters. Although the colors are not visible to the eye through a telescope, it is still wonderful to see on a warm summer night!”

As autumn begins, look to the south-southwest as soon as darkness falls for farewell appreciations of summer constellations and to become acquainted with the neighborhood of the Eagle Nebula. See diagram and bring binoculars to scan for the Eagle.

Sept. 30, 7:45 p.m. On Oct. 2 a crescent moon appears upper right of Scorpius. Scorpius sets around 8 p.m. in early October. Image: Judy Isacoff/Starry Night


Astrophotography by Kent DeGroff, Whiskey Creek Observatory, New Mexico

Astrophotography by Ken Blumberg, Rockland Astronomy Club, Rockland County, New York

Light year

Binocular viewing

Opportunities to participate

Oct. 12, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Children’s Space and Astronomy Fair. Free admission.

Save the Date April 4 – 5, 2020 Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF)

Save the Date Aug. 14 – 23, 2020 Summer Star Party