Sunday, 5 February 2017

And now for something completely different...

I thought, after the spectacle of the Orion Nebula: "Now let's show you something incredibly difficult". Minkowski 1-18 (M1-18) is a planetary nebula. Being of the 14th magnitude it's also an incredibly faint one and you need quite a bit of telescope and a very good sky in order to see it. I've read about someone who claims to have seen it in a 10" scope but that doesn't sound very credible to me since it was as close to invisible in my 18" binoscope as it could get. The reason for that is that it must be very distant. I couldn't find any details about this little nebula anywhere but considering its location in the southern constellation of Puppis (the stern) and its faintness I assume it must reside somewhere in the furthest extension of the Perseus arm of our Milky Way. This means that we're talking about a distance of some 12.000 to 18.000 lightyears. This also implies that we're still seeing it because light's travelling so "slowly". The light that we're seeing today of this nebula started its voyage some 12.000 to 18.000 years ago. But in reality this nebula's already dissipated into space much more by now, probably beyond the point that it would still be observable visibly through amateur telescopes. It's one of these odd effects when considering the size of the universe and the speed of light. Probably we're seeing many things in out sky that in reality are no longer there, but the light of the events that caused their disappearance hasn't reached us yet. Observing the stars is observing the past and the further you look, the further you're looking back in time. But for now, let's still enjoy little Minkowski 1-18 and the challenge that it takes to find it. In the end, that's also one of the things that makes astronomical observation so rewarding. Often you can spend hours trying to find something. And when you eventually do find it, it fills you with a deep satisfaction and a gratifying sense of achievement. 

So on you go... try to find it on my sketch! :-)

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