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Could I Have Seen the Horsehead?

  1. Jan 12, 2008 #1
    The other night I was outside observing with my telescope (12" Zhumell Dob) and I saw Mars, the Pleiades, several random constellations and some bright blue planet/star. I also found a small light blue 'smudge' though, and after about five minutes it still hadn't moved and appeared to have four or five faint stars in the center. It was so faint that I had to use averted vision just to see it clearly but it appeared to have a definite shape and maybe it was my imagination, but it looked a bit like the Horsehead Nebula.

    I'm in a fairly light-polluted area and I know the Horsehead is pretty far away, so my question is, could that have been what I was seeing or was it probably something else?

    Thanks.

    EDIT: I should mention that it was fairly close to the three bright stars in the Orion constellation, but it was to the lower right of them, not the left as the Wikipedia page said.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 12, 2008 #2

    russ_watters

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    Staff: Mentor

    It sounds to me like you were looking at the orion nebula itself. It has 4 stars in the central, brightest part, and is visible in binoculars. The Horsehead has one bright star near it, but is generally not visible through an eyepiece. The Orion nebula is in the center of Orion's sword and the cluster of 4 stars is visible as the middle "star" in the sword to the naked eye.

    What is your location and what eyepiece were you using? The Orion nebula shows up very easily in a telescope like yours. Make sure you are using a low power (long focal length) eyepiece to view it though.
     
  4. Jan 12, 2008 #3
    Are you using any filter?
     
  5. Jan 13, 2008 #4
    What you describe sounds exactly like the orion nebula. To be able to see the actual horsehead, you need a Hydrogen-Alpha filter, it's not visible to the eye. Although some amature astronomers have said they were able to see it under dark sky conditions, I personally haven't been able to see anything with my telescope even when observing under fairly dark skies.

    The bright cloud to the bottom of this picture shows you what you probably saw, and the horsehead which is just underneath the left star of those three stars in orion's belt.

    http://www.robertreeves.com/k42horse.jpg
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2008
  6. Jan 13, 2008 #5
    I wasn't using a filter, and first was looking at it through a 32mm Plössl and then switched over to a 9mm to get a closer look. With the 32 it looked like there were only two or three stars and with the 9 it looked more like four or five in a trapezoidal shape. I think Russ is right because I Googled Orion Nebula and found a picture that shows it in exactly the same spot as I was seeing it.

    Thanks.
     
  7. Jan 13, 2008 #6

    russ_watters

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    Staff: Mentor

    Btw, those stars are called the "Trapezium" because of that distinctive shape.
     
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