Kitt Peak Nightly Observing Program
Splendors of the Universe on YOUR Night!
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M42 The Orion Nebula
M42, the Orion Nebula is a region of star formation about 1,300 light-years away—the closest to our Solar System. It is roughly 30 light-years across, and contains enough material to make 2,000 stars the size of our sun.
M104 (Sombrero Galaxy)
M66 (in Leo Triplet)
M66 is a spiral galaxy, and one of three galaxies in a trio of galaxies called the Leo Triplet. M66 is a stones throw (180,000 light-years) from M65.
M3 is a globular cluster with a half of a million stars. It orbits the core of our Milky Way Galaxy almost perpendicular to the galactic disk. It is currently 33,900 light-years away, and approaching our Solar System at 100 miles per second.
From the late 1990’s to the early 2000’s Motorola launched a total of 95 communication satellites into orbit around Earth. Today, they are most noted not for their intended purpose, but instead for their ability to reflect sunlight. Shiny antennae briefly (for 10-20 seconds) reflect sunlight to make these objects almost as bright as the moon.
That clumpy band of light is evidence that we live in a disk-shaped galaxy. Its pale glow is light from about 200 billion suns!
Human technology! There are almost 500 of these in Low Earth Orbit (we can’t see the higher ones). We see these little “moving stars” because they reflect sunlight.
M46 is an open star cluster containing over 500 stars. It lies at a distance of 5,400 light-years, and is about 30 light-years across. A small, faint, grey disc that seems to be superimposed over the cluster is actually the remnant of a dead star—a planetary nebula known as NGC 2438. NGC 2438 only coincidentally lies along the same line of sight as M46. The cluster and planetary nebula are unrelated; the planetary nebula is about 2,500 light-years closer to the Earth.
NGC 2392 (Eskimo Nebula)
NGC 2438 (in field with M46)
NGC 2438 is the glowing bubble of gas that was cast off by a single star that has died. At a distance of 2,900 light years away it is a foreground object superimposed upon the sparkling star cluster M46.
Jupiter is the largest planet in the Solar System, a “gas giant” 11 Earth-diameters across. Its atmosphere contains the Great Red Spot, a long-lived storm 2-3 times the size of the Earth. The 4 large Galilean satellites and at least 63 smaller moons orbit Jupiter.
Algieba (γ Leo)
Algieba (γ Leonis) is a binary star in the mane of Leo, the lion. These two golden-yellow giant stars are about 23 and 10 times the diameter of the Sun, and are about 130 light-years away. Their orbital period is over 500 years. In 2009, a giant planet was found orbiting one of these stars.
The web page for the program in which you just participated is at
Nightly Observing Program. Most of the above images were taken as
the Overnight Telescope Observing Program. For more information on this unique experience please visit Overnight Telescope Observing Program.
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