January 13th, 2020 – Dark Sky Discovery with Carmen

Kitt Peak Nightly Observing Program

Splendors of the Universe on YOUR Night!

Many pictures are links to larger versions.
Click here for the “Best images of the OTOP” Gallery and more information.

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.

NGC 2261 Hubble’s Variable Nebula

Hubble’s Variable Nebula is a nebulous cloud of gas illuminated by single star R Monocerotis, 2,500 lightyears away. It is thought that the brightness of this nebula varies due to clouds of dust moving inside the nebula, periodically blocking the illumination of the star.

M31 Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy is our nearest major galactic neighbor. It is a spiral galaxy 2,500,000 light-years away, and has a diameter of 220,000 light-years. This galaxy contains as much material as 1.5 trillion suns.    


M77 is truly remarkable in its extremes. It is 47 million light-years away and at its greatest extent it is 170,000 light-years across (the largest galaxy on the Messier List). Its central portion (shown here) is exceedingly bright—in fact, this galaxy actually changes in brightness due to a black hole in the center.    

NGC 253 Sculptor Galaxy

Ngc 253: The “Silver Dollar Galaxy”. A lumpy, dusty, nearly-edge-on spiral galaxy just a bit smaller than the Milky Way. At least 75 billion solar masses, eleven million lightyears from here. It was discovered by Caroline Hershel in 1783.


Though dim, M79 is just about the only globular cluster easily seen in the Northern Hemisphere Winter sky. It lies 41,000 light-years away and orbits our galaxy further out than our sun does—unusual since most globular clusters are congregated towards the center of the galaxy.    

Milky Way

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.

Zodiacal Light

Zodiacal light is the faint, smooth glow marking the ecliptic (the plane of the solar system). It is sunlight scattered off of gas and dust that orbits the Sun. This is a rare sight, only visible under very dark skies, and best viewed early in the year when the Ecliptic is higher above the horizon.


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 2169 The 37 Cluster

NGC 2169 is an open star cluster in the constellation Orion. It was discovered by Giovanni Batista Hodierna before 1654 and discovered by William Herschel on October 15, 1784. NGC 2169 is at a distance of about 3,600 light-years away from Earth. It is nicknamed The 37 Cluster due to its striking resemblance to the numerals 37.    

NGC 457 The Owl Cluster

NGC 457 is an open star cluster in the constellation Cassiopeia. It was discovered by William Herschel in 1787, and lies over 7,900 light-years away from the Sun. It has an estimated age of 21 million years. The cluster is sometimes referred by amateur astronomers as the Owl Cluster or ET Cluster. The cluster features a rich field of about 150 stars of magnitudes 12-15.    

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.

NGC 7662 Blue Snowball

NGC 7662: A planetary nebula nicknamed the “Blue Snowball.” It is a round cloud thrown off by a dying star, expanded to 1.6 lightyears in diameter. The expanding hot gas would have fried any planets orbiting the star.


Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun, was discovered by Sir William Herschel in 1781. It has a dark set of rings and at least 27 moons. Uranus’s axis of rotation is almost 90 degrees from those of the other planets, as if Uranus has been tipped onto its side.


Venus, the second planet, is the brightest natural object in the sky other than the Sun and Moon and is often erroneously called the “morning star” or “evening star.” It is completely wrapped in sulfuric acid clouds and its surface is hot enough to melt lead.

Albireo (β Cyg)

Named long before anyone knew it was more than one star, Albireo (β Cygni) comprises of a set of stars marking the beak of Cygnus, the swan. Through a telescope, we see two components shining in pale, but noticeably contrasting colors: orange and blue. The difference in color is due to the stars’ difference in temperature of over 9000°C! The brighter orange component, Albireo A, is actually a true binary system, though we can’t resolve two stars in the telescope. The fainter blue component, Albireo B, may be only passing by, and not gravitationally interacting with Albireo A at all. Albireo is about 430 light-years away.

Hind’s Crimson Star (R Lep)

Hind’s Crimson Star (R Leporis), contains lots of carbon in its outer atmosphere, which dims and reddens its starlight. Changing amounts of carbon cause the star to vary in color and brightness, sometimes making it one of the reddest stars in the sky.

Mu Cephei (μ Cep)

Mu Cephei (μ Cephei), also known as Herschels Garnet Star, is a red supergiant star in the constellation Cepheus. It is one of the largest and most luminous stars known in the Milky Way. It appears garnet red and is given the spectral class of M2 Ia. Since 1943, the spectrum of this star has served as one of the stable anchor points by which other stars are classified.

Thank you for joining me this evening! I hope you enojoyed our dark skies, and I hope we will see you again soon!!

The web page for the program in which you just participated is at
Nightly Observing Program. Most of the above images were taken as
part of
the Overnight Telescope Observing Program. For more information on this unique experience please visit Overnight Telescope Observing Program.
Copyright © 2020 Kitt Peak Visitor Center

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