The Veil, The North America Nebula, The Helix, Oxygen III, UHC

Sechelt International Airport, 3rd September, 2011

I was eager to get the new Explore Scientific 6” Refractor under dark skies again.

The Sechelt District has recently given us the keys to the Airport and encouraged us to

make use of the under used land there. It looked like only Neil and I were going –

none else answered our emailed invite. But at the gate 12 members of

The Sunshine Coast Astronomy Club turned up.

I’m always harping on about the lack of people who will come out under

a dark sky and see the real universe above our heads . Meanwhile lectures about

the universe are packed. However, I realised that 12 members amounts to 33%

of our membership!


We all wanted to see Comet Garradd and so under a still light sky I looked for

The Coathanger, below and slightly behind Albireo, the tail star in The Northern Cross

(Cygnus). I was surprised the entire Coathanger managed to fit in my field of view.

I was using a 2” Celestron 32mm at 31x and calculated this gave me a field just over

one degree wide (eyepiece focal length (32) divided by magnification (31) = 1.03 degrees.

The coathanger is eyecatching because it looks like someone drew it with a ruler.

I drifted the scope East looking for anything fuzzy! With the last star in

The Coathanger on the edge of my FOV (field of view) I saw a little group of three

stars and there above them was the fuzzy snowball I was looking for. Quite unimpressive

with the sky still being blue, but who doesn’t want to see a comet? Later it did improve and

the hint of a tail was visible. I hadn't aligned for imaging but I grabbed a few

frames through the refractor with a Nikon D5000 DSLR.


Just then a helicopter approached the runway – it suddenly dived low and sped along the

runaway no more than 20 feet (if that) above it. When it got to the end it flared up

steeply then hovered. Not bad having an aerobatic side show while doing astronomy.

Jupiter would be up later, but for now we were waiting for it to get fully dark.

Finally around 11.00 pm it seemed dark (ish). I had recently seen The Veil Nebula in

Dan’s 5” refractor. I was amazed to see this in a 5” scope, I assumed it would need

large aperture. I remembered it looking like a flickering ghostly faint cloud.

I slewed to The Western Veil’s position and looked . There was the faintest

wisp of a cloud near the centre of the FOV – barely visible. I asked Dan to borrow

his Oxygen 3 filter (OIII) and threaded it onto the 2” diagonal. I looked again and

was amazed to see The Veil.


When I say ‘see the veil’, I mean I could actually see structure, detail and features.

It looked like a large noctilucent cloud. I had never seen The Veil before in any

scope of mine.

Then I thought what about The North America Nebula? I’ve read about it many times and there’s usually always some disclaimer that I translate as meaning ‘don’t even go there sonny jim, unless your David Levy with a 16” scope on a mountain top in Arizona!”

But what the heck, I slewed there and with the Oxygen III filter still in place

I looked … There it was! I could immediately see The Gulf of Mexico region.

I tried to reconcile the shape I was seeing with my recollection of the shape in the

star atlas – I wasn’t sure of the scale. But I wandered round the cloud and noted a

few stars bordering the nebula.


I was amazed what this OIII filter could do. And I guess the 6” unobstructed

view was ideally suited to this too. At such low power I still had tack sharp stars

across the field, this was much different than in my 8” F/4 Newtonian where

low powers lead to very blurred stars (becuase of the steeply curved mirror)

anywhere off axis.

Just after that Jupiter broke the horizon. We saw its four moons early while it was

still in the trees. But we would have to wait for it to climb clear of the trees to get

a good look.


Nearby I heard David mention Uranus was in the sky. I have looked for Uranus on

several occasions and never been sure I was actually looking at it. The last

time was with a 10” Dobsonian. I was fairly certain it was one of the objects

in the field but was not positive. I couldn’t really say I was seeing a disk, but

I did have a greenish looking star. Its worth a look I thought, maybe the refractor

view will be different.

I slewed, I looked, and there it was! A bright light blue (maybe a hint of green)

disc slightly fuzzy round the edges. It could not be mistaken for a star. This was

also at low power – 31x. David called for me to go up to 200x to test the scope.

But the view was so perfect I stayed at low power.


Neptune was near too, I slewed, I looked, I saw (does this sound like the astronomy

equivalent of “he shoots, he scores”?). It too was an obvious planet, but much smaller

and not as distinctive as Uranus.


What other invisible object could I pull from the sky with the use of these seemingly

magical filters? The Helix! Yes, one of my all time favourite DSO – only available in

magazines normally. I had actually photographed The Helix previously – it took 40 one

minute exposures through an 8” SCT. Visually it was not there – just not visible.

This time Neil offered up his Lumicon UHC (Ultra High Contrast) Filter. I had no idea

if this could match the OIII for effectiveness. I slewed to The Helix. I looked and there

was empty space. I threaded on the UHC Filter and commented to Dan and Neil, “if I can

see The Helix with this – I am buying one whatever the cost!” I looked again and saw a

large grey cloud – The Helix!


I was seeing The Helix Nebula visually for the first time…


At this point I considered looking for Black Holes, anything seemed possible!


The clock struck 2.40 am - and just Neil and I remained. We marvelled at how

good the sky was. The Pleiades was rising over the trees and Jupiter was climbing

higher, but we’d seen what we came for – a clear dark sky!

All Content Copyright © James MacWilliam