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Click for larger image and details
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The famous Horsehead Nebula and it's less-well-known neighbor, the Flame Nebula.  Probably the first thing I, and probably for many other people remember seeing are pictures of or reading about in space is the horsehead nebula. This is often the first experience with something other than the planets in our solar system or the moon or the milky way.  It's shape is clear and it's surroundings are so alien to us. Both it's name and it's beauty are unforgettable.

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While the Flame nebula is equally unforgettable, few people outside of amateur astronomy have been introduced to it! Of course if one of Hubble's first high resolution photographs was of the Flame, rather than the horsehead, perhaps we'd think differently?  The Horse and the Flame area of the sky is as large as 4 full moons and is also surprisingly easy to find. Not only that, only a rather small telescope is required to photograph it in this detail.  The telescope used for this image has aperture about the size of the palm of my hand. Whereas Hubble's aperture is closer to that of a large dinner table by comparison.  Let me show you how easy it is to find!


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Orion is probably the second-most well known constellation in the sky behind the 'big dipper.'  In the Northern Hemisphere it can be found in the west a couple hours after dark late in the fall. In mid-winter, it climbs high in the sky just after dark. By spring, it begins setting in the east before midnight. You can't find it from late spring to mid summer, it's too close to the sun's position in the sky to see at all.  To find the Horsehead and the Flame, Look for Orion's belt. it is the the bright stars forming a line in the middle of the constellation.  The bottom star in this image, or the left-most if you were looking at Orion as a person, is called 'Alnitak.'  This is also the bright, large, blue star in the middle of my image, the horse and the flame.

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Let's zoom in just a little bit more.  This is approximatly the scale of what you might see through low power binoculars.  Not much zoom is needed at all before you being to see where both the horse and the flame are located. These are the same three stars in Orion's belt the image above.

What does it look like with your own eyes/in an eyepiece?  I get asked this question all the time.  In a lot of cases with many things in space that are 'visible' from earth, it varies.
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Some are faint and some a bright.  If your telescope is small (not low powered! I mean small as in 'aperture' or diameter of the objective of the telescope) or If light pollution or haze is a problem, there's little chance you'd see the horse and the flame at all. But lets say conditions are perfect. You have a modest sized telescope, low power or low magnification, and little light pollution and no moonlight. It might look something like this through the eyepiece. Why is it colorless, why is it so dark? I might blog about that someday soon. If your' e interested, read up on 'rods and cones' in the eye and how that might come into play here.  From here on out, I hope to provide a simulation of what you can see with your own eyes, in the best conditions.

 


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