Seeing the universe like never before

Posted by Liz Kruesi
on Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On Friday, Dallas got about a foot of snow, which meant our connecting flight to Tucson was cancelled. After a bit of airline shuffling, I got into Tucson Saturday night. On Sunday, I picked up Senior Editor Rich Talcott and his wife Evelyn from the airport, and we headed to Rancho Hidalgo near Animas, New Mexico. We arrived at Rancho Hidalgo, home to the Astronomy Magazine Observatory, Sunday afternoon. The sky was clear and calm, promising a good night of observations.

Under pristine skies of southwestern New Mexico, Gene Turner brought out his 30-inch Starmaster. We started the evening with the Orion Nebula. I still can’t get over the view through the eyepiece. I could make out blue-green color and dust at differing depths — it looked three-dimensional. To be honest, beginning with such a fantastic object probably was a bad idea — nothing lived up to how great M42 looked.

During the rest of the evening, Astronomy magazine Editor Dave Eicher called out NGC numbers, and Gene slewed the scope to the objects. We saw a number of nebulae — the Cone Nebula proved quite elusive. I was thrilled to see the Horsehead Nebula. While my eye couldn’t possibly capture the colors that the Hubble Space Telescope can, I made out the horsehead shape. And that was pretty darn exciting.

We observed a couple dozen objects. When I wasn’t on the ladder looking into the eyepiece, I was admiring the dark clear sky. It’s amazing how different it looks when you’re away from city lights. We could even see the zodiacal light. Initially, I thought it was light pollution — I guess I’ve become too accustomed to that living in urban areas.

With my naked eyes, I viewed a few star clusters (the Double Cluster and, of course, the Pleiades) and counted three meteors.

We ended the night with my all-time favorite object — the Whirlpool Galaxy. The view did not disappoint. I hope to see it again Monday night.

Related: Mining both earthly and deep-sky treasures in New Mexico, by David J. Eicher, editor

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