A Moonless Night Reveals a Supernova Remnant


Map and Finderscope view courtesy of Mobile Observatory by Wolfgang Zima. Eyepiece depiction courtesy of Sky Tools 3, by Sky Hound. (Click the images to enlarge.)


January 10th, 2016

As the Moon turns new today, it’s the perfect time for some deep sky observing and the Crab Nebula, being one of the fainter sights for small telescopes, is the perfect target.

Located in Taurus, above the head of Orion, the Crab Nebula is thought to be the remains of a star that exploded almost a thousand years ago. On July 4th, 1054 Chinese astronomers recorded seeing a “guest star” in the sky. This supernova was so bright it was visible during daylight hours for about three weeks.

Nearly seven hundred years later, in 1731, the nebula was discovered by the astronomer John Bevis in the same area of the sky, but it wasn’t linked to the supernova until the early 20th century.

The Crab Nebula, imaged by the author using Slooh. (Click to enlarge.)

The Crab Nebula, imaged by the author using Slooh. (Click to enlarge.)

To be honest, it can be disappointing when viewed in a small telescope, but it’s worth remembering what you’re looking at. There aren’t too many supernovae remnants around and the Crab is the only example that can be readily observed by amateurs with inexpensive equipment.

Some can spot the nebula with binoculars but I’ve not had such luck and I suspect you’ll need clear dark skies to be successful. However, it should be visible under suburban skies with a small telescope.

It’s barely seen at about 35x but it’s not an easy thing to see. Using averted vision, it appears as a very faint oval patch with little or no brightening near the center. I once described it as “a coal stain on a black carpet.” Increasing the magnification may help, but if you live in the city, you’ll probably be out of luck as I’ve never seen it from Los Angeles.


Text, map, finderscope and eyepiece depictions slightly adapted from my book, Easy Things to see With a Small Telescope, available in both Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.



All Astronomical Events for January 10th, 2016

01:30 UT – New Moon (Sagittarius, not visible.)

19:52 UT – The new Moon is north of Mercury. (6% illuminated, magnitude 2.7, diameter 9.5”. Sagittarius, not visible.)


Events in bold involve objects and/or events that are visible with the naked eye.

All times are in Universal Time (UTC). To convert the time to your timezone, click here.

Astronomical events taken from 2016: An Astronomical Year, available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon in the US, Canada and the United Kingdom. Night sky simulations created using Mobile Observatory for Android devices.

2016 An Astronomical Year Paperback Cover 2016 The Night Sky Sights The Astronomical Almanac 2015-2019 Kindle Cover - Deep Sky Observer's Guide

Easy Things to See With a Small Telescope

2016: An Astronomical Year 2016: The Night Sky Sights The Astronomical Almanac (2015-2019) The Deep Sky Observer’s Guide

(Kindle & Paperback)

(Kindle & Paperback) (Kindle & Paperback) (Kindle & Paperback)


Amazon – US

Amazon – US Amazon – US Amazon – US Amazon – US
Amazon – UK Amazon – UK  Amazon – UK Amazon – UK

Amazon – UK

Details of all available books across the world can be found here or by visiting the author’s page on Amazon. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me at astronomywriter “at” gmail.com


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