October deep sky: Helix Nebula and more

October deep sky: Circular nebula with rainbow colors red outside to blue inside.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Mainak Chakraborty in Kolkata, India, captured this photo of the Helix Nebula on October 2, 2021. Mainak wrote: “God’s Eye, or the Helix Nebula, was my first target for my dedicated astrocamera, the QHY 294C Pro. It’s an outstanding experience to use this camera with this nebula. Everything worked like a charm. This planetary nebula lies 650 light-years away, in the constellation of Aquarius and is known by the catalog number NGC 7293. The image is cropped to get a detailed view.” Thank you, Mainak! See more October deep sky images below.

October deep sky photos

Explore the depths of October’s deep sky with these amazing photos taken by photographers and friends of EarthSky. You, too, can spot the Helix Nebula in Aquarius, the Orion and Flame nebulas in Orion, and the Heart and Soul Nebulas in Cassiopeia from dark-sky locations.

The Helix Nebula

NGC 7293, the catalog name for the Helix Nebula, is located in the constellation of Aquarius. The Helix Nebula shines at magnitude 7.3. This is bright enough to spot in small telescopes or even binoculars. Just keep in mind that the glowing gas from this nebula is rather spread out, about half the size of a full moon, making it a challenge to observe.

The Helix Nebula is one of the largest and closest planetary nebulas to us. A planetary nebula consists of gas and dust expelled from a star at the end of its life. The Helix Nebula provides a glimpse into our own sun’s future, after it reaches the red giant phase and begins to release its gases. The star seen at the center of the Helix Nebula is the one responsible for the gaseous outflow. If this were the sun, our planet would be well within the nebula. The sun and the star in the Helix Nebula will eventually end their lives as white dwarfs.

The Hubble Space Telescope took a famous photo of the Helix Nebula in 2003. Email chains at the time referred to this nebula as the Eye of God. You may recognize this photo as one of the décor items inside the apartment on the TV show The Big Bang Theory. It hung in the alcove of Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment for many years.

Orion and Flame nebulas

Red cloud and blue star at top left, white and blue clouds with black dust bottom right.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Basudeb Chakrabarti in Kolkata, India, captured this photo of the Flame and Orion nebulas on September 23, 2021. Basudeb wrote: “I live in Kolkata, India, near the international airport, which is a highly light-polluted area. The air pollution is also very high in the area. Due to this, for most days of the year, I can’t even see Polaris from my place. I get a few lucky nights after rain when I can do some DSO. This is one of those lucky nights after a shower on 26th September, 2021, from my terrace.” Thank you, Basudeb!

Look for these nebulas in the constellation Orion in October. Orion is rising in the east late in the evening. The Orion Nebula is part of the sword of Orion. It can be seen as a fuzzy patch without any optical aid. The Flame Nebula lies next to the bottom-most belt star of Orion, Alnitak. Can you also spot the Horsehead Nebula in this photo?

Heart and Soul nebulas

Blue centers with red glowing outlines and black background.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Jeffrey Horne in Nashville, Tennessee, captured this photo of the Heart and Soul nebulas on October 11, 2021. He wrote: “One of my favorite things about astrophotography is “surprises” that show up in images. I lined up the Heart and Soul nebulas (aptly named) in the frame, and started my exposures. All was going as planned, until about 10 hours into taking this image, when a pale blue smudge started showing up on the bottom/right of the frame. I initially thought it was a blemish/internal reflection that was causing unwanted errors in the image, but after a little research I found that it was another nebula…the Bear Claw Nebula. It’s the little things in life, you know? The ones that are hundreds of light-years wide!” Thank you, Jeffrey!

These beautiful nebulas lie in the constellation Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia is an easy-to-spot constellation in the shape of the letter W. The Heart Nebula is sometimes called the Running Dog Nebula. What does this star-forming region look like to you?

The Ghost of Cassiopeia

Orangish floating blob against starry background.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Patrick Prokop in Savanna, Georgia, captured this photo of the Ghost of Cassiopeia on October 23, 2021. He wrote: “With Halloween coming up, I thought the Ghost of Cassiopeia is appropriate to view, particularly with the pumpkin-orange hue to the nebulosity.” Thank you, Patrick!

The perfect spooky scene for an October evening, the Ghost of Cassiopeia is a cloud of gas and dust radiating by the light of a variable star. The Ghost lies 550 light-years away near the central star in the W-shape of Cassiopeia.

Bottom line: EarthSky readers shared amazing deep-sky photographs with us. The Helix Nebula in Aquarius, Orion and Flame nebulas in Orion, and Heart and Soul nebulas in Cassiopeia and more are great observing targets for October.

October 22, 2021

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