October Deep Sky: Helix Nebula and more

View photos from the EarthSky community. | Mainak Chakraborty in Kolkata, India took this photo of the Helix Nebula on October 2, 2021. Mainak wrote: “The Eye of God, or the Helix Nebula, was my first target for my dedicated astrocamera, the QHY 294C Pro. It is an exceptional experience to use this camera with this nebula. Everything worked like a charm. This planetary nebula is located 650 light years away in the constellation Aquarius and is known by catalog number NGC 7293. The image is cropped for a detailed view. Thanks Mainak! See more images of the deep October sky below.

October deep sky photos

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

The helix nebula

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

The Helix Nebula is one of the largest and closest planetary nebulae to us. A planetary nebula is made up of gas and dust expelled from a star at the end of its life. The Helix Nebula provides a glimpse into the future of our own sun, having reached the red giant phase and started releasing its gases. The star seen in the center of the Helix nebula is the one responsible for the gas flow. If it was the sun, our planet would be in the nebula. The sun and star of 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 called this nebula the Eye of god. You might recognize this photo as one of the decor items inside the TV show apartment The Big Bang Theory. It has been hung in the alcove of Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment for many years.

Orion and Flame Nebulae

Red cloud and blue star on the top left, white and blue clouds with black dust on the bottom right.
View photos from the EarthSky community. | Basudeb Chakrabarti in Calcutta, India took this photo of the Flame and Orion Nebulae on September 23, 2021. Basudeb wrote: “I live in Calcutta, India near the international airport which is an area very light polluted. Air pollution is also very high in the region. Because of this, most days of the year, I can’t even see Polaris from home. I have a few lucky nights after the rain when I can do DSO. It’s one of those lucky nights after a shower on September 26, 2021 from my terrace. Thanks Basudeb!

Look for these nebulae in the constellation Orion in October. Orion rises in the east late in the evening. The Orion Nebula is part of Orion’s sword. It can be seen as a blurry spot without any optical aid. The Flame Nebula sits next to the lowest star in Orion’s belt, Alnitak. Can you spot the Horse’s Head Nebula in this photo as well?

Nebulae of the heart and soul

Blue centers with glowing outlines and black background.
View photos from the EarthSky community. | Jeffrey Horne in Nashville, Tennessee captured this photo of the Heart and Soul Nebulae on October 11, 2021. He wrote, “One of my favorite things about astrophotography is the ‘surprises’ that appear in images. I lined up the Heart and Soul nebulae (aptly named) in the frame, and started my poses. Everything went according to plan, until about 10 hours after starting to take this image, when a pale blue spot started appearing at the bottom / right of the frame. I initially thought it was an internal flaw / reflection causing unwanted errors in the image, but after some research I found out that it was another nebula … The bear claw nebula. It’s the little things in life, you know? Those that are hundreds of light years across! Thanks Jeffrey!

These beautiful nebulae are found in the constellation Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia is an easy to spot constellation shaped like a letter W. The Heart Nebula is sometimes referred to as the Running Dog Nebula. What does this region of star formation look like to you?

Conclusion: EarthSky readers have shared incredible deep sky photographs with us. The Helix nebula in Aquarius, the Orion and Flame nebulae in Orion, and the Heart and Soul nebulae in Cassiopeia are excellent viewing targets for October.

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