When looking in the sky, there are several easy and well known planetary nebulae (plural of nebula) that are visible from the Pacific Northwest and other Northern Hemisphere observing locations. A planetary nebulae galaxy is a type of emission nebula consisting of an expanding, glowing shell of ionized gas ejected from red giant stars late in their lives.
The last 2 items on this list are visible in the Southern sky in the Portland area, which means that these objects will be visible in other locations in the PNW such as Boise too, but not necessarily Seattle.
When Visible: May Through October, with ideal times being August and September
How To Find: The nebula lies about a quarter of the way from Altair to Deneb. Aquila and Cygnus are easy to make out in the night sky because the two bird constellations, representing the Eagle and the Swan, are high overhead in the summer and lie opposite to each other. Cygnus is particularly prominent and easy to identify because its brightest stars form the Northern Cross, another familiar summer asterism.
How It Looks: Visually, the Dumbbell Nebula appears white even in larger telescopes, but its two-lobed shape is clear. It can be seen in large binoculars, and some of its details are visible even in smaller telescopes.
Fun Fact: Spotted by Charles Messier in 1764, the Dumbbell Nebula (Messier 27) was the first planetary nebula ever discovered
When Visible: April to September, with ideal times being June and July
How To Find: Messier 57 lies to the south of Vega, the brightest star in Lyra and one of the stars that form the Summer Triangle, a prominent asterism found overhead in the summer sky. The nebula is easy to find as it is located roughly 40 percent of the distance from Sheliak, Beta Lyrae, to Sulafat, Gamma Lyrae.
How It Looks: The nebula cannot be resolved in small binoculars and is best seen in 8-inch and larger telescopes. Even smaller telescopes will reveal the nebula’s ring shape, while medium-sized instruments will also show its interior hole.
Fun Fact: The Ring Nebula was discovered by 2 astronomers at the same time, with Messier discovering the ring nebula 2nd.
Cats Eye Nebula
When Visible: The object is circumpolar, meaning it is visible for the entire year.
How To Find: It is located almost exactly in the direction of the North Ecliptic Pole and is located about halfway between the stars delta (δ) and zeta (ζ) Draconis
How It Looks: Because of its compact centre is high surface brightness, it can be spotted with binoculars and is easily visible through small scopes.
Fun Fact: This became the first planetary nebula whose spectrum was investigated by the English amateur astronomer William Huggins, demonstrating that these types of astronomical objets were gaseous and not stellar in nature.
When Visible: June to November, best time is August and September
How To Find: It is located about 10º NW of the bright star Fomalhaut
How It Looks: When viewed with binoculars, the nebula appears as a hazy, greenish cloud. this star is faintly visible to the naked eye under dark skies and acts as a good marker of how good the quality and darkness of the sky in the area.
Fun Fact: With magnitude +7.3, the Helix Nebula is the brightest planetary nebula in the sky.
When Visible: December to May, close to the celestial equator.
How To Find: Located in the constellation Hydra, NGC 3242 is just a bit south of Nu Hydra
How It Looks: Its blue-green disk is visible in small telescopes and its halo is visible in larger instruments.
Fun Fact: It earned the nickname “Ghost of Jupiter” because of its striking resemblance to the giant planet,
For other astronomical objects to observe, make sure to check out the Top 5’s and other articles on CosmosPNW to help with your journey. To stay up to date with CosmosPNW, make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram.