A dark horse

A dark horse

The Horsehead nebula is among the most photographed denizens of the deep-sky. But it is rarely the subject of a visual observation, much less a sketch. I made this observation the night of January 20, 2006, almost ten years to the day after my first observation of this ellusive object. Formally designated Barnard 33 (B33), the Horsehead is a dark nebula seen in the foreground of the delicate emission nebula IC 434. The contrast between IC 434 and the Horsehead is quite subtle; like a whisper in the night. But as long as the sky darkness and transparency are good, a 6-inch aperture is up to the task of seeing the famous Horsehead. On this night, the view in my 18-inch Obsession was truly stunning. Even unfiltered, the inky black form of B33 was obvious at 109X (22-mm Nagler Type 4 w/ Paracorr). My sketch represents a combination of two views. The first was unfiltered to reveal as many field stars as possible. The second was with a Lumicon hydrogen-beta (H-beta) filter in place to record the full glory of the B33/IC 434 complex. The Horsehead cuts into IC 434 along the nebula’s eastern edge. It is distinctively darker than the surrounding sky, having a genuine inky blackness as if someone has carelessly left the tip of their quill too long against the sky. The back of the horse’s neck, head, brow, and snout are all discerned. Some 60 stars frame the view.

I used HB and 2B Staedtler Mars Lumograph graphite pencils to make the drawing on a sheet of white printer paper. Gentle rubbing with the tip of my right index finger lended softness to the background nebulosity.

Bill Ferris
Flagstaff, Arizona


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