A Celestial Rorschach Inkblot Test

LDN 1795

LDN 1795, a Dark Nebula
Sketch and Details by Dave Riddle

Located only two and one half degrees SE of the Galactic center, LDN 1795 may be one of the finest dark nebulae visible in small telescopes. Appearing as a prominent dark spot in my 11×80 finder, this dust cloud lies in front of the Great Sagittarius star cloud and exhibits an unusual shape as seen through my 18″ reflector at ~110x (20mm Nagler). I saw this inky cloud as either a horse’s head or the head of a Great Dane (making this cloud a kind of celestial Rorschach inkblot test!). John Herschel thought this field to be so extraordinary that he recorded two prominent “clusters” (now recognized as very dense Milky Way fields) in his Cape observation notebook. However, the concept of an obscuring cloud eluded him, although he would later admit that imperfectly transparent regions of space might exist. The idea of dark nebulae can be dated back to the mid-1700’s but it was clearly an idea ahead of its time. The digital drawing was done from a rude pencil sketch I made on the evening of July 21, 1998 from the dark rural skies of Panacea, Florida. As many of you know, drawing a dark nebula presents a challenge to the observer. Photoshop allows me to dispense with my pencil and eraser to make a finished drawing. With practice, I may get it right one of these days (nights)!

Dave Riddle

A Double and a Trifid


M20 (The Trifid Nebula)
Sketch by Eiji Kato

M20, The Trifid Nebula, is a famous and beautiful target for astro-photographers. The red emission nebula contains a young star cluster at its center, and is surrounded by a blue reflection nebula that is most noticeable at the northern end. It’s distance is not well agreed upon, and is listed anywhere from 2,200 light years (Mallas/Kreimer) to 9000 light years (Jeff Hester).

The dark nebula that crosses the Trifid was cataloged by Barnard and listed as B 85. The object was originally cataloged by Charles Messier in 1764, when he described it as a cluster of stars. William Herschel assigned catalog numbers to 4 different parts of the nebula (H IV.41, H V.10, H V.11, and H V.12).

Two Views of the Spider

NGC 2070 wide field

The Tarantula Nebula, NGC 2070 wide field view
By Eiji Kato

NGC 2070, The Tarantula Nebula 

Eiji Kato has captured these two marvelous views of the NGC 2070, the Tarantula Nebula in the  southern hemispheric constellation of Dorado, the Dolphin fish, Xiphias, or the Swordfish. This immense region contains stars forming in their nascent cacoons of gas and dust. Previous stellar death  is rampant here as well, remnants of their past existence, shells of excited gas, glow amidst strong interstellar winds. Mr Kato’s beautiful sketches show two perspectives, one a wider field view and the other near center. Most of Mr Kato’s exceptional drawings were made using an 18.5″, f/4 reflector. Some later drawings were made with a 18.1″, f/4.5 reflector.

NGC 2070 near center

The Tarantula Nebula, NGC 2070 near center view
By Eiji Kato

Eiji Kato lives in Australia and operates the TwinStar Guesthouse Observatory.
Please make a visit to his gallery of fine drawings.

Hands to Claim Unbounded Night

M42 and M43


The Great Orion Nebula, M42 and M43
By Serge Vieillard

This color drawing of the Great Orion Nebula was created by Serge 
Vieillard during a trip to the Libyan desert to view the Solar 
Eclipse of March 2006. Serge created this colored pencil drawing as a 
negative on white paper and inverted it after scanning to create the 
positive image seen here. In order to get the colors correct for this 
inverted image, he did extensive testing beforehand so he had the 
correct complimentary colors in his sketching supplies (an orange 
pencil for the blue-green hues, and a green pencil for the rose 
colored areas). Serge spent two hours illustrating this magnificent 
nebula. He notes that two hours was not nearly enough to sufficiently 
capture all of the fine detail visible.

Sparkling Lagoon


14th June, 2007., around 21:00 UT
Petrova gora, Croatia

Last night I had another opportunity to observe. But this time, we went
to the Petrova gora, mountain maybe 1000 ft high, about 40 miles South
from the Zagreb and 20 miles South-East from the Karlovac (pop: 60 000).
Light pollution is still evident on northern horizon but to the South,
skies are beautiful. NELM near zenith was 6.10, not much difference from
the best night in my backyard (NELM 5.80) but big difference is that
there is no glare from street lamps and glow from nearby populated
places so sky is much darker. Watching MW composed from many clouds,
with few bright spots (M24, M8, M25), seeing M7 by naked eye is
wonderful feeling. Statement that there is no substitute for dark skies
hold very well. Of course, I used this opportunity to make more
sketches. I hope you will like results.

My process of creating sketches goes like this:
First, I observe and draw field sketch, full of notes, corrections and
other helpful stuff. After returning to house, I redraw all sketches to
include missing details, remove errors and to get better contrast under
white light. Next step is scanning of sketches. Afters scanning, I do
further adjustments of contrast in the Photoshop and add circle
representing that represents FOV. Last thing is description and saving
sketch in .tff and .jpg format.

I’m sketching on plain A4 paper with graphite pencils of different

Vedran Vrhovac

Kiss of the spider

The tarantula Nebula 

NGC 2070 (30 Doradus) The Tarantula Nebula

Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud in Southern Skies, the Tarantula
Nebula has an apparent magnitude of 8 and is about 160,000 light years

The exciting thing about ‘The Tarantula’ is that it is a nebula in ‘another
Galaxy’. If it was as close to us as the Orion Nebula is, it would fill 60
degrees of the sky and far outshine Venus!

It is named ‘The Tarantula’ due to it’s appearance being like a giant

Drawn with number 3 pencil on white art board, scanned and inverted in
Photoshop CS.  Red Hue added in Photoshop CS.
Date Drawn: 2006 while observing Tarantula through a 12″ reflector with a
32mm 2″ Erfle Eyepiece.

Ken James
Snake Valley, Australia

The turbulent flower

The turbulent flower

Information about sketch:
Sketch is of M20 – the Trifid Nebula
Done on the 23rd of September last year
Drawn completely at the eyepiece of a 12.5″ f6 dob using a 13mm T6 Nagler
for around 143x.  It was done on white sketch pad paper using a graphite
pencil.  The sketch was then scanned and converted to the negative in
Andrew Durick
Brisbane, Australia

Buried treasure in a deep Lagoon

M8 the Lagoon nebula 

M8 was on my list of “ambitious” sketches to draw (or redraw) for a  couple years before I finally managed to tackle it. On my first attempt, I got skunked by clouds before I could finish the star field. I came back a couple nights later, and the outflow of clouds from a thunderstorm to the east threatened to bring things to a halt again.  But I was patient and managed to wait out the weather.

This is such a rich and well-lit nebula/cluster, that it’s hard not to  just relax and feast on its visual delights. But I had decided I was going to turn this one into a project. I wanted to capture the cluster and field stars as accurately and deeply as possible. This in itself  can be a pretty tedious process, but the regular blackouts caused by interloping clouds made it very aggravating. Especially since I was doing the observation pretty late in the season, and Sagittarius was threatening to set on me. Observing shouldn’t be aggravating. Tedious from time to time, sure. But not aggravating. I was being stubborn 
though, and I kept plugging along. An hour and 40 minutes later I was satisfied I had captured all I could, and as if on a merciful queue,  the clouds went ahead and made a permanent home over the southwestern  sky.

Something I find very interesting about the embedded cluster NGC 6530  is the grid-like geometry of its stars. It seems to bear an amplified kinship to the squared angles of M29–a junior sized favorite of mine.  The UltraBlock (~UHC) filter does a great job of defining the boundaries and clots of brightness in the nebula, but I find the unfiltered view to be the most pleasing. Without the filter, the view is thickly seasoned with Milky Way field stars and the members of the open cluster just seem to nestle and burn themselves in their folded blanket of nebulosity. I noted some star color in a few places, and these are depicted in the sketch.

I created the base for this sketch on Strathmore sketch paper using 2H  graphite for the initial star field. I then switched to HB graphite for the brighter stars. I then brushed in the nebulous regions with a blending stump loaded with graphite. Afterward, I replotted any stars that were blurred or diminished by the blending process.

After scanning the sketch and inverting it from negative to positive, I used a soft, transparent brush to add glow around the brighter stars. I then used a soft, transparent brush set to ‘color’ mode to  apply color to the stars I had noted during my observation. Although I  believe it is possible to overwork a sketch with digital tools, when care is taken not to overdo it, I’ve found these extra techniques very useful. In this case, I believe it helps to pop the brighter stars out as they appeared in the eyepiece. I feel it was particularly helpful for the core cluster stars that nestle in the nebula. In my opinion, that extra bit of glow helps merge them with the nebula and conveys the sense that they really are lighting it up, as it appeared through the telescope. Finally, the perception of color is an important part of my observations, and I feel that careful addition of color on the computer can handle this very nicely.

Object Information:

There are two main objects that compose this object. NGC 6530 which is the open cluster of stars, discovered in 1680 by Flamsteed. The nebula that these stars are imbedded in, NGC 6523, was discovered by Le Gentil in 1747. When Charles Messier catalogued it in 1764, he primarily described the cluster, and mentioned the nebula separately as surrounding the star, 9-Sagittarii. However, the nebula is now generally regarded as M8.

The distance to M8 is believed to be from 4850 to 6500 light years. If the distance given by David Eichler of 5200 light years is correct, then the nebula measures 140 x 60 light years across. The brightest portion of the nebula contains a region known as the Hourglass Nebula, which is region currently undergoing new star formation. There are also a number of dark nebulae known as globules in the Lagoon. These are collapsing protostellar clouds with diameters of about 10,000 AU.

Subject:        M8/NGC 6523, 6530
Classification:        Diffuse Nebula and Open Cluster
Position:        Sagittarius [RA: 18:03:41.2 / Dec: -24:22:49]*
Size*:        90′ x 40′
Brightness*:        bMag 5.0
Date/Time:        August 19, 2006 – 10:45 PM MST (August 20, 2006 – 05:45 UT)
Observing Location:        Anderson Mesa, AZ
Instrument:        Orion SVP 6LT Reflector (150 mm dia./1200 mm F/L)
Eyepieces/Mag.        32 mm Sirius Plössl (37.5X)
Seeing:        3/10 Pickering
Transparency:        Mag 6.8+ NELM
*Sources:        SEDS, NGC/IC Project

Resplendent raptor

M16 Eagle nebula

M16 Eagle nebula

This nebula was drawn with graphite pencils on
white paper and then inversed after scanning.
The main field stars (until about magnitude 11)
was printed with a charting software and the
fainter stars and nebula were added during the
observation. It took about an hour to lay all the
details on paper.

17.5-inch dobsonian, F/4.5, 74 &125x, OIII filter
used for the fainter parts; 15/august/2004,
22h00UT, good transparency (visual limit of 6.31
in UMi); from La Clapière in the french alps at
an elevation of 1650m.

Yann Pothier

A rose by any other name

Rosette Nebula

The Rossette nebula, NGC 2237-8, 46

Here is a challenging object. It was at the threshold of visibility for me and my gear. The nebulae was visible at a power of 12.5 (40mm EP) and at 19x (26mm EP). It vanished at any higher power!! The sketch was made with help of a lumicon UHC filter. But the most significant aid in detecting the ghostly glow was wobbling the scope left and right. The eye is more sensitive to moving ghosts than to steady
ones. As a result of the UHC filter, the fainter stars are lost. But I wanted to concentrate on the nebulae. The sketch was made in Photo-Paint, based on a raw pencil-sketch behind the scope. I hope you like the view.

Rony De Laet

Sketch data:

Date : March 9, 2007
Time : 21.00UT
Scope : Skywatcher 102/500
EP : 26mm SP
Power : 19x
FOV: 2.7°
Filter : Lumicon UHC
Seeing : 3/5
Transp. : 2.5/5
Sketch Orientation : N down, W left.

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