Unveiling the Veil Nebula – Astronomy Now

The Veil Nebula in Cygnus is a quintessential supernova remnant that makes for a superb mosaic imagery project, spanning a massive three degrees in diameter. Visually, its brightest section can be spied with modest optical aid. Image: Sara Wager.

The Veil Nebula in Cygnus is an iconic deep-sky target, a “must-see” object that rivals or surpasses anything you’ll be likely to observe this summer. Along with the Crab Nebula (Messier 1), in Taurus, it is perhaps the best example of a supernova remnant – the expanding shell(s) of matter ejected from the titanic explosion(s) that represent ultimate doom. waiting for the massive stars. The Veil is the jagged remnant of a star that died out around 9,000 years ago, which has since grown into a complex and beautiful structure that dwarfs the Crab Nebula in the sky, spanning three gigantic degrees.

Until the introduction of narrowband filters such as the ubiquitous UHC and O-III filters, the Veil was the exclusive domain of experienced owners of large telescopes. Today, under dark country skies, a small-to-moderate aperture telescope can reveal parts of the Veil’s ancient, wispy tendrils.

The Witches’ Broom Nebula (NGC 6960 and Caldwell 34) is the very photogenic western arc of the Veil, seen here near the lower right edge of the frame, with the bright star 52 Cygni. Image: Kfir Simon.

How to observe

The Veil Nebula is best tracked on a dark, transparent, moonless night. A good time is towards the end of August, when receding twilight brings a modicum of darkness to the UK sky and the Moon is new. The Veil lies in southern Cygnus, two or three degrees south of magnitude +2.5 epsilon (ε) Cygni. From UK shores it is superbly placed, peaking overhead at around 11pm BST in late August.

The Veil Nebula is located in southern Swan.

The Veil Nebula is so large that it has several NGC designations: the easternmost arc, designated NGC 6992/6995 with the old number marking its main section one degree long, is the brightest part of the nebula, but beginners are looking for their bearings. might be best served by starting with the western arc which lies 2.5 degrees southeast, its position easily marked by the moderately bright star 52 Cygni (+4.2 magnitude). A 130 to 150 mm (five to six inch) widefield telescope running at low power with a UHC or O-III filter should pack it in, but there’s a substantial 52 Cyg glare to contend with. It is officially designated NGC 6960, but nicely nicknamed the Witch’s Broom Nebula. The northernmost and most difficult central part of the Veil is known as NGC 6979.

The Eastern Bow (NGC 6992) was seen through 10×50 binoculars, so on a beautiful moonless night why not try viewing the Veil through any optical aid you have. You might be pleasantly surprised by the view.

NGC 6990 and NGC 6995 (Caldwell 33) which make up the brighter eastern arc of the Veil, appear well in this image taken in hydrogen-alpha light. Image: Kfir Simon.

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