4 Cygni Nebula:
4 Cygni, Copyright © 2010-11 A. Howard & S. Waldee - All Rights Reserved.
2007 Discovery By Stephen Waldee
I'm putting together this simple webpage to provide a clearinghouse to pertinent information I have acquired, related to my visual discovery on 18 July 2007 of a 'small' and obscure reflection-type nebula coincident with the star 4 Cygni. I hope that this article may assist other amateurs in locating and perceiving the nebula; and understanding something about its discovery, plus the research and experimentation by the team who investigated it.
I also present information about a recent amateur claim of prior discovery from Palomar photographs -- which came to light ONLY long after my discovery, three years earlier, was announced publicly -- and my point of view about the facts of priority of first publication of discovery. I wish to provide for my fellow amateurs much of the relevant original "work product" and references to the first publication, by me, of its visual discovery by telescopically-aided eye. -- Steve Waldee, 27 August 2010
Please note: links checked, corrected, and restored (as needed) on 7/8/13; latest update on 5/20/15.
2. Finder Charts for the 4 Cygni Region
3. First Attempt at Falsification; First Public Reports of Discovery
4. Existing Online Confirmations of My Public Discussions of 4 Cygni nebula, 20 & 28 July '07
5. The Necessity of Independent Verification: What We've Done
6. Analyzing the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey Plate Artifacts
7. Recent Visual Examinations by Waldee & Saloranta, August 2010
7.5 Latest Observations, Including Success with a Small 4.7 Inch Refractor;
plus views by famous amateur observers T. Karhula (Finland) and A. J. Crayon (Arizona)
8. Corroborations by a Professional Astronomer, Dr. H. G. Corwin
9. Astronomical Significance of Nebula Discovery
10. Why My Astronomical Blog and website were taken off the Net in 2009
11. A Controversy Over Discovery Priority?
11.5. Saloranta Demonstrates Possible Diameter of Nebula from DSS
12. Others Observe Nebula, Including the Author's Wife
13. Sue French of "Sky & Telescope" Expresses Interest In Nebula
14. Stephen J. O'Meara, "Astronomy" Magazine Columnist, Conveys Congratulations
15. Summer 2013 Observation, 8 inch Meade SCT
16. 4 Cygni nebula spotted in 80 mm scope! 17. 4 Cygni nebula spotted in urban backyard at Ivins, UT in 10" scope
18. Dr. David Malin, famous astrophotographer, Opines
19. Notes, Acknowledgments, Copyright statement
1. Original Visual Discovery of Nebula by S. Waldee, in 2007:
I am an amateur astronomer of long standing, living in San Jose, California. Since the late 1970s, I have been privileged to use an excellent high altitude observing site in the Santa Cruz mountains, south of San Jose, on private property. The locale is now owned by a space preserve; formerly it was privately held, and began to be used in the seventies by famed comet-hunter Don Machholz, who arranged permission for a very few other observers, including me, to be allowed past the private gate that blocks the top of the mountain; in fact, my current arrangement comes with the stipulation that I do not promote its specific use to the public, since the private land and road are constantly monitored by authorities for trespassing. The altitude is 3,400 feet above sea level, a very few miles inland from the Pacific coast. Like nearby Mt. Hamilton, site of Lick Observatory (at 4,200 feet) the site has the benefit of laminar airflow and good- to- excellent seeing, for which Lick's observing station has been legendary since the end of the 19th century.
Unlike my old friend Machholz, I'm not a comet hunter and have never sought "a discovery" of any sort. After many thousands of hours of observing at this site, with my own scopes ranging from 2 to 17.5 inches' aperture, I found, one morning, that I had seemed to find something quite anomalous and unexpected. This was not entirely unusual; for over the years, one either makes a mistake in identification (later rectified by consulting catalogues and photos) or perceives a fleeting anomaly that is entirely unrepeatable-- and thus is not scientifically verifiable.
But, my anomaly experienced in the summer of 2007 was repeatable, and soon I had an independent, but rather obscure, 'partial' verification: a hint of its existence on old Palomar sky survey pictures, downloaded from the Net.
Using my "backup" smaller instrument, the ten inch aperture Orion XT-10 Dobsonian telescope (f/4.7) seen in the photo, above, I was investigating objects that were high in the sky on a night of exceptional transparency and sky steadiness (18 July 2007.) The Pacific coastal marine layer low ground fog had crept inland, as it does regularly during summer and fall months, cutting off virtually all streetlight glow from Santa Cruz, Hollister, Gilroy, Morgan Hill, and even much of San Jose's light pollution. I was therefore able to try for some extremely difficult objects, such as the exceptionally faint galaxy Maffei 1, and the planetary nebulae Abell 62 and Sharpless 1-89 / PK 089-00.1.
It may be important to know that I've improved my own XT-10 scope by gluing low-reflectance black flocking paper throughout the inside surface of the tube, which improved contrast and reduced internal reflections. My logbook indicates that I had more than the faintest suggestive traces of these very faint objects, and that further checking confirmed the real existence of what I'd perceived.
After viewing open cluster NGC 6791 in the constellation of Lyra, just before midnight I happened to sweep my scope past the star 4 Cygni. What I saw was definitely anomalous: a halo of light that was irregular in shape, and bigger and denser than the usual faint light scatter pattern visible in my Newtonian reflector around the brighter stars. A Newtonian scope uses an 'obstructed aperture', with a secondary mirror which casts a shadow on the center of the main larger reflecting mirror; it is held in place by supports which, in this particular model of scope, are a conventional '4 vane spider' system of narrow metal brackets, casting as little extra shadow as possible. On very bright stars, a series of 'vane spikes' will appear in the eyepiece view, as this descriptive illustration will show, prepared by me from a long-exposure photo of members of the cluster The Pleiades:
In this example, a Newtonian scope produces a four-spike 'vane pattern' from its secondary support, as well as a general light scatter effect, around the core of very bright stars. In a ten-inch scope, this is quite readily noticeable on stars from the brightest to about 4th-5th magnitude, gradually fading out until it is unnoticed, especially at higher magnifications which dim the stars. At the highest magnification, the star's Airy disk diffraction pattern is seen: a bright round core, surrounded by one or more faint rings of starlight.
A good observer should learn to understand the baseline light scatter/diffraction pattern produced by his or her scope. Then, one may be able to discern if faint phenomena near a bright star are instrumental artifacts, or real sky objects.
As a long-time telescope maker (as well as having helped develop and market astronomical products for one major American company) I had made it a priority to analyze the performance of any scope that I used. I regularly star-align all my instruments; keep their optics clean; and make sure to center the desired image to avoid field edge-distortions.
However, what I perceived was not simply the normal light scatter and imperfections visible in any Newtonian telescope. It was instead very clearly above and beyond any regular instrumental artifacts.
Here is an unaltered scan of my hand-written logbook entry, made at the site as when I was finished with my viewing tests of 4 Cygni phenomenon. To decide if the anomalous light I was perceiving was unusual, or merely scope light scatter, I had spent some time examining comparable 4 to 5 magnitude stars within a few degrees; then at 1 am, I wrote the following:
In the above scribbles, I refer to "322 (3.7)" which means a magnification of 322x, using a 3.7 mm focal length ocular.
Subsequent reinvestigation showed that the nebulosity was more visible on the western side of 4 Cygni, but in my 10 inch Newtonian I found it to look rather vague, and barely above the normal light-scatter baseline of perhaps as much as 1 minute radius around the bright star, the nebula protruding beyond that by at least another 1.5 minutes. I considered it at first to be somewhat questionable. So I needed to find out if it was REAL, or an artifact. Indeed, 4 Cygni seemed to have a "bigger baseline circular glow" than other 5th magnitude test stars. But, could an eye test of a few stars, with minutes elapsing between viewing each one, be remotely valid? I doubted it; but still had the impression that the star looked dramatically different!
I wrote immediately to my friend Jaakko Saloranta, the deep-sky observing columnist for the Finnish astronomy magazine "Tähdet ja avarus" (Stars and space), and avid observer and astronomical artist, who formerly had a very extensive website, now sadly offline. [Update: his webpages have now returned; you may find his main site entrance here as of Sept. 2013.] You may read here a copy of what I reported in that email to Jaakko; the pertinent section about the 4 Cygni anomaly is below:
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2007 06:36:40 -0700
Further observations with this same scope yielded somewhat more precise data. The glow was strongest on the western side of 4 Cygni, with definite and repeatable confirmation with the same instrument. An oxygen-line nebular filter diminished it; but both a UHC-type ("UltraBlock") and general light pollution ("SkyGlow") filter helped improve contrast, the latter more than the former. I concluded from this that it was likely a reflection nebula and not an emission region; but that is scarcely a scientific test.
2. Finder Charts for the 4 Cygni Region
Before the rest of the saga, below, here are finder charts which readers may care to open by clicking on (or download by right-click/save) :
A color wide-field (20 degree width) chart showing 4 Cygni at the boundary between Cygnus and Lyra may be seen here.
A narrower field, detailed chart in color has been produced, and features most of the Hubble Guidestars plotted in a 2 degree radius of 4 Cygni, available here.
These were produced by the author using the free computer atlas "Cartes du Ciel" version 2.76, and are plotted north up, west to the right.
Update, 2012: The website of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Regina Centre) has provided a short article about the nebula that includes an even wider-field finder chart, encompassing the brighter stars of Cygnus and Lyra; click here for the webpage. Just above and to the right of the text there is a small PDF icon, which serves a printable PDF file containing the independently derived enhanced DSS photos, and chart.
3. First Attempt at Falsification
Was this 'glow' an illusion, experienced only by me; or was it 'real' and repeatable? I am not an astrophotographer (though I have equipment to do fast sky snapshots of lunar or planetary type, though not long exposures.) Before the day of 18 July 2007 was over, I had downloaded the region of 4 Cygni (5.17 magnitude: SAO 68301 or HIP 95556, at RA: 19h 26m 09.131s; dec: +36°19'04.561", J2000) as shown on Palomar Observatory Sky Survey plates. At first I thought I could see a slight evidence on one or two of them: buried inside the horrendous 'halation pattern' around the bright star (somewhat overexposed, being necessary to get as deep as possible and to record faint objects) and its diffraction effects/plate support ghost images, was a slightly oblong smear of light, extending to the southwest direction, out to the sharp ring of light that marks the boundary of the plate's internal reflections. THAT might well be some distorted evidence of a 'real' nebula! So, I contacted not only Jaakko Saloranta, but also Mr. Brian Skiff, a staff astronomer at Lowell Observatory.
Mr. Skiff is one of the relatively small number of professional astronomers who, at least occasionally, looks by eye through amateur-type scopes. He has co-authored -- with Christian B. Luginbuhl, now with the United States Naval Observatory -- an excellent book for amateur observers: Observing Handbook and Catalogue of Deep-Sky Objects, prepared after years of sky study, from Arizona, with a 6 inch refractor. Mr. Skiff regularly contributes advice and "reality checks" to amateurs, most prominently via the Yahoo technical group, "Amastro".
As a responsible scientist, Mr. Skiff was dubious at first, in his reply to my email query. He suggested it was most likely that I had made a blunder, looking at a bright star through a local cloud. (But, I knew that the sky had been remarkably clear that night, after 30+ years of experience at this very site, in thousands of hours of observing. This however cannot be accepted as a mere assertion, on face value.)
I then consulted, online, every resource and catalogue of which I knew, including NGC, IC, Lynds, and Cederblad listings of nebulae (and later the Van den Bergh, Neckel-Vehrenburg, IRAS, and Merged Catalogue of Reflection nebulae by Magikian): nothing turned up coincident with 4 Cygni's position. NOTHING, as of August 2007. I then did meta-searches of catalogues by means of the VizieR system. Again: nothing known or reported.
Deep web searches by means of Google and other engines turned up nothing specific, associating any nebula with 4 Cygni. There were no specific papers to be found via the NASA ADS system. There were no usenet reports, and nothing on any available Net forums.
Brian had suggested (I cannot remember if it was merely generally and publicly, or in this case privately and specifically to me--perhaps both) to use the "Stern Special palette" for perusing Palomar Observatory sky survey images: this false-color rendering makes it relatively easy to see different degrees of luminance. I prepared the best example I could then create, using the POSS-II blue plate, which I posted on the Net, with my observation report, in my old (now offline) "Faint Fuzzies Observations" amateur blog on Google blogspot.
On 26 July 2007 I formally published the observation in public on the freely-accessible Net, updating my online Google observing blog with the original logbook note of the tentative discovery; the exact text I had written about it in my email to Jaakko (above); plus additional information subsequently learned.
As explained below, this blog is no longer online in its original Google form, but of course I archived all the entries; and I have rebuilt it on my own website, reposting all the reports by February 2012. The original ASCII text (including a few HTML formatted inline image and link tags) may be read by clicking here; however, with the images and formatting the page is much more readable: you may well prefer to consult my current version of this original 2007 blog article, which is now posted here.
After detailing my discovery, and the discussions with Jaakko and Skiff, I added the POSS image and the following addendum:
Update: I exchanged emails with Brian Skiff of Lowell Observatory about this matter. He was not convinced that I saw anything significant, and postulated that I was just looking through the haze of a local cloud (which I am CERTAIN was absolutely not the 'problem'!) However, Jaakko Saloranta downloaded and heavily processed the DSS blue and red plates, and determined that -- yes -- there is evidence of some nebulosity (probably reflection glow) in the field of 4 Cygni, which registers faintly on the blue plate. Did I really see it; or was it merely an instrumental effect?
Pretty confident of the observation, I was willing to provide a link to it on my main "FAINT FUZZIES Master Object List" on my regular Earthlink web page about astronomical observing (in its original form now offline, but rebuilt and reposted by me, here.) It was included in a relatively new section, a hyperlinked listing of all the objects I was recording in my Google blog. That website, and the blog, are no longer on the Net in the original form (explanation below); but bits and pieces have been preserved by the Internet Archive "Wayback" machine, which I note below in an attempt to provide independently available evidence for the dates of my original public reports. The "Wayback" search for the original webpage yields a non-working link to a copy dated Nov. 18. 2007; the first one I can actually retrieve is dated January 18, 2008, and may be seen by clicking the direct link to the Wayback page here. The citation for the link to "4 Cygni's 'neb'?" is near the bottom of the page; that is directed to the pertinent entry in my now-offline Google blog (text available at the link given above, with update quoted in the previous paragraph.) In case the Wayback is not working very well for my readers, the 7 Jan. 2008 upload may be accessed alternatively here, and the very last version of the Master file that was online is here.
Because Google's blogger did not have a very efficient menu system, I made up my own so that my readers could very quickly locate any specific night's observations during the time (more than a year, 2007-2008) I had documented. I kept this as a regular HTML web page on my own Earthlink site, linkable directly from the Google blog as the "DESCRIPTIVE MENU". The earliest one that I have been able to retrieve from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine may be read, directly from the Archive, here. This shows that I had posted my observation on 26 July 2007 (which you may confirm by going down to the bottom of the page, for the fifth log entry, entitled "2 Rewarding July Nights - 7/26/07". I see that this page has a truncation, which must have occurred at some point when it was originally edited; a period is missing from the number of the PK planetary nebula that I observed that night. I had corrected it in a later edit; for convenience, I excerpt this, and quote it in the following paragraph. Here is the last copy I preserved and saved on my computer, with the correction of "PK 47-41" to "PK 47-4.1" having been made at some later date.
The text of the description of that night's entry of the observing blog says (with the PK number's missing period restored):
2 Rewarding July Nights - 7/26/07
Unfortunately, the Wayback machine seems not to have archived the actual report text, but the inclusion of the statement "I also investigate possible evidence of a faint reflection glow around the star 4 Cygni and give the pro-con arguments about it" may be obtained by anybody using the Wayback link, and so provides independent verification that it WAS posted on the Net at that date.
Parenthetically, the Wayback Machine's search function is, in my opinion, almost hopelessly inefficient and crippled. It works only if you KNOW in advance the actual original URL of the page, when it was actually online. That blog report was located for 2 years and approximately two months at:
Perhaps some day in the future the Wayback machine will disgorge it! In fact, some of my previous Google blog posts were formerly found by in Wayback Machine archives, but as of April 2012 they seem to be gone; and somebody else is now using Google Blogger's 'faintfuzzies.blogspot' designation, having nothing to do with either astronomy or me.
In an attempt to rectify the situation, I have rebuilt my old Google observing blog and reposted all the reports, here. The installment that discusses my discovery of the 4 Cygni nebulosity is found in this entry, under the heading "4 Cygni nebulosity (?)".
4. Existing Online Confirmations of My Public Discussions of 4 Cygni nebula, 7/20, 28/07
In a discussion thread on the ASTRONOMY magazine online forum about using various types of nebula filters, I posted some suggestions to answer questions from another contributor, on 20 July 2007; and in the post I talked about numerous well known objects (and how their visibility was enhanced by filters): plus the way I had used the Orion SkyGlow LPR reduction filter to see the nebulosity around 4 Cygni. This post still exists on the Astronomy forum: you may read it here. [Note: as of 2014, ASTRONOMY magazine has removed all of its forums from the web, so the link is now inoperative.] It is a rather long post so I will quote only parts relevant to the 4 Cygni issue below. I used the onscreen moniker "EightHHaggis" which was a nickname I had adopted years before for posts to the classical record collectors' newsgroup. (This an obscure reference to Studio 8H of NBC, where the famous conductor Toscanini gave his radio concerts; now Studio 8H is where "Saturday Night Live" is broadcast. A noted critic who had written a book about Toscanini was named B. H. Haggin. I too had been almost a fanatical enthusiast for Toscanini; ergo, my little joke: 8H Haggis.):
07-20-2007 06:00 PM
I signed this post "Steve W" but in a several others in the same discussion thread I signed with my full name, and gave the URL for my old website. [Note: as of 2014, ASTRONOMY magazine has removed all of its forums from the web, so the link is now inoperative.]
I had completely forgotten about this post, which I recovered by means of a Google search on 30 August 2010, during the process of editing the present article. This establishes for certain that I had been trying to inform the amateur community about my discovery of the nebulosity, immediately after I first spotted it. My complete posts to the Astronomy forum are listed here. [Note: as of 2014, ASTRONOMY magazine has removed all of its forums from the web, so the link is now inoperative.] And, to confirm who "EightHHaggis" really is, see this post I made on 16 June 2008, in which I engaged in a discussion with Dave Mitsky, Jaakko Saloranta, and other participants, about alleged claims of naked eye sightings of galaxies M-51 and M-101 (I was a definite skeptic, but interested.) I signed this post:
(with the old URL of my former website.) And, in numerous other posts I also used my real name and cited my web pages. This certainly establishes both who I was, and when -- for the very first time, even earlier than my blog entry! -- I mentioned seeing the 4 Cygni nebulosity. This can now be dated to 20 July 2007.
Update, 1 September 2010: My old usenet post about 4 Cygni just discovered:
I cite these in relation to a claim of prior discovery, to be discussed below. In presenting these links to Wayback Machine, Google newsgroups archive, and the Astronomy forum, I show that I was the first to publish news of the nebula, and that I sought to bring it to the attention of my fellow observing colleagues only a few days after I discovered it.
5. The Necessity of Independent Verification: What We've Done
My Google observing blog seemed quite popular, and over the course of 18 months or so, achieved quite a few thousand hits (and the related "Master Fuzzy" menu page, on my Earthlink website, had nearly 3,000 hits, and included a link to my report of "4 Cyg 'neb'?") So, my web report of the visual discovery by me, and the first steps of falsification (by consulting catalogues, repeating the observation, contacting a professional astronomer expert, and obtaining an entirely independent analysis and processing of DSS images by Saloranta) stood on the web for about 2 years and 2 months. "Somebody up there" at Google must have liked my blog (or, rather: their automated search system favored Google blogs!), for immediately, if one searched for "4 Cygni nebula" via Google, there was a 'hit' with a link to my article about it. That was also picked up by other search engines, so anybody using somewhat similar search terms, including 'nebula' and '4 Cygni' or its alternate IDs, might get a link to my discovery report and initial test analysis. This continued until the Google blog was taken off the Net in fall 2009 (more on that, below.) So, the public had been informed, and the thousands of readers of my articles were able to know everything essential that I'd learned about it, in order to try to see it themselves.
Yet, I have seen no evidence that others did try, and reported their results, stimulated by my blog report. This is not unusual. Some of the objects I discussed on my blog and website were extremely obscure and faint. Very few people have, as I've done, systematically viewed extraordinarily faint nebulae, or objects such as the Palomar globular clusters. While there is a 'core elite' of observers who do this very thing, I've found that they are not particularly impressed by reports given by someone who typically uses a 10 and 11 inch aperture scope, as I do. The assumption is often made that such observations are 'easy' for the owner of an 18-25 inch top of the line Dobsonian. I do know that a few 'elites' dropped in to my blog and webpages from time to time; but those venues were scarcely a 'must-read' necessity for many of the 'big boys' in the amateur observing hobby field.
Due to some unpleasant "flame wars" on usenet leading up to the year 2000, I refrained (for the most part) from posting on usenet forums, even those for amateur astronomers: the noise-to-signal ratio, by 2007, was bad. And, I'd been censored on two subscription forums: when I had the temerity to disagree with certain "gurus" who had long contributed. This is often not allowed, at least by a newcomer (no matter his or her experience or even attempts at tact.) Not being anxious to sound like a pest, I did not go into an 'orgy of self-promotion' as I've seen, occasionally, by certain other gadfly amateur astronomers. I figured: I have notified the public. I have notified a potentially interested professional. I have discussed it with other amateurs. My report is widely available, easily found by the most cursory search on the free Net, not locked behind a subscription firewall. And, I need to get incontrovertible, confirming independent photographic evidence before pursuing the next step.
Furthermore, the nebula is surely not visible from a light-polluted suburban sky; and I had not tested it with scopes smaller than 10 inches' aperture; nor with bigger ones. I had no idea how much skill was needed -- or what conditions were absolutely necessary -- in order to confirm the visual observation. At this point, I felt that it was only necessary to "put it out there" and see if anyone was interested in a parallel investigation to my own.
But, do please note: I argue that I have established prior publication of my personal, original visual discovery of 18 July 2007, posted publicly on 26 July 2007 (and later.)
I notified a certain observatory, and sent information to no fewer than four professional astronomers. I did not even receive a return acknowledgment, so I followed that up with a phone call to one of them. Yes: my informing email had been downloaded; but, no: no one had anything to say about it.
As I explained above, not being equipped to do long exposure astrophotography, I had to ask for external assistance. At first, after several inquiries, no offers of collaboration were forthcoming. One very well known expert, whose magnificent images are well known on the Net and widely published in magazines, turned me down. His complex images sometimes take days to accomplish, so speculative programs aren't his forte; furthermore he is currently using an obstructed telescope that does create a noticeable artifact around the brightest stars. After other inquiries I further found that many amateur astrophotographers are primarily interested in "beautiful pictures" that have knock-your-socks off, stunning visual quality; they aren't interested in amateur science. A photo of 4 Cygni that would show the nebula would, perforce, be risky: it should be made by unobstructed optics to eliminate ghost images of secondary supports; it would have to be a long, deep exposure (risking lens flares, burn-in, smears, and CCD overload artifacts); it would most likely have to be composited from a series of 'practical' exposures, requiring lots of prior skill and excellent software. And, the end result would NOT be a "pretty picture" of a great, expansive, colorful heavenly vista. No, it would only be 'stars, and more stars' with one bright blob of interest.
Finally I met and became well acquainted with a remarkable San Jose amateur astrophotographer named Al Howard, who has a beautiful gallery of pictures here. A professional electrical engineer by trade, Mr. Howard does engineering on a contract basis for NASA; as an amateur astronomer he has been doing astrophotography long enough to know how to maximize his equipment's performance, and gradually to upgrade his gear and techniques to world-class status! And yet, much of his published work has been done near the populous SF bay area, so his magnificent images are a testimony to his skill in eliminating the effects of light pollution, choosing the correct exposures, and compositing 'unpolluted' single exposures effectively.
Al's superb astrographic refractor has wonderful optical performance, with exceptionally low light-scatter: nearly ideal for my purpose in finding out what was in the immediate field of 4 Cygni. I perhaps might want a longer focal length instrument; but that would only complicate the process as such telescopes would often have a higher f-ratio. As Al points out, some amateurs are now using Ritchey-Chrétien cassegrain instruments with large aperture and longer focal length. I could, by such means, get a dark background and dimmer stars: but larger f-ratios require longer exposure times to record the same amount of nebulosity that can be captured in short exposures by a 'faster' focal ratio. And all the current Ritchey-derived designs have an obstructed aperture, causing more reflections and scattering interference around bright stars. So the highly-corrected refracting telescope used by Al Howard (an f/5.4 Nagler-Petzval apochromat) was an excellent compromise for the aperture size.
I waited months for Al to be on vacation, and finally he was able to work on the project during the month of July, 2009, at the Golden Gate Star Party at "Frosty Acres Ranch" in North-Eastern California, near Mount Lassen (at an elevation of 4400 feet, slightly higher than Lick Observatory!) Al had achieved a stunning success there in 2009, in his image of NGC 6559.
After thoroughly familiarizing himself with the various bit of evidence, and Palomar images, that I had collected, Al prepared for the special task at hand. He succeeded brilliantly, fulfilling all the requirements for a completely unambiguous independent verification image. One morning I opened my email box to receive the joyous news:
Hi Stephen, I was up at GSSP last week & got off 50 min of exposures on 4-Cyg under dark skies. Used the NP101is with a QSI583 binned 2x2, 10 min exposures. The FOV is approx 87x115 arc min Image scale is 4,12 arc sec/pixel I decided to bin 2x2 for increased SNR at the expense of resolution. Did some basic processing to stretch & minimize noise a bit and the result is the image attached. It looks to me like there is some very faint asymmetrical nebulosity around the star. There is also some more defined faint nebulosity in the lower right of the frame... -- Al
The optical tube assembly he used is a Tele Vue NP101is, a 4" diameter apochromatic refractor (as described on the Tele Vue website, here.) The digital camera is QSI 583 model (as of 2014, out of production but documented by the QSI company on webpages that are available from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine: see here for the main series models, and here for the technical specifications.) This is premium- quality, elite, state- of- the- art gear, costing as much as everything else I own for doing astronomy, put together (excepting my Celestron C-11 scope.) So, one must remember that to image this nebula successfully, one has to use equipment that costs much more than TEN TIMES the price of my 10-inch Dob and eyepieces and filters! If you add in the time, the cost of processing software, and the days needed to extract all the latent data from the image, you can understand the challenge to the investigator who wants EVIDENCE.
The raw image taken by Al had 4 Cygni about in the center, and was a large scale region of 87 by 115 arcminutes. I was only worried about a 'box' of perhaps 18-20 arcminutes square, a TINY part of the image (about the size of the cropped full scale region of Al's image, shown here.) But, due to the nature of photography, it is not possible to magnify and narrow in on such a region, with a conventional amateur scope, and then get any kind of faint nebulosity registered well enough to perceive. Eyepiece-projection could be done, obtaining a close field at high magnification; but exposure times would be prohibitively long: TENS or even hundreds of times the duration of a usable photograph made by a 'fast' wide field refractor, showing nebulosity.
Only a professional observatory, equipped with a gigantic telescope with incredibly long focal length, and specialized gear, could do a narrow field photo that would be as deep as this-- but it would have much more resolution. The Palomar pictures were done with a 'fast' wide-field Schmidt camera, on conventional film, and go down to about 19th magnitude. Al's image is probably not quite that deep, and has nowhere near the resolution of a 48 inch objective; but it has none of the ghost images from the back of the old film glass plates, or the spurious reflections from the Schmidt telescope plate chamber supports.
In the interest of showing our 'work product', here is the original that Al sent me: not the absolutely raw result stored without compression, but one that was reduced to a jpeg that could be emailed to me: this is the 'rawest data' that I possess: a 1.5 megabyte file entitled 4CYG_Mean5-Crop-Stretch-Noise_ Reduce.jpg. North is not up/west to right, as in a conventional image; I had to rotate it to match the POSS plates.
First, I inverted the positive image, and then cropped and scaled it somewhat: see this 1 megabyte jpeg, entitled 4CYG Mean5-negative-scaled.jpg: aha! Nebulosity is showing up!
But, it still has to be rotated to match the POSS 'normal' orientation (N up, W right); so I created this another version, with some further enhancement of contrast: a large file of 1 MB may be seen by clicking for 4-cygni/Howard-rotated-full-K_Channel-20.jpg; a manageable one for display in a webpage is further below. "K_Channel 20" refers to the fact that I took the positive image, which was sent to me as a color (but black and white content) jpeg, and separated the so-called color layers, choosing the K channel, which showed the most background nebulosity. There is no actual "color" here, as the picture has luminance data; but that process maximized its contrast (normally this is done for viewing individual color layers of a true color picture as individual filtered luminance frames.)
This is a wide-scale image, showing at this scale, relatively little nebulosity in the immediate area of 4 Cygni, but revealing a huge swatch of nebular glow 'around' the star (which one has to be careful about, as part of it could be a compositing-noise reduction artifact-- or it could be evidence of some vignetting of the edge-illumination); but also it shows pretty unambiguous evidence of other nebulosities in the field: southwest and west of 4 Cygni, and northwest, extending off the frame (upper right hand corner.)
Al Howard, Jaakko Saloranta, and I immediately looked for correspondences of this wide scale, unexpected nebulosity to the west and north of 4 Cygni, using the Palomar survey plates. And, we found it (again, not registered as well in the old images, requiring an ENORMOUS amount of processing to bring up, along -- unfortunately -- with a lot of plate grain.) The image below composites the red and blue POSS-II plates, total field width 1.5 degrees, centered on 4 Cygni:
You will note that the halation pattern on the POSS-II blue plate, surrounding 4 Cygni in the center, is fierce (to use a nonscientific term!) It covers up most of the region, when contrast boosting has been done in order to bring up the faint glows to the west (right side) of 4 Cygni. The glow that registered west of 4 Cygni (particularly at the top of the frame) appears to be uncatalogued as well. My immediate hunch was that it is most likely what has been called "galactic cirrus". Some of that stuff has been identified by Dr. Beverly Lynds; but I don't think all of this has been cited by professionals. There is a LOT of it; and much more shows up in the Cygnus region in a deep H-alpha image: too much, really, to be catalogued in numerous tiny regional areas, and probably much (most?) of it absolutely invisible to the eye in a conventional visual scope. H-alpha red emission radiation often is accompanied by a weaker greenish H-beta green wavelength, which falls in the bandwidth region where the dark-adapted eye is most sensitive (the blue green, as shown here.) I don't always have such nice, dark sky conditions at my site, affording me the chance to really search for this faint radiation, and I confess that I've only used my H-beta visual filter for certain discrete, known hydrogen emission objects in the constellation and its immediate environs. I've never seen a trace of this other 'new' nebulosity!
Since 2007 I've been updating my friend, amateur astrophotographer Chuck Vaughn, regarding the latest known aspects of the 4 Cygni issue. Chuck has long photographed magnificent gems of the Cygnus region (many of his superb images may be seen on his Astrophoto Page) and so his own experience led him recently to caution me about the mind-boggling extent of the undocumented background glows of Cygnus, writing:
The problem with Cygnus is where does any particular nebula start and where does it end? [On] an old Tech Pan image my friend Robert Townsend took with a really good wide field aerial camera lens and H-a filter on 4x5 Tech Pan... the view...looks like one giant nebula. How many uncataloged nebulae are there in this image?
Cygnus region, wide angle H-alpha photograph on Kodak Tech Pan, copyright Robert Townsend -- all rights reserved.
The picture Chuck cites (shown above, and presented by permission, with technical details in the Notes section below) indeed portrays 'one big nebula' of billowing clouds, bubbles, and waves. (The original measures about 8000 pixels square, and even a jpeg -- compressed from an original 70 MB to 5 MB file size -- is staggering. The scaled version here really can't do justice to it.) Of course, the fantastic glow in that photograph registers mostly hydrogen alpha emission radiation, not merely dust-reflected 'white' starlight. Holistically the entire region has often been termed 'the Cygnus Cloud' (including a plethora of stars, dust, and gas), covering many square degrees of sky. One of the earliest and most valuable professional studies is the paper "The Distance of the Cygnus Cloud", published in 1934 by Walter Baade (available here: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1934ApJ....79..475B.) The rich Milky Way region from Aquila to Cygnus covers "many hundreds of square degrees" according to the paper of Freeman D. Miller, who photographed the region in 1937 with Ross cameras to determine star counts and magnitude distributions (available here: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1937PNAS...23..405M.) Miller defines the "Cygnus cloud" as "lying between longitudes 30° and 45°, latitudes 0° and +10°." He even states that, reflecting the knowledge of the time, "No bright nebulae except those near Gamma Cygni appear within the limits of the Cloud, although, at least in the P Cygni cluster, there is no lack of O and B type stars." It is perhaps not unreasonable for me to speculate that the professional cataloguers of the next generation might have been quite daunted by the region's 'stuff' on the Palomar plates, and simply did not deeply investigate these O and B stars for the presence of small nebulae.
Indeed, another 'discovery' was made by Al Howard when he first looked at his newly-registered image centered on 4 Cygni: OTHER uncatalogued 'bright nebulae' (presumably the same dust/reflection interstellar medium phenomena) somewhat further to the west and north of 4 Cygni. I have reprocessed one such area of his original exposure-- it's quite distinctive though surely very hard (nearly impossible?) to see by telescopic-eye (at least I haven't been successful.) The region below is centered at approximately RA 19h 24m, 16s, dec +36d 55m:
This nebulosity appears to be contiguous with a patch of glow that continues in a northern direction, off the top of the exposed frame, but appears to be separated from the nebulous patch west of 4 Cygni. The composite image below, produced by me, shows two attempts at bringing out the latent data in Al's image. His pictures is shown in two versions at right, top to bottom; the top version has been 'averaged'. The four images to the left are POSS-II plates, red (top) and blue (bottom), with some unsharp masking applied. I can't assert that my processing of the red/blue alternates are exactly equivalent by means of any standard calibration, so I am not certain of the precise balance of the relative brightness of this region in comparing red to blue exposures; but it seems close, signifying that the glow is probably broadband and not emission-line nebulosity.
Over the course of a few days around the beginning of August 2010 I made many numerous further attempts to enhance the Howard image, zeroing in on the precise region of 4 Cygni where I had made my initial discovery. At last, I felt I had done a quick-and-dirty version that could be sent to authorities and other test viewers for verification. The composited image (compressed as a GIF) doesn't quite fit in this page, so you may see it by clicking here (on the leftmost version of Al's image I attempted to subtract the 'core' of 4 Cygni to increase clarity of the background nebulosity.) Two versions of a close up crop in negative mode are shown on the left side, from Al Howard's image in a preliminary enhancement; then the visible nebular 'protrusion' to the SW of 4 Cygni's center is matched by me, indicated by a green line, with the false color Stern Special palette thumbnail of a Palomar survey II image; the originals in negative mode are shown at right in monochrome. From those, at right, one can see readily why the nebula wasn't noticed long ago, by the professional astronomers like Lynds and Abell, who scoured the POSS plates for faint nebulae.
I have used an earlier, simpler, less effective version of the 'Aug 2010 release comparison' image for illustration here in this page, below: featuring only one Howard example, processed a bit less, all scaled down in size:
Those readers who aren't used to the examination of astronomical negatives might prefer to view the traces of the nebula in normal positive mode. As you can see, below, the negative version always seems to show more data due to a combination of the way both video and human vision function, and the compression factor employed for producing a web-suited small sized file:
The above pictures are NOT exactly what one sees by merely downloading scans of the plates. These have been reprocessed greatly, by me, to pull up latent data while still retaining the essential character of the images.
My latest attempt -- created as of 21 August 2010 -- at processing the latent data of Al Howard's image of the immediate region of 4 Cygni, is at the top of this page in negative mode; here it is, below, in both positive and negative. I used luminance stretching and averaging to try to discriminate between major brightness step-divisions, creating a sort of isophote plot effect, the artifacts of which are much easier to perceive in positive mode. Yet the negative mode version still enables human perception to detect more of the wide extent of the nebula:
Finally: it occurs to this writer that dismissing the significance of the 4 Cygni nebula merely on the grounds that 'Cygnus is full of nebulosity' is, in effect, a sort of sour-grape argument, i. e., 'I did a wide scale photo and recorded LOTS of nebulae: what's the big deal?' It seems to me that we can clearly demonstrate that the nebula in the immediate angular position of 4 Cygni is quite different (as strongly inferred by the perceived evidence of a 'bow shock' effect; see below.) It seems separate from the vast swatches of glow that are more-or-less continuous for many degrees. Spectroscopy could reveal much more, and help to determine a distance; but at present the author has exhausted his resources and contacts in professional astronomy and hasn't yet been able to persuade anybody to undertake such research.
6. Analyzing the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey Plate Artifacts
This section is intended only as a very brief, preliminary discussion. While I have examined Lick Observatory's own copies of the large transparencies, myself, as long ago as the mid-1980s (while looking for alleged 'discoveries' by astrophotographer friends -- they turned out to be camera reflections!), and I've spent years, since the late nineties, downloading, examing, and reprocessing POSS plates from the STScI Digitized Sky Survey or SkyView Virtual Observatory websites, and others, I'm not an astronomical image processing expert-- nor am I a professional astronomer with a degree specifically in astronomy. I'm strictly an amateur. Therefore, I am not best the candidate to compose a thorough and scholarly overview of this complicated topic.
What I do know, from hands- and eyes-on experience with transparencies and scanned downloads, can be quickly summarized:
This is illustrated in a representative composite of comparative images of the planetary nebula NGC-6781: the left image is from the POSS-II blue plate; and the two right hand images, monochrome and color, were made by my friend Ken Sablinsky, a San Francisco bay area amateur astrophotographer, using his Astro-Physics 130mm aperture f/8.35 refractor and SBIG ST-8ME CCD camera (three 5-minute filtered exposures.) The Palomar plate is nearly washed out and overexposed in the center of the nebula. Though the POSS plate has fainter stars and higher resolution, Ken's image shows more contrast, detail, and variety in the interior of the nebula's gaseous shell.
Furthermore, halation artifacts are severely obvious on the first series of Palomar plates; a bit less so on the second series. "Photographic halation" is simply defined as a blurred pattern of light around bright subjects, and in glass negatives it is often caused by internal reflections from the front and back side of the negative; so "anti-halation" coatings are used to minimize the problem; some of the first practical steps to reduce it followed early astrophotographic experiments at Harvard College Observatory in the 1880s. For instance, here is a crop of part of the original HCO negative plate B2312 (made with the Bache 8" reflector telescope) of the Orion constellation belt star region, on which Mrs. Williamina Fleming discovered the Horsehead dark nebula overlapping IC-434, to the south of the bright 2nd magnitude star Zeta Orionis. The halation pattern causes a huge burned in region, plus a spurious outer round ring of light (about 7 arcminutes from Zeta), and finally an obscuring fainter artifact halo with a measured radius from the center of Zeta that extends outward about half of a degree. Any faint details (including some that might well be discerned by eye with an acute observer using an excellent amateur scope) are severely masked by the halation.
As a test, I downloaded this same region using the Skyview website, selecting the DSS 1 blue, and DSS 2 blue, plates, which were delivered in jpg format. Without ANY alteration of the gamma of the original HCO plate scan, OR either of the DSS image scans -- though the latter two had to be rotated and scaled in size to match the 1888 image -- I have produced a composite view below: HCO (1888) at left, POSS1-blue in middle, and POSS2-blue at right, all oriented to match, with N to right, and W up:
As you may see, the Skyview renditions show that adjacent region plates were tacked together, and they had significantly different gamma; worse, both online scans were greatly shifted upward in brightness, being hard to evaluate. Since the author has seen ORIGINAL transparency copies of the POSS images, he can testify that these online images are not well reproduced.
Below, the gamma and contrast of each individual POSS image has been adjusted to achieve approximately the same bright/dark ratio as the HCO image; now the 'plate joins' are more obvious, but at least one can tell that the halation problem is less severe than in the much older Harvard image.
Now, one may verify that both POSS images reveal more discrete detail in the streamers of nebulosity to the W and SW of Zeta than can be detected in the HCO image, which is clouded by severe halation even though it has much inferior limiting magnitude (which you may confirm by examining the POSS images at larger scale, rather than as reduced to match the HCO photo in these panels.) The plate backing/internal Schmidt scope reflections around Zeta are stronger in the First Series (middle picture) than in the Second series (right picture); though sometimes the POSS 1 (albeit somewhat grainier) is better than 2 for dimmer objects since the Second series tends to create a very sharp, discrete glowing halo that -- depending on the position of the object with respect to the center of axis -- may move around. Below are sample POSS2 images of objects that I have discussed in some of my observing articles, showing how the halation artifact typically appears around bright stars; the objects are (in sequence left to right) planetary nebulae Abell 6, Haro 1-36, Abell 72, and Abell 33:
So, when examining either the First or Second series of Palomar Deep Sky Survey plates obtained online, please remember that (a) they are not always reproduced optimally to match the original exposure range, (b) and that each series has identifiable but subtle differences in the appearance of halation artifacts. Sometimes the plates are nearly useless for proper examination of the sky background field within a large radius of bright stars or extended objects like high surface brightness planetary nebulae. Such difficulty has posed great problems to modern investigators who have wished to confirm, or debunk, Sir John Herschel's observation of an 'immense nebulous atmosphere' around the Orion belt star Alnilam/Epsilon Orionis (see here.)
I tended to find that the POSS-II survey plates showed more of the 4 Cygni nebula than the series I. It was necessary to try to get a 'personal casual visual calibration' of the bright star images of A-type stars (4 Cygni is type A0p per the SAO listing or the Henry Draper catalogue entry, while being rated at various other B types in other surveys-- for instance, B9p(Si) as described in the General Catalogue of Variable Stars [Samus+ 2007-2010].) According to the general stellar classification scheme, a type A0 star is a 'common' blue-white main sequence star. It appears "white" in a fully achromatic telescope, such as my reflector instrument. During my first night of discovery in 2007, I compared it with several A-type stars of about the same brightness, noting the consistency of their 'roundish halos' of light in my scope, compared to the irregular halo of 4 Cygni.
To isolate the plate artifacts, at least casually, I downloaded POSS-II images of several A-type stars not far from 4 Cygni. The plate scans I obtained from SkyView were not all at the same gamma, so I adjusted them to the same apparent brightness per their magnitudes, and then created negatives at exactly the same scale. Here are some results:
As one may immediately see, the effect of the background glow around 4 Cygni -- the irregularity, and the sharp boundary running NE to SW 'through' the core of the star -- is quite subtly different from the more even circular glows around the other stars. Each one also shows the sharp 'vane pattern' as well as some radial 'spokes' which, in negative mode, look lighter for a few degrees of circumference; these vary in placement due to the plate centering.
Yes: the 4 Cygni plate from the POSS-II series does show an irregularity in the general, overall star image, compared to the rounder, more even glow of the other similar-type stars. This corresponded to what I could see by eye; but also, I was noting 'internal variations' in the brightness of the glow pattern that did correspond: as a subtle, faintly more luminous, rather narrow "shaft" of light, extending out to the SW of the core. This became more apparent to me after I obtained the Howard image, and revisited 4 Cygni with the same telescope, on another summer night that had been darkened by low ground fog, cutting off light pollution.
7. Recent Visual Examination by Waldee, August 2010
Armed with the background I'd gathered from the above experiences and experiments, I looked again yet one more time, with the same telescope at the same site, during the early morning hours of 10 August 2010. I had waited for a summer night with heavy ground fog, and for nearly two weeks this was a consistent pattern from the end of July well into the middle of August. So, the sky was probably close to the darkness (and naked-eye stellar limiting magnitude) of the discovery night in 2007. I did not bring any picture of the 4 Cygni nebula with me; I wanted to get a fresh impression. Here is what I wrote to Jaakko Saloranta:
Here at last is the scan of the *attempt* I made to draw the 4 Cyg nebula, on 10 August 2010 after 1:45 am. On careful comparison with TheSky's plot, rotated to match, and the POSS-I blue plate (Stern Special Palette) with some processing to exaggerate the nebula, I see some problems with my rendering.
After scanning the page, pasting in a matched/rotated POSS image (heavily processed to extend the glow as far as possible); including a matched plot generated by TheSky VI; and drawing green indicator lines to match the stars, I perceive that the bright shaft of light is definitely tilted too far south. But, it is true that the secondary spike pattern WAS rotated such that it cut right through where the glow would have been strongest; since I could not rotate the scope tube, I couldn't tell if the 'brightest part' of the shaft of light emanating S and W was not just a PART of the glow, obscured by the scope's spider pattern artifact.
The most likely explanation for the direction-distortion of the 'nebular protrusion' seen below is the way that my drawing was produced. My alt-azimuth scope does not have what one might call a 'buttery-smooth' mount, and in particular the azimuth adjustment is bouncy and sluggish. I was observing at 341x and 682x to try to get not the 'outer halo' of glow to the west of 4 Cygni, but rather the inner core irregularity. The sketch took some time, and the field stars were placed first, around 4 Cygni; its visual appearance was then fleshed out at high power. I suspect that this caused the star's appearance to be rotated with respect to the field stars. Jaakko's drawing was made at 60x, as he was attempting to document the larger, vague glow outside the central core of 4 Cygni; I was trying to do pretty much the opposite. I can no doubt improve my rough sketch by using my C-11, which is clock-driven (and unobstructed: no vane spike pattern will be created.)
Frankly, the description, and the drawing, don't seem to me to be nearly as satisfactory as the image that Jaakko Saloranta quickly supplied, from Finland. Jaakko is a far more expert sketcher than I am. I've done several dozen in the last year--all crude. He's done thousands over the previous decade, all (to my eyes) quite exquisite and often flawlessly accurate, matching survey photos with uncanny precision. I've seen his camera snapshots of the original raw object drawing cards done live at the eyepiece: they are virtually identical with the scans he has posted of the same picture-- so there's no 'funny business' going on. He simply is remarkably talented, with an acute eye for magnitude differences, angles, and spatial relationships. I-- on the other hand-- am very deficient, average or below average in these respects...but I can usually very readily tell "faint from nothing" and so have no difficulty in seeing exquisitely dim nebulae that other observing friends of mine miss. (They do EVERYTHING ELSE better than I do!)
It would seem to me that by using lower power, Jaakko picked up more of the extent of the faint nebulosity west of 4 Cygni by employing a larger eyepiece exit pupil than I used, with very high power views to try to see the interior details closest to the core of the star. We certainly hadn't correlated how each of us would try to examine it, and -- in a manner that I think has turned out quite useful -- we give two very different conceptions: close-up, and wider angle. At the magnification I used, my eyepiece FOV is only about 12 arcminutes; Jaakko informs me he used a 20 mm (52 degree apparent field) Plössl ocular for his 60x view drawing, so the calculated visual field would be around 50-51 arcminutes: certainly a bit less than 1 degree.
Jaakko's observing session was on 19 August 2010, at Koivukylë, Vantaa, Finland, using his Orion (USA) 8" DSE Dobsonian scope. All pertinent details of the weather conditions are given in his posted report, which I have archived. I will take the liberty of posting in this article his "comparison" image compilation of the POSS-II vs Jaakko's drawing (60x) below; you may also click for a photo of his original sketchbook entry.
Jaakko noted the fact that I did see some general glow on the NE side of 4 Cygni (which I faithfully recorded in my sketch even though I was 100% sure it was simply the overall light scatter which further confuses the background nebulosity.)
While I usually try to sketch any visible instrumental aberrations, Jaakko tends not to draw "scope artifacts" though he knows what they are; he records not the jagged reflections and vane patterns, but only the 'stuff' that is the shape or glow of the object as he discerns its distinction, apart from the scope's baseline reflection pattern. I show this, here, in a composite I made of planetary nebula Abell 12: on the left, the POSS-II blue plate image; in the center my sketch, and on the right, Jaakko's drawing (copied from this post, which is offline now, though I am happy to have archived it before it disappeared from the net.)
After viewing the 4 Cygni nebula, Jaakko emailed me that he "saw a faint, elliptical glow on the other side of the star - what a mess this is!... My sketch shows the rough, but not precise size of the nebulosity as it was too faint for a 'good' estimate. Still, seems to be OK with Al's picture and DSS...who knows."
By 28 August 2010, Jaakko updated his website's Cygnus page (still available via the Wayback Machine) to include a citation of the 4 Cygni nebula, where he describes an approximate angular diameter of 13' x 5'. Jaakko has elaborated on this in an email to me: "the 13' x 5' size [of] the nebula is measured from the DSS and using Aladin's 'distance' tool. Estimated from the drawing...the visual size of the nebula I managed to spot was roughly 6' x 3'."
I did my own independent measurement, using the online Aladin Sky Atlas. As shown here, with the contrast of the POSS-II plate cranked up (not even showing as much of the nebula as visible on Al Howard's image), I came up with an approximate distance of at least 7 arcminutes on the longer axis, running NE/SW, the nebula 'overlapping' part of the intense photographic core of the star. The minor axis (SE/NW) can't really be measured even approximately, because it is partly obscured by the intense starlight of 4 Cygni. I'd intuit that it's about half the major axis angular distance, or about 3.5 minutes. As shown in Al Howard's image, the nebula might have an even larger diameter. Using GSC marker stars and Al's photo, I believe the nebula extends further north than this particular POSS/Aladin image shows, so I estimate that it might have a major axis, running NNE/SW, of 8-10 arcminutes (or even longer?) Then it can be shown from Howard's raw image, heavily processed, that there is a possibility that the distinct nebula 'near' 4 Cygni might be contiguous with an even larger, fainter nebulous patch.
Going back over my log book 18 July 2007 "accid. disc" note, what I wrote to Jaakko (and other friends) at the time, and what I later observed -- and then interpreting all of it -- I believe that I had noticed a somewhat larger halo around 4 Cygni than I would have expected for a star of that magnitude; that it had 'structure' and was irregular, and had a protrusion to one side (SW) that extended beyond the surprisingly large diameter of irregular glow by at least 1'. Therefore, I'm assuming that I had perceived by means of the 10 inch scope a larger axis of about 3-4 minutes. As I said, this has to be 'interpreted' as the log entries were not that explicit.
Neither Jaakko nor I have had the temerity to try to do a "visual magnitude estimate". Most deep sky diffuse nebulae have no such 'rating'-- it's not an easy task to come up with any kind of systematic, reliable relational system, compared to the magnitude estimates that are made for individual bright stars. Then, even there, the 'personal equation' of individual astrometers, working by eye, is scarcely calibrated to a reliable scientific certainty. So, I am not worrying about a visual estimate...and the ability to see the nebula is directly related to: (1) your experience; (2) your scope's efficiency; (3) your scope type, and internal light scatter; (4) the magnification (exit pupil) you employ; (5) the sky darkness; (6) the quality of seeing and transparency; and certainly not last, (7) your locale above the local inversion layer.
If you haven't clicked on the link to Jaakko's observing blog, above, here is the excerpted text related to the object:
"Next in line was 4 Cygni nebula (Waldee 1) which was pointed to me by Californian amateur astronomer and good friend Stephen Waldee. You better believe it when I say Stephen discovered this visually using his 10" telescope but I had serious doubts how well my 8 inch telescope and suburban light pollution hell could match up to his observing site in the Santa Cruz mountains. To my amazement, I was in for a treat instantly when I turned the telescope towards 4 Cygni. Keep in mind that apart from knowing that I was looking for a nebula I had no advance knowledge of this object. Using 38x (32mm Ortho), comparing the view to both 8 Cygni and Theta (21) Lyrae, 4 Cygni had a subtle but definite "milkiness" to it so I'm fairly certain I got it and I'll surely be trying it again under darker skies. The notes are as follows: "Surrounding a 5th magnitude star 4 Cygni. Milkiness apparent even @ 38x being clearly nebulosity and not a reflection or glow of stars. Nebulosity appears as a soft, elliptical glow on the N and W side of the star. UHC filter has no effect, sketched @60x. Wonderful object." -- [Jaakko Saloranta]
Perhaps, as I told Jaakko and Al Howard, I'd prefer not to call the 4 Cygni nebula "Waldee 1" but rather "Waldee-Howard 1" or even "WHS 1" (including Mr. Saloranta's initials, as he's been an invaluable collaborator.) Al Howard provided THE marvelous independent evidence that the phenomenon is not merely an artifact on the POSS plates; and Jaakko Saloranta has obtained the independent visual confirmation by a second observer!
Most Recent Observations & Updates
Here is a quick summary -- to be elaborated later, with sketches -- of a study of 4 Cygni for nearly three hours, from about 11 pm on the night of 4 September, to 1:50 am on 5 September 2010, at my Santa Cruz mountain range high altitude site. I don't do rigorous NELM tests, usually, because my eyeglasses are old (I don't use them for observing with a telescope), but the faintest star I could see by naked-eye was not too much dimmer than 6th magnitude. The sky was very clear, with fine transparency. Seeing was spectacular: at best, perhaps 9 out of a possible 10, with utterly steady stars that focused sharply at 300x. At transit the nebula's elevation was 88 degrees altitude, around 9:30; but due to the difficulties of pointing my small 4.7 inch f/5 Orion achromat refractor straight up on its alt-az mount, I started studying the star around 11 pm (elevation +62d) and finished at 1:50 am (+40d): this allowed me to see it in the darkest part of the sky, away from all local light domes.
Following my approximate route of discovery night in 2007, I moved from Stephenson 1 (a sparkling loose cluster involving brilliant orange Delta 2 Lyrae, at the northeasternmost corner of Lyra's conspicuous parallelogram), in a jump east of about 5 arcminutes to open cluster NGC 6791, which at low power of 40x was "a faint peppering of unresolved stars in a small patch, slightly detached from a busy field." Then, traveling 1d 47 min SE, I centered on 4 Cygni. "Whoa," I had thought, back in July 2007, "this star is strange--what a glow!" -- and that was exactly my reaction now, even using 4.7 inches' aperture rather than 10. In magnifications from 40 to 60x, I perceived a definitely anomalous halo of light, becoming obviously more asymmetrical as I increased magnification. The entire logbook notations were extensive, and probably need only be summarized here: I finally determined that at 66x there was an asymmetrical halo of pale, hazy light, rather oval shaped, with 4 Cygni near the eastern end, fading away toward the SW of the star. At critical magnifications and with precise glances for best averted-vision perception, I could even detect a sort of 'curved swath' through the region that surrounded the star, which I drew as carefully as possible. I estimate that from one end to the other, at 66x the 'curvature' stretched a bit more than 3 arcminutes (not as long as I had been able to trace with my 10 inch scope.)
At highest powers, aided by a new high quality 3x Barlow, I was able easily to see, and hold, repeatedly during star drifts through the field, GSC 2666:2154 (magnitude 14.8), separated 46 arcseconds from 4 Cygni. Remarkably, even a few fainter stars, not plotted in the HGC, were also seen within a couple of minutes' radius, and I'll have to use the Aladin Sky Atlas to try to document them.
The 'protrusion' of light emanating from the core of 4 Cygni, toward the W and SW (extending in Palomar photos nearly 7 arcminutes, as far as GSC 2666:954 or even beyond it) seemed to me, in the 4.7 inch scope, to extend slightly more than 3 minutes. This did not quite look like the term I'd used for my previous viewing with the 10 inch scope, a "shaft" of light; it was now (as one can expect) dimmer and more tenuous, a somewhat triangular 'curved brightening', narrowing and then fading to the background.
The "SkyGlow" (Orion brand) general light pollution reduction filter helped enormously, from low powers to over 100x; the "UltraBlock" (Orion) hydrogen emission filter was effective only at lower magnifications: and the O-III filter killed almost all traces of the light-halo at any magnification attempted.
Finally: the next object viewed, after concluding my last drawing and notes of 4 Cygni, was the reflection nebula VdB 140, which is considered to be conspicuous enough to be plotted on the Sky & Telescope "Pocket Atlas". It wasn't at transit and also suffered, being closer to the San Jose light dome than 4 Cygni; but my definite impression is that this relatively well-known reflection nebula -- though much larger in diameter than 4 Cygni's odd glow -- was much dimmer in the 4.7 inch scope, compared to the nebulosity I could see in the vicinity of 4 Cygni. I think therefore that amateurs with experience and favorable observing sites, possessing very good refractors not too much smaller than 120 mm aperture, stand more than just the faintest chance of duplicating my own results. -- srw, 5 Sept. 2010, 2:03 pm.
Timo Karhula has just posted a 'glowing' account of this 'glowing' nebula, in such positive terms that it takes my breath away! Sue French, the Sky & Telescope magazine deep sky editor and columnist, forwarded me the text to the Amastro mailing list. The post is now on the Net, giving full details of his observational techniques; you may read it all in Amastro Message 23061. Timo says:
I was intrigued by this thread so I had to have a look at 4 Cygni myself. Last night was excellent (ZLM > +7.2, SQM-L 21.5) so I took out my 10-inch GSO Dobsonian.
Thank you, Sue; and especially, thanks to Mr. Karhula for trying it and sharing the results! I couldn't be more pleased. -- srw, 5 Sept. 2010, 3:12 pm.
A. J. Crayon, of the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix, is an enthusiastic observer, astro object list compiler, and astronomical sketcher. I've been relying on some of his resources for twenty years, so it was a particular pleasure and honor to receive his report:
Steve, here is my observation of your nebula.
In the spirit of Arizona, I must reply, "¡Muchas gracias, A.J.!"-- srw, 5 Sept. 2010, 8:21 pm.
On Monday 6 September 2010 I travelled to the home and observatory of Chuck Vaughn, well known Californian astrophotographer whose remarkable website is here, a must-visit for anyone interested in fabulous celestial images (Chuck completed the exposures for his image of NGC 7380 in Cygnus during my visit; the picture is now off the net, but I've found at least the small thumbnail that used to be on his website, here.) His residence is in rural Mountain Ranch (120 d W, +38 d N) near the Sierra range, at 2500 feet elevation. Though there is a dim light dome from Sonora, the sky is generally darker overall than the average night (without coastal fog) at my site at a higher elevation north of Santa Cruz. Best-case NELM was about 7th magnitude; the weather was excellent, with clear sky and very low humidity. A full report, and my five separate drawings of the 4 Cygni nebula, might be appended to this article at some time in the future; in summary: Chuck was able to see the nebula in my C-11 telescope, generally confirming where I was perceiving differences in the brightness of the halo of light around the star -- even though he wasn't as dark-adapted as I had become after two hours of observing. So, we were in agreement about the visual appearance. I confirmed everything seen earlier by me in 4.7 and 10 inch scopes, and was now able to take advantage of the telescope's clock drive to observe the nebula critically from 10:30 pm to 2:30 am.
I have three different occulting eyepieces, made from 10 mm and 25 mm Plössls. One has a curved occulting block (shown here); another has a bar; and the third has a straight bisector. Using these and my 2x Barlow, with magnifications of 112x to 560x, I was able to trace out nebulosity to an 11th magnitude star that is approximately 3'25" from the center of 4 Cygni (GSC 2666:181) and to see at least a minute's extension, to the north, beyond the 1/2 minute radius 'baseline' light halo around any comparable 5th magnitude star: therefore perceiving an overall nebula length of about 1 + 30" (baseline glow radius) + 3'25", or approximately 5 arcminutes' total diameter, major axis. The 'curvature' was also perceived, as well as a sheen-like effect of the glow, reminding me somewhat of the intense light around some of the members of the Pleiades. -- srw, 7 Sept. 2010, 6:40 pm.
You will find one of my drawings from this observing session in Section 11.5 of this article, below.
8. Corroborations by a Professional Astronomer, Dr. H. G. Corwin
Before considering whether or not to post anything more about the 4 Cygni nebula (now at least it wouldn't need to be described as '4 Cyg "neb"?') I wanted the opinion of a professional. Mr. Skiff had averred, in 2007, that it probably wasn't seen at all by me-- that I'd looked through a cloud, and no nebula was there. But this was before much work was done with the POSS plates.
I was sorry that my late, great friend, Dr. Don Osterbrock of Lick Observatory, had passed away. He'd never be able to cogitate about this latest presumptuous notion of his much younger amateur dabbler friend, Waldee. I always valued his good natured, reasonably polite, but VERY strict opinions-- he'd let nothing get by. With an expert of his caliber there is no point in offering empty 'attaboys' or casually saying 'well, that COULD be...nice try." No, Osterbrock was a blunt scientist when the need arose. He would require the kind of "extraordinary evidence" that passes the Sagan test!
I thought for a moment. Don Osterbrock might be 'somewhere else on another plane, perhaps now circling close to his beloved emission nebulae' -- assuming he wasn't an atheist or agnostic (I frankly didn't know); but, being a very minor contributor to the NGC/IC Project, I had been corresponding occasionally with Dr. Harold G. Corwin, Jr., of Caltech, regarding old NGC anomalies. Among other achievements in a long and productive career, Dr. Corwin is a co-author of The de Vaucouleurs Atlas of Galaxies (by Ronald J. Buta, Harold G. Corwin, Jr., and Stephen C. Odewahn, Cambridge University Press, 2007), and several other extragalactic catalogues maintained by Corwin and linked on his home page. Corwin has been happy to share my pleasure in discovering this little nebula; he says, "There are galaxies on the sky that I was the first to see when I did the southern surveys in the 1970s. All are old hat now and no one needs to know that I found them, but I have the satisfaction of knowing that I did."
When he received my evidence, Dr. Corwin informed me that he was able to confirm the nebula with his practiced eye using the Palomar plates; and that -- in his word -- it was "real".
Dr. Corwin suggested that it might be a reflection nebula similar to ones that show up on various survey plates, even at high galactic latitudes, related to stars or even reflecting "the combined light from the disk stars in the plane of the Milky Way."
It can't be determined at this point by me if the nebula is indeed associated with 4 Cygni, or if it is merely a manifestation of galactic "cirrus", somehow illuminated. Corwin cited Dr. Alan Sandage's paper "High-latitude reflection nebulosities illuminated by the galactic plane", available at this NASA ADS link: http://cdsads.u-strasbg.fr/full/1976AJ.....81..954S.
Quoting from several of Dr. Corwin's emails to me, he has written:
The nebula you see around 4 Cyg is indeed real -- it shows up on red and blue POSS1 and POSS2 plates when you know where to look for it. My guess: This is one of those faint reflection nebulae that show up all over the sky survey plates, even those at high Galactic latitude. Allan Sandage wrote ... that those not apparently associated with any stars are probably reflecting the combined light from the disk stars in the plane of the Milky Way. The so-called infrared "cirrus" seen in the IRAS survey (particularly the 60- and 100-micron scans) is probably the same stuff.
I had just discovered in my research about 4 Cygni that is is a magnetic variable star, specifically an α2 CVn variable that features a strong magnetic field. Was the nebula merely a line-of-sight coincident phenomenon, or actually related to 4 Cygni? One couldn't know from these photographs. Since the nebula hasn't been professionally studied, no spectra have been taken. I wondered about the shape of the nebula, and the sharpish boundary on the southern-facing side. Was it possible that the medium, 'near' 4 Cygni, had created opposing forces, generating a 'bow shock' effect? I wrote back to Corwin:
Harold...I just finished scanning over a paper on "The Shock-Excited P-Cygni Nebula" -- http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1994MNRAS.268L..29B -- but that obviously is a very different phenomenon. I did find a few other Google hits about nebulae associated with variables...but nothing that related specifically to magnetic fields... I was concerned with the 'inner curvature' with the sharp edge that runs across the center of the star image on one particular POSS plate, from NE to SW.
Dr. Corwin replied:
If this is a simple reflection nebula, then the fact that the star is a magnetic variable is irrelevant. It occurred to me, too, that since the nebula is visible on both red and blue plates at about equal intensity, it must have about the same color as the star (B-V) = -0.1. The POSS plates were exposed so that stars near A0 have equal-sized images on both red and blue plates. The result is that anything on the sky with a color index near 0 will appear equally bright on both plates, assuming it is reflecting starlight, of course. I think this argues in favor of the reflection nebula hypothesis...
For the next few days I pondered that issue of the 'sharp edge to the south side' of the nebula. It did not look as sharp on the Howard image; but that 4 inch aperture scope scarcely has the resolution of the 48 inch Schmidt! The sharpness varies from plate to plate in the POSS series, but that could be because of variation in seeing and sky transparency; they're all focused well. But I decided it was possibly affected by the 'radial spikes' I could just barely perceive in the comparison sheet showing the 4 similar stars: every one has those radial bright spikes (of course dark instead, in positive mode) and they could be obscuring one edge of the nebula in the best 4 Cygni image. I tentatively concluded that the sharpness was not proved as a definite reality, and might be partially related to imaging artifacts. And, at this time, I had no access to a giant observatory instrument with very high resolution, to resolve the quandary with an alternative go/no go falsification of the POSS images.
But, further discussion with Dr. Corwin shows that we are both vacillating, in the absence of no evidence that is absolutely concrete and confirming, from an entirely different type of scope but with at least the same resolution as the 48 inch Schmidt. Dr. Corwin now finds similarities in traces of the sharp edge of plates with different centers, which suggests a common 'real' factor. He asserts, as of 25 August 2010:
...[the sharpness of the southern part of the nebula] looks the same to me on both the red and blue images. All the halation effects around bright stars on Schmidt plates are well-known and can be modeled. This matches none of them that I'm aware of.
I commented on "what little I know, at the moment, of the astrophysics of 4 Cygni specifically, and other Alpha2 CVn variables, [which] doesn't suggest that they'd typically produce such a localized effect [in an immediate stellar 'atmosphere']"; and Dr. Corwin commented wryly, "The center of the nebula is roughly four arcmin from the star. At the distance of the star (200 +- 20 parsecs), this corresponds to about 0.25 parsecs = 0.8 light years. I don't know what [your] definition of 'atmosphere' is, but mine doesn't extend quite that far from the surface of stars."
So: the issue remains. Is the sharp southern counter of the nebula's edge an artifact; or simply the boundary of the region of stellar reflection glow; or even an indication of two media of different density, one producing more glow than the other: a bow-shock boundary (or merely looking similar to such a phenomenon)?
In discussing this further, Dr. Corwin and I exchanged personal impressions with both visual observations and photos of the "Iris" nebula (NGC 7023, shown here in a stunning modern image by Jim Misti and Robert Gendler.) Of course, this reflection nebula is huge compared to the 4 Cygni phenomenon; the Iris nebula seems to be in a deep 'cavern' of dark matter that blocks stars around it, and inside there is much detail (which I can see in my own C-11 telescope, though not nearly as clearly as in color photos.) There is a narrow linear 'dark parallelogram', and fractal edges of the dark/light boundary regions.
I then happened to think of my own drawing of the 'dust filled' reflection nebula NGC 1999, as seen in my C-11 telescope.
A vivid modern color picture, such as this Hubble team image, renders much more detail (not to mention color) than the eye can see through a typical amateur scope; what I had drawn on 28 December 2008 is shown at left.
In my sketch, the bottom insert, done at much higher magnification and drawn in larger scale than the full eyepiece view, shows that I perceived 'radial striations' and two 'wedges' in the nebulosity: as this is a 'negative' drawing, dark and white must be reversed to understand what I meant: the radial "pie slices" are supposed to be dark, and the 'radial spikes' filling out the rest of the circumference, are to be considered light areas: glow.
The digital image by the Hubble Space Telescope doesn't really correspond to the way I saw it by eye, but I could discern the positions of the darker zones (the pie slice wedges); compare what I was trying to evoke with the way I drew the 4 Cygni nebula's 'protrusion' to the southwesterly region, above (partly obscured by the spider pattern on the W side.)
9. Astronomical Significance of Nebula Discovery
No one is about to claim that my 4 Cygni nebula publications -- at various times from 2007 through 2010 -- chronicle an event as significant as comet-hunter Wilhelm Tempel's discovery of the 'large' and diffuse "Merope Nebula" (NGC 1435) in the Pleiades in 1859! And, certainly, Edward Barnard's original observation of his 'smaller' and more difficult Merope nebula (IC-349) in 1890 was a mind-boggling feat of amazing perception, spotting a tiny 'wisp' near a brilliant 4.17 magnitude star. But, my little accidental discovery has certain parallels. Like Tempel, I'm an amateur (though he was a dedicated 'searcher of new objects', and I'm definitely not interested in that quest.) Barnard was, in 1890, an amateur-now-turned-professional; and he used not a small refractor (like Tempel's) nor a 10 inch Newtonian (Waldee's scope), but instead the then-largest telescope in the entire world: the mighty Lick 36-inch. (He also discovered Jupiter's fifth moon with that behemoth.)
No: my 'little insignificant reflection nebula discovery' would have to be considered a rather inconsequential event. At the moment the 'object' (such as it is) might seem to be merely a smear of starlight reflected from random interstellar dust. That general phenomenon has been well-studied by professional astronomers; I suspect that there's nothing new, here, to perk up the ears of astrophysicists! There have been a few comments from other amateur and professional astronomers (more below), and I might paraphrase and summarize them as this: 'quite a feat, spotting it...but, it's a commonplace thing and of no particular interest.'
The last time I recall an 'amateur discovery of a reflection nebula with a small scope' was the 'accidental' photograph of a new nebula by American amateur Jay McNeil, in February of 2004. Using a brand-new 76 cm. refractor for a test image of M-78, Jay discovered to his great surprise that a faint wisp of glow he'd captured could not be found on some older archival images. He had recorded the 'outburst' of a variable nebula, related to IRAS 05436-0007. Using official channels to announce his finding, his discovery was widely publicized and immediately confirmed by both professionals and amateurs. It provided an opportunity for the pros to record significant astrophysical data, and very satisfying photographic and visual experiences by many amateurs. Soon the nebula dimmed; but in 2008 it brightened again, and once more, photos were taken...but now, no amateur eye-viewers reported seeing it. (Except me! I had posted a lengthy article on my several sightings in my Earthlink web pages, chronicled in great detail since I could not find a single other sighting by 'live eye' during the brief 2008 reappearance. Since this still seems to be the case -- no one else reports seeing it visually during the brightening of 2008 -- I have decided that it would be of great value to repost my article, which you may read here.)
For many years I had struggled to see, absolutely unambiguously, Tempel's 'large' Merope nebula successfully; it usually wasn't visible to me in reflector scopes with intrinsic light scatter, and only discernible in my refractors: I considered it something of a challenge object (though the esteemed American amateur Jay Reynolds Freeman, who's logged it a few dozen times, has argued strongly with me that it is 'easy'); and only after several failed attempts have I been able to get a rather unsatisfactory glimpse of Barnard's tiny 'wisp' near Merope: many, many hours have gone into the struggle. The 2008 reappearance of Jay McNeil's small reflection nebula prompted me to undertake several dedicated sessions, including one involving a 300 mile trip JUST to look for it in very dark skies (successfully!) So, for many years I've been particularly dedicated to the task of studying challenging reflection nebulae (especially near bright objects), so -- as they say -- "Chance favors the prepared mind."
Frankly, it's not surprising to me that other amateurs who haven't been particularly fascinated by such phenomena might yawn at 'our' little nebula. (However: one might wonder what the Spitzer telescope would make of the region? Consider the image released of the Cygnus Star Forming Region DR22, which records many wavelengths of light that could not be detected by means of the old Earth-based photographic images of 4 Cygni on the Palomar plates.)
Nevertheless, I find it slightly frustrating that a number of amateurs (such as McNeil, Jurasevich, and Kronberger) have received wide newspaper, web, and publication coverage of their nebula discoveries in recent years, but all of these have been via photography or digital imaging, NOT by the means I've used: watching the sky by live eye with a telescope. I would argue that the "old fashioned" process I've used is considerably more challenging, as so many observers have gone before me, over two centuries, and have missed the object. Such a discovery must be made "in the moment" by careful initial observation and perceptive analysis, for this method creates no permanent image that can be perused, at leisure, at a later time. Furthermore: the "live visual process" offers something that is denied to to investigator who makes an 'accidental discovery' on a picture: the opportunity to do immediate followup investigation at the session, to record data and make pertinent comparisons, as I did back in 2007.
10. Why My Google "Faint Fuzzies Observations Blog" & Earthlink "Faint Fuzzies -- Near City Lights" website were taken off the Net
Since one aspect of determining discovery credit is timely proof, which may be independently verified, I am sorry to say (as mentioned above) that my Google blog, and Earthlink website, both had to be taken down by me sometime around the end of September 2009. Here's why:
Beginning in spring 2009, I noticed a great deterioration in the performance of my normal web browsing and file serving capabilities. My wife and I had been subscribers to Earthlink ADSL service for about five or six years, and it had been fine-- until 2009. By the summer, I could no longer reach any of my regularly- perused European websites: not even my friend Jaakko Saloranta's site. I could not bring up the SkyView Visual Observatory or the STScI sites for downloading POSS images. My daily repeated visits to the wonderful site Messier45.com were hopelessly hobbled: for while the charts it generated would slowly paint (though often only partially), the POSS images would never show up; nor would almost any of the external links to SIMBAD and other references. I could not bring up the Sky & Telescope website, or the Astronomy magazine observing forums. But, if I wanted to get the latest news, the famous and popular 'news portal' sites would pop up instantly-- yet 2/3rds of their links wouldn't work!
Worse: I could get the Earthlink ftp site only about 5% of the time, so it was next to impossible to continue to maintain my "Faint Fuzzies" webpages. I put up a statement to that effect on my last page, in total frustration, on 13 August 2009, saying in part:
...we have noticed a rather severe deterioration of Internet performance: slower access rate, stalled webpages, ftp server log-in failures, and even dropped ADSL connections. We have had so many problems that we even called in a local phone company trouble report to have our lines checked. For instance: during our preparation of the last report, above, we completely lost the Net; when our connection was restored we found it impossible to access many sites we normally use for research purposes. Since we can no longer rely on getting NED, VizieR, the Deep Sky Browser, Jaakko Saloranta's reports and drawings, Photobucket (which contains many of our graphics), plus a large number of other services that are essential for us to complete the research required for compiling and posting our articles, we've decided that it may be best to take a break and try to find a permanent solution. At the moment we have no more intentions to add subsequent "Faint Fuzzy" object reports here, though if Google Blogger continues to function -- and that is "iffy" too! -- we shall probably add more casual reports from time to time, on our observing blog. Best, srw, 8/13/09
Ultimately, we couldn't even bring up our OWN Roper Studio home business website, or my hobby pages! But, our ISP's tech support (in Asia, of course, not the USA) insisted 'they are fine and are online.' That was NOT so; neighbors on other services could not get our pages, and we couldn't bring them up at the nearest branch of the San Jose public library; and webpages of other friends of mine, on the same domain, couldn't be accessed. "Not so," said the ISP: "they are fine." Well-- in Hyderabad, perhaps; but not here! I even confirmed this by examining the reports of my independent page counters. They'd dropped to nothing. By the end of August we gave up negotiating with Earthlink, concluding that there was a major snafu with their DNS servers affecting me, and other servers feeding the Net (and a subsequent web search for trouble reports indicates that this seems to have happened before a few years ago.) So that I would not have "dead sites" online for months, unreachable by me, I knew it was time for an ISP change. After checking around and getting the advice of local friends, I decided to switch to ATT/Yahoo DSL service. I tried, repeatedly, for two or three days, and finally managed to get the Google blogger interface, and deleted my blog. After dozens of tries, I was able to get the Earthlink ftp server, and erased the files of our business and home hobby websites. It would be necessary to start all over again, somewhere else.
Frankly, I've enjoyed not having to maintain those large sites! My wife fully intends to create her own new Roper Studio webpage, but I've demurred. So my early intention to rebuild them all again has faded away. When I decided that I had enough evidence with Al Howard's image to say more about the 4 Cygni nebula -- especially during the summer of 2010 when the star was well situated -- I was quite sorry that the original material was no longer on the Net. But: putting it back is a monumental task; there are hundreds of related files involved. And, all the texts will have to be revised. I was indeed finding it necessary to check links almost monthly; they dropped off like flies, it seemed. I had hundreds of links to amateur articles, posts, papers, professional journals: and they were "evaporating" day by day. Recently I did a link check on the ten long pages of my "Faint Fuzzies" HTML entries, and came up with many dozens of dead links; all of them were working just a very few years ago. This is discouraging. I liked to provide citations and references in my articles, but now all of that will have to be rebuilt; in many cases new links to the same materials simply are nowhere to be found.
But, as stated above, my 4 Cygni reports were first published on the freely-available Net on 7-26-07, and remained online until around the end of September 2009.
11. A Controversy Over Discovery Priority?
May I start with apologies for the tedious complexities of the explanation below. One is mindful of the old saying, "The Devil is in the Details"...
With Al Howard's magnificent photograph in hand, along with my many reprocessed versions and the acknowledgment by an independent investigator -- Dr. Harold G. Corwin, Jr. -- that the nebula's existence could not be in doubt -- I decided it was time to bring the subject up again in public. The star was perfectly placed for nightly observation. So, on Tuesday 24 August 2010 I informed the Yahoo amateur astronomical observing group "Amastro" about the Waldee-Howard work on the 'new' nebula coincident with 4 Cygni. My post, No. 23030, may be read here.
But, the next day I received an email from another California amateur astronomer -- Dana Patchick -- asserting that in 2005 he had discovered the nebula on the POSS plates. But, he said, up to the current date his discovery had never been published. He furthermore told me that the object already had a "catalogue number" -- but as it turns out, that catalogue has never been published (it has been collated by members of another Yahoo group for amateur astronomers, "deepskyhunters", usually referred to as "DSH".)
Though he had assigned it a "catalogue number" Patchick expressed great surprise that I had been able to see the nebula in my telescope, telling me that he had never tried to see it himself; nor had he attempted a photograph. From my email exchange with him, I determined also that he had apparently not followed up with any extensive scientific investigation of the sort that Mr. Howard and I have undertaken, as described in this article.
Parenthetically, I must explain that "deepskyhunters" is a Yahoo tech group that may be accessed here. It has 301 members at present, but its messages and files are entirely blocked to non-members. It seems now to be very hard to join, and thus I have occasionally found queries expressed in other similar forums about the lack of response to DSH membership applications; the last one I've located is this post. Indeed, when I once emailed another group member, Bruno Alessi, his response did not come back for several weeks, with apologies for its tardiness. DSH did not particularly interest me, as what little prior knowledge I'd had was that presumably they focused, largely, on asterisms (chance arrangements of stars) or faint star clusters that had not been catalogued.
Having been sent this 'corrective' information by Mr. Patchick about his discovery, I felt obligated -- immediately -- to pass it on as an addendum to my initial Amastro post, and on 25 August 2010 I recounted a summary of the most important contents of Mr. Patchick's email to the Amastro group in message no. 23033 in which I stated my first reaction to his email:
I just received a private email this afternoon from Dana Patchick. He informs me that he noticed this in 2005 on the POSS images, and it is referred to as:
I thought it was essential for me to be gracious to the asserted first discoverer, even though he had, up to then, kept his discovery secret and had withheld it from the public since 2005. I had no wish to demand credit not due.
However, the situation immediately seemed to me to become very complicated, with motives and actions that were obscure and hard to understand. The catalogue number given to me is not recognized by the meta-search system of VizieR; nor does it turn up in a Google search. No professional astronomer I've talked to has known about it; nor have friends at amateur astronomy magazines. No amateur astronomer I've communicated with has this specific 'catalogue' or knows of this 'catalogue number'. Even one of the discoverers included in the 'catalogue' (Jaakko Saloranta) has told me he does not possess a copy of it -- the document is private.
During the following days, the editor of this 'catalogue', Dana Patchick, explained in post no. 23024 on the Yahoo "Amastro" group that the catalogue had not been published and that the nebula "was thus known only to a handful of us" and that "this nebula is awaiting further study." Dana placed the following statement into its own paragraph, which seems to me to emphasize what I'd term the 'secret' nature of the project:
The DSH have also produced lists of a certain class of objects that are circulated only to the discoverers. The intent is to protect their identities until what time a new paper is produced and those discoveries might then be announced.
Numerous other comments were contributed in a few discussion threads related to the nebula. At first, hearing from Mr. Patchick that the object already had a "catalogue number" I felt it necessary to graciously acknowledge his earlier discovery assertion. He sent me "proof" which consisted of the "catalogue": a short text file with perhaps less than two typewritten pages of information for 90 items discovered by DSH collaborators. Mr. Patchick's similar nebula has been described with only approximately 77 ASCII characters, including the name he gave it, type, coordinates, major and minor axes, and plate number referral; there is no discovery date or other information, which one could interpret, that might be useful to investigators.
I was asked by Mr. Patchick to keep the items in the catalogue confidential and not to share the contents of its discoveries. The file was an ASCII text document sent as an email attachment, given the file name: DSH_GN_unpublished_2007.12.txt. I believe that perhaps I might be allowed to give merely these brief facts: the document's title is: 90 PUBLISHED GALACTIC BRIGHT AND DARK NEBULAE; yet Mr. Patchick continues to explain that it has NOT to this date been published! Furthermore, the 'catalogue' was dated 14 December 2007, which is about five months after my first 4-Cygni nebula discovery related blog post; post to the Astronomy forum; and inclusion on my website's observed-object links.
Not having fully absorbed the situation that the alleged 'catalogue number' was privately held, in a document that almost no one had ever seen, I began to feel that perhaps I had too quickly posted what was, in effect, not only deserved respect for Mr. Patchick's claim, but also perhaps a somewhat premature "yielding" to the entirety of his point of view.
Several amateurs and a professional astronomer I have discussed this with have seemed to agree in stating a general common opinion that -- under similar circumstances -- this does not follow the protocol that they would have observed: reporting in public in order to obtain some kind of confirmation and/or peer review; and establishing a paper trail. Furthermore, the amateurs all seemed to think that the community of observers, who would enjoy seeing the new nebula, should have been notified.
After contributor Brian Skiff stated in message no. 23043 that one shouldn't be "too excited about a reflection nebula", and to focus one's attention on creating better catalogues instead, I felt that I had to respond. Very few objects are discovered nowadays by amateur "eye astronomers" who look into telescopes, rather than taking images. It is now rare for a comet to be discovered this way, as even amateurs are doing photographic discovery surveys. (I think congratulations are due to my old friend Don Machholz for resisting this trend, and making a discovery by eye of Comet Machholz C/2010 F4 on 23 March 2010, an event that has thrilled the amateur community.) I wanted to remind Mr. Skiff that some of us are not 'astronomical taxonomists' but rather love star and nebula light, as I do: and I posted that comment in message no. 23043.
I then followed this up, on 26 August 2007, with some "housekeeping and date checking" I had done, to determine the exact evidence of my own visual discovery: posted in message no. 23045. I summarized what I knew about the situation, and some of the pertinent facts about the 'DSH catalogue' that I'd been given by its compiler; and I included a brief explanation about why my old blog was no longer online. I felt that I then had nothing more to say there about the topic.
I was willing to accept on its face -- via personal respect and accepting "argument from authority" in absence of no independently-verifiable public data -- Dana Patchick's claim. (But I report that it seems uncorroborated as far as I could discover by a deep meta-search of professional catalogues, and of public posts and websites on the Net, which yielded absolutely no results.) Indeed, Mr. Patchick is a very well known amateur, whose asterism discoveries have been mentioned in SKY & TELESCOPE magazine and included in the databases of sky atlases. The DSH group's asterisms are available on the Net, and they are often observed by amateurs (I've posted observations of some, as has my friend Saloranta.) Furthermore, the catalogue of the DSH group's open cluster candidates is available on the Net: it can be found via the NASA ADS abstract service here, as co-authored by "Kronberger, M.; Teutsch, P.; Alessi, B.; Steine, M.; Ferrero, L.; Graczewski, K.; Juchert, M.; Patchick, D.; Riddle, D.; Saloranta, J.; Schoenball, M.; Watson, C." This is, in my opinion, one of the most distinguished recent achievements by amateur astronomers. The catalogue is referenced by the VizieR system, here. When one searches the VizieR system for "Patchick" that catalogue is returned: "Galactic Open Cluster Candidates (Kronberger+, 2006)".
But, unfortunately, VizieR, as of this date, simply does not return a 'hit' for "Patchick GN J1925.8 +3617". That is the 'catalogue number' I was given by Mr. Patchick the day after I posted the Waldee-Howard investigation news on Amastro. I just tested this, moments ago (9:39 pm, 30 August 2010); entering "Patchick GN J1925.8 +3617" in the 'Target' box of this VizieR search page yields "No Matching Catalog - The following unexpected problem occured in VizieR: No catalogue or table matching your choice could be found: having potential matches within 10'' of Patchick GN J1925.8 +3617 (no position in SIMBAD)". This also occurs if one enters merely "GN J1925.8 +3617".
Going to the SIMBAD Astronomical Database, used by all professionals and a large number of advanced amateur astronomers, I tested the same name/number string by means of its search engine, using its 'identifier search' function, I asked for the 'catalogue number' given to me by Mr. Patchick: the full numerical string (derived from coordinates) preceded by his last name. An error message was returned: "'Patchick GN J1925.8 +3617': this identifier has an incorrect format for catalogs..." I removed his name from the string, and received the error message "GN J1925.8 +3617': this identifier has an incorrect format for catalogs: GN : Gal. Nebula G : Giclas query string: GN J1925.8 +3617". I also got the same error message using SIMBAD's 'basic' search...
So, I have to conclude that -- in reality -- there is no accepted catalogue number "Patchick GN J1925.8 +3617" (at least at this date on 30 August 2010, five years after Mr. Patchick says he discovered the nebula by spotting the anomalous appearance of 4 Cygni's image on the Palomar plates.)
Furthermore, at least one contributor to Amastro would seem to disapprove of the concept of asserting that an upublished nebula has a concrete 'catalogue number' and that a private, unpublished catalogue (with no paper trail that is independently verifiable) is useful to the amateur or professional community. In message no. 23053, 'John G' quotes Mr. Patchick's explanation of his failure to publish the catalogue at the bottom of his post, and then says (bold emphases added by me):
While I agree with John G., and would feel that way if considering an issue of discovery not involving me at all, I will say that I am willing to accept assertions by Mr. Patchick...though now, I fear, provisionally. I personally would like to see the discoveries released for the benefit of the community, allowing some kind of amateur or professional independent scientific investigation. Furthermore, I would lend much more weight to Mr. Patchick's discovery assertion if it was accompanied by the same kind of 'work product' as I have endeavored to provide above.
Furthermore, consider the effect of having been 'instructed' not to divulge the contents of the other 89 "objects" in the Patchick file of discoveries (perhaps one might be more precise in describing them as 'anomalies') on POSS images. It follows that I am therefore not 'allowed' to publish any of my own personal observations of THOSE phenomena--as it would conflict with the 'secrecy' that has been imposed upon me as an observer. And, to any other potential discoverers (either by means of imagery or visual scanning by telescope): be advised that your legitimate, original discovery might likely be pre-empted, after the fact, when you publicize YOUR work! (It should be emphasized that not all other contributors to the DSH work have this same attitude: for instance, Jaakko Saloranta informed me, in great detail, of his discovery -- on a POSS plate -- of a nebulous patch in Cygnus and encouraged me to investigate it further, and to publish my own observations: which may be found here. That is the spirit of collegial cooperation that I've come to expect from other amateur astronomers.
On a human, personal level, one has absolutely no reason to think that Mr. Patchick has not done exactly what he says! And one can take vicarious pleasure in his moment of realization, while checking the Palomar photos. Furthermore, his group of discoverers is making an extremely valuable contribution to amateur astronomers.
I must say, however, that I was surprised -- after Patchick's admission of a lack of any publication (apparently ANYWHERE) of his 'catalogue' in toto, or his nebula specifically, that I was not offered, by him, to be included as co-discoverer, along with Mr. Al Howard. In my personal opinion, if the object has to be given it an individual amateur astronomer's last name, but his 'work' allegedly has not been disseminated in any available form from 2005 until the time another person in 2007 (and then later in 2010) announces his independent discovery of the same thing, that there also is an obligation by sincere and open minded individuals to share 'discovery credits'. In other words I would think that the object should now be called "Patchick-Waldee-Howard GN J1925.8 +3617". I'd even like Mr. Saloranta to be included, but he graciously declines to be considered.
But, I slightly differ with Mr. Patchick regarding some of his data for the object. I obtained a center-coordinate download of the coordinates given in his catalogue, and the SkyView observatory produced a picture using the POSS plate, centered on what I'd describe as the southwesterly edge-- the very end-- of the nebula as seen on a lightly processed image. Even I can extract more data from the Palomar photos and show more of the nebula. Furthermore, it is unmistakable that the nebula is manifested to the north and northwest of 4 Cygni, not JUST to the southwest. I have no permission to release his catalogue, but see no reason to suppress his measurements of this particular nebula's major and minor axes: therefore, "Patchick's nebula" is smaller than the nebula that I perceive, both by eye...and from the POSS plates. Mr. Saloranta has also perceived a much larger object, using merely an 8 inch scope!
In addition, it was made quite clear in Mr. Patchick's email to me that he had made no visual observations of the nebula with his telescope. Expressing his astonishment that I had seen it, his email seemed to suggest that he may not have done the followup work that Waldee and Howard have done by consulting experts; making an independent photograph; carefully analyzing it and comparing it with archival Palomar images; and doing several visual observations -- not to mention Mr. Saloranta's visual confirmation, and my posting about our discoveries in public in a timely fashion.
Wishing the Deepskyhunters well, and conveying my own respects to Mr. Patchick -- and my appreciation of his skill and talent in spotting the nebula, as he says he has back in 2005 -- I close by turning the matter over to others. "Credit" is of no value unless it is awarded by a governing body of some sort, in respect to an accepted (possibly peer-reviewed) publication or study, or other concrete form of expression. I am stating that, factually, I knew nothing of any investigation of the 4 Cygni nebula before discovering it myself, by eye, in 2007; and no one -- not even a DSH 'discoverer' (Saloranta) I collaborated with, knew of it either. The information I've presented above is as accurate as I can possibly try to convey it, to the best of my knowledge.
Finally: one must certainly, as an amateur, always try to remember that "it's a hobby". Collegiality and sharing should, surely, be desired and cherished by us all. -- Stephen R. Waldee, 30 August 2010
Update, Feb. 2011: For many months I've withheld mention of another issue that perturbs me about Mr. Patchick's documentation of his discovery. I've asked several professional and amateur astronomers to give me their solutions: and none has offered one. My numerous attempts at calculation have failed. Perhaps now there is 'much water over the dam' and I dare mention it: I cannot possibly agree with the galactic coordinates he gives for his nebula. I have not received specific permission to quote them so perhaps -- since I cannot reconcile them with my references -- I won't. Let me say that using any equinox in the past century, I cannot place the star 4 Cygni, nor any part of 'its' nebula, at this claimed position. Perhaps such severe rounding or oversimplification of values has occurred that the coordinate given is not useful. Certainly, calculations of galactic coordinates for the star 4 Cygni, made by means of SIMBAD, using epoch 1950 or 2000, fail to come anywhere near Patchick's figures. In light of this, I think a revision of his values might be in order; or at least a lengthier explanation of any 'conversion' might be helpful. Srw, 2-18-2011
11.5 Jaakko Saloranta Demonstrates Possible Full Diameter of Nebula from DSS Image:
I have just received, on 8 September 2010, a new processed version of the 4 Cygni nebula, done by Jaakko Saloranta, employing the best existing view on a Palomar Sky Survey plate. He sent a positive version, but when I inverted the mode to negative, it was immediately apparent to me that this picture proves that Dana Patchick's major/minor axis diameters were quite insufficient. Patchick seems to have cited only the southwestern part of the nebula, as judged from his data in the unpublished 2007 DSH list. I used his J2000 coordinates, and the major/minor axis measurements, and as closely as possible (though I could not get the values exactly to the arcsecond) I plotted his RA of "19 25 53" and declination of "+36 17 54" by means of TheSky VI, obtaining a Skyview POSS Stern Special Palette image at the same scale, centered at his position:
Patchick position coordinates, major & minor axis dimensions,
plotted by TheSky VI and Skyview from DSS
Patchick informed me that the nebula he found on the DSS image had a major axis of 3.5 minutes, minor axis of 2 minutes. This is merely a part of the nebula that the author originally discovered by eye; on my second viewing, in the summer of 2007, I traced it out well beyond the 2 minute "baseline glow" diameter centered on the star, protruding another 1-2 minutes toward the SW. Furthermore Patchick's axis data cover only a small region of the nebula shown on the POSS F, J plates, or Al Howard's image. My eye view with the C-11 telescope, discussed below, suggests a bigger visual size than Patchick's data -- and the photographic nebula is even larger. As "John G" posted to Amastro (quoted above), "we're not even sure if they are seeing the same thing or object that the fellow who made the announcement has described"... and perhaps Mr. Patchick and the present author indeed are not describing exactly the same phenomenon to the same extent. It certainly isn't possible to verify this from the data in his unpublished list; "Patchick's nebula" seems to be a subset of "Waldee-Howard's" nebula.
Jaakko's new version of the DSS image shows -- dramatically -- the northern part, plus some to the east and south (much of which I've now been able to see by means of my 4.7 inch and 11 inch aperture scopes.) Jaakko's cropped version, in fact, cuts off part of the southern extent of the nebula, shown also quite well in Howard's image. I matched Jaakko's version to an exactly scaled plot generated by TheSky VI software, and then measured a major axis of at least 21 arcminutes, and a minor axis of perhaps 11 or 12 arcminutes. It is indeed possible that, right down to the grain structure of the plate, the nebula extends further.
Processing of POSS image of 4 Cygni by Jaakko Saloranta, September 2010: left (pos) by JS; right (neg) by SRW
In the smaller version, at right, I've attempted to draw lines that possibly demarcate the center and strongest 'protrusions' away from 4 Cygni. If the eye's perception of the nebula on the photograph is accurate, as suggested by the irregular shape (that is, if the faintest traces of it are not merely due to light scatter symmetrically around the star), then the nebula's center might be coincident with 4 Cygni's coordinates (or very slightly to the N or NW of the star.)
A large scale examination of the POSS plates is called for, matched to Howard's image. But, when one reaches down to the noise platform, it is difficult to tell if the gray pixels are real 'nebular data'. And, Howard's full scale frame shows that nebulosity seems to stream to the south and to 'connect' through a narrow passage to a dark 'lump'; and to meander to the west and then turn north, fanning out to a much larger and denser region of glow (are these connected, or merely superimposed along line-of-sight?) These other areas do lack the discrete and sharp 'features' of the nebula that crosses NNE/S-SW through the center of 4 Cygni.
During an observing session on 7 September 2010 at rural Mountain Ranch, California, the author used his C-11 telescope and a 10mm "occulter" made from a Plössl eyepiece with a mask to block slightly more than 1/2 the field of view. By positioning the scope so that the intense core of 4 Cygni was just under the mask, and rotating the eyepiece all around the star, the immediate field could be studied for faint nebulosity without the intense interference of the bright light of 4 Cygni. The 'curvature' of strong nebulosity from the N-NE through the star, to the S-SW, was seen; plus a faint extension of glow as far south as star GSC 2666:181 (11.2 magnitude) as marked on the sketch. This drawing took about 45 minutes to accomplish, using a dark adapted right eye at the scope, and a non-dark adapted left eye to draw the picture with faint red light. Please note that this is not the way the nebula looks in a brief glimpse by a 'new' observer. The field was studied at numerous powers of magnification for more than 2 hours before the sketch was begun, using several occulting eyepieces at varying magnifications (it is essential to AVOID staring at the star's intense light, which will kill the ability to detect the faint glow around it.) And, of course, the author preceded this with many observing sessions studying the star with other telescopes.
Here, the negative version of Saloranta's processing of the best DSS image (far right) is compared to the plot in the middle generated by TheSky VI -- with two star distances from 4 Cygni marked -- and the scaled author's drawing with C-11 (left). The intense burned-in region of the Palomar plate seems to measure at least 5 arcminutes' total diameter. As you can see, the eye and telescope are capable of seeing detail very close to the bright star--detail that is completely obscured in the Schmidt telescope image. -- srw, 8 Sept. 2010, 9:48 pm.
12. More Observers, and the Author's Wife Regina Roper, View the 4 Cygni Nebula
We now have more excellent viewing reports of the 4 Cygni nebula. Bill Weir and Dave Mitsky, both very experienced amateurs who contribute tirelessly to science forums, are long time observers with excellent gear (Bill is in the northwest in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada -- his Royal Astronomical Society of Canada webpage is here -- and Dave lives in Pennsylvania, an active member and contributor to at least three promient astronomy clubs and the compiler and presenter of the monthly What's Up column of the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers.) The full reports by Bill and Dave, from the second week of September 2010, are to be found in this discussion thread on the ASTRONOMY Magazine online forum. [Note: as of 2014, ASTRONOMY magazine has removed all of its forums from the web, so the link is now inoperative.] Here are some excerpts:
After discussing with a poster to the ASTRONOMY forum named "Antitax" as to whether or not such a new object is a missed one that might be among some unknown things that are "in plain sight" I decided to try to do at least one test with a relative novice observer to determine how "plain" the "sight" might actually be. So, I chose my own wife, pianist and music teacher Regina Roper. She was one of the founders of the "Music of the Spheres" concert series at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, and after every one of her late summer concerts she enjoyed viewing the heavens with the 36 inch and 22 inch telescopes, with her friend Shiloh Unruh. After we were married, Regina has dabbled in astronomical viewing with me, and even got a small 4.5 inch "Starblast" telescope of her own. However, Regina does not particularly like nebulae; she's a star cluster fan (rather like Jaakko Saloranta, who has sketched many hundreds of them!) and she says that she loves the crystal clear, beautiful, gem-like light of vivid stars: the more the merrier. Could SHE detect this nebula?
So, we went to the observing site in the Santa Cruz mountains on the night of Sunday 12 September 2010: which turned out to be a very good night, with a vivid Milky Way and very steady seeing. I chose my C-11 since at the moment it's my only scope with a clock drive. We observed, first, several clusters (including Regina's favorite NGC 457) and then studied the nebula NGC-281 for a long, long time, with a large variety of eyepieces and my SkyGlow, UltraBlock, O-III, and H-Beta filters. Though the nebula was pretty low in the sky -- and positioned over the light dome from Morgan Hill to the east -- she could perceive it and distinguish it in the field of several eyepieces and a wide range of magnifications. Then, we changed to M-27, and over to M-57, so that Regina could familiarize herself with the way strongly-registering nebulae looked in my scope. Finally, past cluster NGC-6791 over to 4 Cygni. I told my wife which directions were N, S, E, and W in the view in her 2" eyepiece, and without explaining to her EXACTLY what to expect, I got back this spontaneous description: "I see something that is a distinct glow around the star, a bit weaker to the east side and stronger opposite." This was using a magnification of 87x with a 32 mm 2" ocular, and the broadband LPR filter. I increased the power, using my 13 mm Stratus (215x), and she saw "a sort of 'bite' out of the glow, one part being not nearly as bright." Then, using 107x and a 26 mm 2" eyepiece, plus the SkyGlow filter, Regina said, in an excited tone of voice, "Wow--it looks like a sort of wind has blown the glow over to one side of the star! Or, it's almost as if the star is moving, dragging the glow along after it: like a comet that's been s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d!"
So, Regina could distinctly see the asymmetry of the halo of light around 4 Cygni, and she said that it looked very different from any of the other bright stars she had looked at during this session. Furthermore, to Regina the 4 Cygni nebulosity had a completely different character and 'texture' than the emission nebulae cited immediately above.
Finally, we glanced at the Pleiades, rising now. We both agreed that there was a distinctive 'sheen' of light around 4 Cygni, like that same effect seen in the brightest stars of M-45 (a great favorite of Regina's.) Looking at 4 Cygni with the same 107x and filter as Regina had used, I could immediately perceive this distinctive character of the nebula which, to me -- thanks to long familiarity and my recent observation six days earlier at Chuck Vaughn's home in the dark sky of Mountain Ranch -- had a definite 'shape' rather than merely a round diminishing glow in all directions...and it reminded me immediately of the 'Pleiades effect'.
As soon as we'd had our fill, I set up the camera to take a timed flash snapshot, posing with our two dogs Kobe and Quito. You see above the four of us, with my C-11 still pointed at 4 Cygni, at around 11:30 pm.
Contrary to rumor, President Obama is probably not looking at 4 Cygni
13. Sue French Expresses Interest in Nebula
Sue French, deep sky editor of Sky and Telescope Magazine and author of the monthly column "Deep Sky Wonders", wrote to report to me in September 2010 that several well known amateurs had now seen the nebula (though her first try was not a success, possibly due to current conditions.) Nevertheless, she proposed mentioning it in a future column -- though I replied that I'd be much happier for her to do so only if she had successfully seen it (though I understood that she mentions objects she hasn't personally studied by eye, from time to time.) Sue provided me with some interesting 'screen dumps' of experimental views of the DSS images, using Aladin's function to create false-color:
14. Stephen J. O'Meara, "ASTRONOMY" Magazine columnist, expresses congratulations
I was delighted to receive a reply from famed amateur observer, author, and columnist Stephen J. O'Meara -- whose many volumes may be perused from this Google search page -- during the winter days of 2010. I took the liberty of notifying him through the Astronomy website but the message was routed to him too late for him to investigate 4-Cygni personally with his scope. Perhaps next season he'll have an opportunity, and will share his opinions, as he wrote, "Your story sounds fantastic. I'd love to look into it further, even try to see it myself."
15. The Author Observes 4 Cygni Nebula with 8 inch SCT, 7/13
At the end of a summer 2013 observing session in the Santa Cruz mountains -- at the site of the original discovery in 2007 -- I found that fog had encroached from the Pacific ocean to the south and west, reaching the lower altitudes of the inland valleys and cutting off much of my local light pollution: and at 2:39 am on Sunday 7 July 2013, I made numerous observations of the 4 Cygni nebula, and a drawing, with my recently purchased used 8-inch aperture Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain (an old scope dating from the late 1980s.) In order not to bias myself, I brought no prior drawings or notes. I had not seen the nebula for about a year; could I get it again, for the first time with this instrument? In short: yes! While not as dramatic as in my C-11 -- nor even as distinct as in the inexpensive 10" Newtonian I used for the discovery -- the old scope definitely showed, using averted vision and no filter, 'excess glow' that extended in a southwestern direction from the center of the bright star. I set up my drawing pad at the telescope, and used my Orion SkyGlow filter to sketch the extent of the nebula; I then removed it and drew a few of the field stars that had been slightly dimmed by the filter. I wrote in my log, "Kinda blew my dark adaptation doing this; when finished, the red light used for the drawing had diminished my perception of the nebula. Perhaps at best it looked as good as in my 4.7 inch refractor -- for sure not as obvious as in C-11." When the sketch was scanned the next afternoon and then scaled, rotated, and matched to Al Howard's photograph -- and the plot by GUIDE 7 -- I found that there was a generally credible match, though some of the star positions were slightly off (probably due mostly to the lack of an electric clock drive on the scope's mount, and the need to manually change the RA control frequently.) The thumbnail above is a reduced-sized version to fit this page; to see the full sized comparison images, click for 4Cyg-Meade8in.jpg.
16. 4 Cyg nebula spotted in an 80 mm aperture scope!
Using a very inexpensive Orion ST-80 achromat refractor, at a dark sky central California observing site, I discerned and drew sketches of the 4 Cygni nebula on the excellent night of 10 July 2013; full report and images are available here in my "Faint Fuzzies" observing blog, as the update in an article that describes my summer 2013 eye studies of the nebula.
Frankly, I doubt that one could really identify the nebula for the very first time in such a small aperture instrument; but now (I assert) it is at least possible to get more than a slight trace of it: in a modest, cheap scope that is often classed as a "beginner's instrument."
17. 4 Cyg nebula spotted in urban backyard at Ivins, UT in 10" scope.
My wife Regina Roper and I moved from San Jose, CA. to Ivins, Utah in May of 2015, hoping that our new residence would offer a sky that was dark enough to warrant astronomical observing. And, on merely our second short test, using the same 10" Orion Dobsonian that first aided us in discovering the 4 Cygni nebula, we nailed it! Read about the observation here (and refer to the previous and following parts of the writeup for context, weather conditions, naked eye stellar limiting magnitude, etc.)
18. Comments of Dr. David Malin, world famed professional photographic scientist-astronomer
The author has discussed our discovery of the 4 Cygni nebula with Dr. David Malin (retired) of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, who cites similar types of reflection nebulae, recommending the paper, "Faint Nebulosities in the Vicinity of the Magellanic HI Stream" by Johnson, Meaburn, and Osman (available at http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1982MNRAS.198..985J.) Dr. Malin states that "the largest example is probably that associated with the Magellanic Stream that runs cross the southern celestial pole...which is detectable as a reflection nebula and an emission nebula" -- see http://cdsweb.cern.ch/record/374524/files/9812297.pdf.
Of course 4 Cygni is too far north for the 1.2M UK Schmidt at the Australian Astronomical Observatory, but Dr. Malin remarks that the southern sky is "happy hunting ground" for such reflection nebulae due to the lower magnitude of the light pollution in Australia, compared to the Palomar Observatory in California.
The UK Schmidt plates can record "faint extended nebulosity down to about 28 mag/arcsec square, about 6 magnitudes fainter than the night sky." The POSS-II Schmidt plates used for the second Palomar survey (north) are not as deep as the exposures of the Australian plates of the second survey (south). Dr. Malin cites these images, as examples of various low galactic latitude nebulosities: for example the sky N and S of NGC 5128 (Cen A):
Dr. Malin has added these comments, published with his permission: