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Colle del Nivolet, summer Milky Way - July 25-26 2014 mountains & sky

Author: Alessia Rabaioli
Published: July 29 2014

The past weekend we made a two-night trip at Colle del Nivolet, 2612 m, on Graian Alpes. I missed Alpes so much: landscapes are breathtaking, air's cold and neat, the sky very dark.

Unfortunately, our welcome, Friday afternoon, is quite ghostly...

Colle del Nivolet | The camper of our friend Giosuè at the end of the road. Credit: me.

To tell the truth, we expected that, and we just relax this evening. It's going to rain the whole night.

Saturday, late morning, we leave the refuge to make a brief excursion. We are in the heart of Gran Paradiso Nation Park (that is continued by the Vanoise National Park), a beautiful vast area rich in animals (marmots, eagles and ibex are easy to see, and we enconter lots of marmots on our trip), alpine lakes and creeks. Two years ago -my first time at Colle del Nivolet- I was with other stargazers and we noticed at dawn a red fox next to one of our telescope! I'm particulary found of that animal, so I was smitten by the visit.

The lake near the refuge. Credit: me.

Here some pics of the excursion:

Credit: me.

And eventually, astronomy...

Pre-dusk preparation. Credit: me.

A little dark void

In the evening and in the first part of the night fast-moving clouds fill the sky, but from midnight the Milky Way shines in all it's beauty. The summer sky.

I've planned to observe some of the dark nebulae that obscure the Milky Way arc. They are elusive and subtle. They fascinate me. In a sense, when you observe one of them you look for holes and voids through the stars.

Naked eye, the Cygnus Great Rift and the Aquila Rift are incredibly evident this night. They are a series of molecular clouds between the Sagittarius Arm and the Orion Arm (where our Solar System is located). They overlapp and sprawl from Sagittariu-Scorpio area passing through Aquila and Cygnus and ''fading'' in the opposite part of the Arm.
My main (and difficult) goal for this summer is to observe the Snake Nebula (Barnard 72), just above the Pipe Nebula complex, but I'm forced to postpone the research - I hope in August, when I'll be back on Alpes.

I explore the southern part of the Milky Way, Sagittarius and Scutum constellation in particular. Sagittarius hosts myriads of small globulars and open clusters. I use my 20 mm eyepiece (60X) and I follow this path starting on the beautiful globular cluster M22 and the small globular NGC 6642: I find NGC 6638 and M28 near Kaus Borealis and NGC 6624 next to Kaus Media. From Alnasl, where I observe 6528 and 6522, a duo of globulars, I reach the fist new object of the night: The obscure nebula B86, called the Ink Spot Nebula, and the little open cluster NGC 6520 next to it.

The Ink spot Nebula appears like a dark keyhole in the starfield.

Ink Spot Nebula (Barnard 86) and NGC 6520, credit: DSS Digitalize Sky Survey, via Skyplanner.

Not so far from B86, lies an elusive globular, NGC 6540. I observe another two globulars on my path, NGC 6553 and 6544, and I eventually reach the beautiful nebulae of the area: M8, the Lagoon Nebula, M20, the Trifid Nebula (I remember a stunning sight of the Trifid on a great diameter scope), M21, the big open cluster M24, M23 and M18, M17, The Omega Nebula, and M16, the Eagle nebula. Most of these objects are a great sight from binoculars also, and even naked eye.

Dark nebulae hidden in the realm of the Aquila

The E-nebula, anslo called Triple Cave Nebula, lies next to γ Aql Tarazed. It suit perfectly a 38 mm eyepiece (30X, field of view: 70 degrees). Great sight!

E-Nebula (Barnard 142-143), credit: DSS Digitalize Sky Survey, via Skyplanner.

In the August 2013 Sky&Telescope's Deep-Sky Wonders column, Sue French suggests a path form 12 Aql, in the tail of Aquila, that makes you enconter some lovely objects. I followed her suggestion last summer and I loved these objects a lot. North of 12 Aql there's an arc of three dark nebulae: Barnard 130, 127 and 129. Starting form 12 Aqul, a little arc of three stars lead you to the carbon star V Aquilae also: It's a small, ruddy and lively star.

12 aql region | Dandelion Nebula, B134 and B133, credit: DSS Digitalize Sky Survey, via Skyplanner .

From V Aql, you can easily reach the tiny, light blue Dandelion Nebula (NGC 6751). It's very small, but cleary light blue. Another two dark nebulae are visible in the area: B134 and B133.


Carbon star V Aquilae, credit: Pierre Alain Borgeaud.

Barnard 138 is visible on my 10X50 binoculars. It's a big dark arc and it's located between δ an γ Aql. It's even called the Barnard's lizard.

A Summer galaxy

On Marco's scope, I look at the second new object of the night: NGC 7217, a face-on galaxy in Pegasus. It's an interesting sight: the galaxy disk is small but perfectly circular and well defined, very bright. It's the first time I have observed it.

NGC 7212, credit: DSS Digitalize Sky Survey, via Skyplanner.

Here the same galaxy from Mt Lemmon SkyCenter:


NGC 7212, credit: Mt Lemmon SkyCenter, Arizona.

Summer constellation are pour of bright galaxies (except, of course, Andromeda and Triangulum galaxy). Maybe two of the best visible summer galaxies are NGC 891 in Andromeda and NGC 7331 in Pegasus.

One year after, I'm happy to observe the Helix Nebula again. I love this object so much. I've observed it for the first time in summer 2012, when I was a newbie. I've waited impatient for the Acquarius costellation to raise over the orizon.

The night sky in summer. Almost the end of July, and a temperature of 2 degrees!


Sunday morning, overlook, credit: Marco Gulino.