The Pipe and the Princing Horse
Deep-sky objects abound in this wide-angle view of Ophiuchus. In the center is the Pipe Nebula, which forms the rear half of the Prancing Horse Nebula. When conditions are excellent, these and other dark nebulae are apparent without optical aid. Jupiter is seen at upper right. Click on the image for a better view of the Prancing Horse Nebula.
Courtesy Vince and Maggie Farnsworth.
The 7°-long Pipe Nebula
is a fine naked-eye object in southern Ophiuchus. Start your search about 12° east of Antares for a line of three 3rd- and 4th-magnitude stars, the only reasonably prominent stars in that area. The brightest, Theta Ophiuchi, lies at the line's midpoint. Barnard 78
, the bowl of the Pipe Nebula, is centered 3° east-southeast of Theta. The pipe's stem passes 2° south of Theta and ends 3½° to the star's southwest, just past the southernmost star in the line, 36 Ophiuchi. In superb skies my 7x50 binoculars can distinguish each of the connected dark clouds that the unaided eye strings together as the Pipe's stem. West to east, these dust clouds are cataloged as B59, B65, B66,
My first view of the Pipe Nebula was at the 1983 Texas Star Party. A decade later Jim Failes surprised me by pointing out the Pipe's naked-eye visibility at the Mount Kobau Star Party in British Columbia, fully 19° of latitude farther north. If your skies don't match those of Prude Ranch or Kobau, try binoculars. They'll reveal the Pipe's distinctive shape in merely decent skies.
The markedly oblate globular cluster M19 serves as a useful landmark for those using RFTs. The Pipe's stem begins only 2° west-southwest of this 7th-magnitude cluster.
The Prancing Horse Nebula
The Pipe Nebula also forms the rear legs and hindquarters of the huge Prancing Horse Nebula, which can be found midway between M24 and Antares. The entire Prancing Horse is clearly visible without optical aid from Mount Kobau's summit.
Thousands of stars crowd this image of the Northern Cross. Deneb is the bright star to the upper left; Vega is to the right. Alan Whitman calls the dark nebula east (left) of Deneb the Funnel Cloud.
Courtesy Akira Fujii.
In the summer of 1997 I was pleasantly surprised to see the Prancing Horse with my unaided eyes at the Astro Atlantik star party in Fundy National Park on Canada's Atlantic coast. Almost all tales of memorable deep-sky observing start with a trek to a mountaintop. Yet Astro Atlantik lies within a few miles of the Bay of Fundy at an altitude of about 300 meters! A view of the night sky there emphasizes how much has been lost in more densely populated areas of the continent. I observed at Fundy as a youth, and my logbooks describe great skies, the first dark skies that I had experienced. After decades in the west I wondered if my boyhood skies were really as fine as I remembered them to be. They are!