Sensitive hydrogen-alpha surveys are revolutionising our view of the night sky. Douglas Finkbeiner has combined three sensitive but low resolution surveys into one fascinating all sky image that I've used as the basis for a hydrogen-alpha commentary.
Even more important than the big picture low resolution surveys are the higher resolution surveys carried out closer to the galactic plane. For several years, the only one available has been the AAO/UKST H-alpha survey of the southern sky, accessible through a set of digitally scanned photographic plates called SuperCOSMOS. This survey was imaged by the UK Schmidt camera at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Siding Spring, about 500 kilometres north west of Sydney. I have used the SuperCOSMOS data to improve the images of Sharpless, Gum and RCW nebulae on this site that are visible from the southern hemisphere.
Until recently there was no northern hemisphere equivalent to SuperCOSMOS, which meant that detailed hydrogen-alpha images were not available for important Milky Way regions like Cygnus, Cassiopeia and Cepheus. This has now changed.
IPHAS is the northern hemisphere equivalent of SuperCOSMOS. The IPHAS survey was carried out by the Wide Field Camera on the 2.5 metre Isaac Newton Telescope, part of the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes near La Palma in the Canary Islands. It has captured amazingly detailed images of northern hemisphere nebulae.
Here's an example. The mysterious HII region Sh 2-124 is located at a distance of about 2600 parsecs towards the north east edge of the Cygnus complex. Almost nothing has been written about this nebula in the scientific literature. In the DSS2 (Digitized Sky Survey) image shown first you can discern a faint amount of nebulosity around the brighter stars. In the far more detailed IPHAS image shown second, however, Sh 2-124 emerges as a spectacular nebula with dividing dust lanes that might be as famous as the Trifid nebula if it were as bright.
Unlike SuperCOSMOS, there is no easy to use website to download IPHAS images. The official recommended software to retrieve IPHAS images is Astrogrid. As I do not have fancy graphics software to properly manipulate the FITS images provided by Astrogrid, I use a downloaded version of Aladin to view and manipulate the FITS files and convert them to a more widely-supported graphics format for further processing. Fortunately Astrogrid can pipe images directly to Aladin making them function essentially as one application.
Although I've found Astrogrid and Aladin a bit tedious to use, I remind myself that creating images using this software is infinitely easier than using a telescope to capture my own!
As promised many months ago, I've finally added two major new sections to the site.
First, there are 1280x1024 pixel detail maps that highlight 22 regions of the galaxy map, as described here. I tried creating 720x720 images as originally planned, but they did not seem large enough to cover the important regions. I hope that this will meet the needs of people who wanted more information together in single images.
Second, I have put up a full draft of my all-sky hydrogen-alpha commentary. The recent sensitive CCD hydrogen-alpha surveys have revolutionised our view of the night sky, and especially deep-sky nebulae. These results deserve to be better known. I've plotted the nebulae coordinates in the Galaxy Map database on top of Douglas Finkbeiner's all-sky hydrogen-alpha image. This reveals some amazing new information about many familiar nebulae.
The hydrogen-alpha commentary has a number of large images and is best viewed on a monitor with a resolution of 1280x1024 or higher. Over time I'll trim these images a bit to make this section easier to view on 1024x768 monitors as well.