Photometry of M57 Field Stars
by Brian Skiff
(Updated November 2000)
A common goal among amateur deep-sky observers is picking out the central star
of the Ring Nebula, Messier 57. With a large telescope (say a 24-inch) this is quite easy to do. But because
of physiological effects in the eye, detection with minimal apertures can be problematic (an 8- or 10-inch
telescope is required), with the eye sometimes showing a spurious brightening at the proper location even
in quite small instruments.
For some time I have wanted to produce a proper photometric sequence around this much-observed deep-sky object.
One immediate use is allowing a check on magnitude limits with different telescopes, magnifications, and sky conditions.
All published photometric measurements make the central star about V mag. 15.0 or perhaps one to three tenths fainter,
but with no demonstrable evidence of variability. This fact, combined with the bright background of the center of the
nebula, makes seeing the central star more difficult than would be the case if it were an isolated star.
Beyond merely being able to see faint enough, picking up the central star in small telescopes requires both quite high
magnification (~500x) and sub-arcsecond seeing.
As a start on this problem I made single observations of several brighter stars
in the field using the Lowell 53cm photometric telescope in October 1996. I would have preferred to get them on two or
three nights each, but lack of time prevented this. I used a 19-arcsecond diaphragm and Strömgren b and y filters on
the photometer. About a dozen primary and secondary standard stars were included in the series each night for
calibration to the standard system. The y filter observations are transformed to standard Johnson V magnitudes,
which are appropriate for visual use. The uncertainties on the measurements normally range from about 0.01 to 0.03 mag.
In several cases below, I have retained my V magnitudes, but adopted B-V from the Tycho-2 catalogue to maintain
consistency with a larger CCD dataset. The Tycho colors were corrected to the standard system using the transformations
of Bessell (2000).
On two nights in 2000 Arne Henden (USNO-Flagstaff) observed the field using a CCD on the USNO 1-m telescope, which covers a 10'x10' field. The data reach far fainter than I can get with the Lowell telescope, and I've adopted his results here for selected stars within the field, replacing my values except for the brightest stars. Results for stars in common match nearly perfectly. One can expect that zero-point errors are no worse than ±0.02 mag. I have made a selection of stars covering the full range of the reliable data, which now extends to nearly mag. 20, and give below a list with positions and BVR photometry. The fainter stars all lie in the northwest quadrant from the Ring toward the galaxy IC 1296. If you're greedy, Arne's complete file of over 700 stars in the 10'x10' CCD field is located at:
|[Note: the FTP site linked below has the following message as of October 2007. However, there are files of some type at this site.]
I am migrating all sequences to the AAVSO ftp computer.
In a few days I'll post the new locations.
Arne Henden 22 February 2006
The table includes star names, equinox 2000 positions, V magnitudes, and B-V and V-R colors. The names of the fainter stars are simply the V magnitude rounded to 0.1-mag. in the style of variable-star charts. An asterisk by the star name indicates a note below the table. Positions for the stars come from the several sources, coded by letters following the coordinates:
The position for the central star of the Ring Nebula itself was determined by me from several large-scale archive plates taken at Lowell Observatory by C. O. Lampland early in the century with a 40-inch Newtonian.
Photometry of Stars in the Field of the Ring Nebula
(Messier 57 = NGC 6720)
||18 53 35.1
||+33 01 45
||18 53 18.8
||+33 03 58
||18 53 08.7
||+33 12 36
||18 53 04.0
||+32 55 33
||18 53 11.6
||+33 03 13
||18 53 17.3
||+32 58 22
||18 53 15.0
||+33 00 03
||18 53 18.4
||+33 02 47
||18 53 39.8
||+33 01 46
||E edge of nebula
||18 53 48.0
||+32 58 58
||18 53 24.1
||+33 03 43
||18 53 42.9
||+33 00 47
||18 53 30.9
||+33 02 32
||Brighter of two NW
||18 53 37.4
||+32 59 31
||18 53 29.4
||+33 02 24
||Fainter of two NW
||18 53 35.4
||+32 59 33
||18 53 34.6
||+33 00 40
||sup on neb S side
||18 53 30.8
||+33 01 42
||sup on neb W side
||18 53 34.3
||+33 03 14
||18 53 38.1
||+33 00 24
||18 53 32.0
||+33 03 21
||18 53 24.4
||+33 02 40
||18 53 24.8
||+33 02 06
||18 53 24.2
||+33 01 26
||18 53 32.5
||+33 03 06
||18 53 26.5
||+33 02 44
||18 53 27.5
||+33 01 08
||18 53 26.0
||+33 00 55
A = USNO-A2.0; G = GSC-ACT; T = Tycho-2
HD 175267 V from Skiff, B-V from Tycho-2; also V = 8.72 (Kostyakova 1991)
GSC 2642-0433 Skiff: V = 13.03, b-y = 0.40
GSC 2642-0590 double star GP 192: V =13.3,13.8; 2".9; 34° (1985)
GSC 2642-1690 V from Skiff, B-V from Tycho-2.
The position for the central star of the Ring Nebula itself was determined by me from several large-scale archive plates taken at Lowell Observatory and published in a compilation of precise positions for NGC/IC planetaries (Skiff 1996).
A chart that Medkeff prepared for at-telescope use. Program stars that are on this chart are
labeled with the magnitudes that Skiff determined; there are only five such on this chart. For a complete list of
program stars, see the table, above. Magnitudes are presented, as is conventional, without potentially misleading
decimal points. Magnitudes are given to the first decimal place, therefore, the star in the lower right labeled
"105" is a 10.5 magnitude star.
JPEG from POSS print, with magnitude information, for this sequence. Similar to above.
The image (83Kb) shows the faint outer halo of the nebula as well as the nearby mag. 14 galaxy IC 1296. The brightest star in the list, bluish HD 175267, appears near the northwest (upper-right) corner of the chart, which covers approximately 15' x 20'. For reference, this is the first star northwest of the nebula as plotted on Uranometria chart 117.
The Hubble Guide Star Magnitudes are quite a bit brighter than visual (V), and are not comparable to the V magnitudes for the stars I observed, as given in the table above.
The image above is a 3-arcminute-square region near M-57, centered on the coordinates for the star J185331+3302.5 (Now '147' in the revised table), circled in yellow, taken from the POSS-I plate, which is available in a larger view (link above.) — S. Waldee.
A couple of stars are worth noting specifically. The star on the east
side of the nebula, GSC 2642-0433, has been claimed to be as bright as mag. 11, and even thought to vary.
I have made several careful measurements of this star in the past, accounting as best I could for the
background near the nebula, and the results scatter between V mag. 13.02 and 13.05, all of which can be
attributed simply to normal photon-counting errors in the data. Henden's magnitude matches the average of
mine exactly, so the brightness of this star is well in hand.
The first reasonably bright star west-northwest of the nebula, GSC 2642-0590, is readily seen on large-scale
photographs to be a fairly close pair. It was finally catalogued as such by G. Popovic in 1985, as GP 192.
The separation and position angle are from his observations, but appear to be fixed when compared to plates
taken at the turn of the Century. Because the component stars are quite faint, a fairly large aperture and
high power are required to resolve them visually.
Among the fainter field stars I have selected several in the immediate vicinity of the nebula to answer the
questions that continually come up about their brightness. Since they are disturbed by faint nebulosity to
varying degrees, Henden's values may not be utterly correct. Some fainter isolated stars slightly further
afield complete the list.
Following on endlessly-recurring newsgroup discussions about the
visibility of the central star of M57, I looked into the historical literature a bit to find out if there were
early observations with small apertures. There was quite a lot of work done on the central star and field stars
by Barnard in the Monthly Notices. But this was with the Lick 36-inch refractor, and basically irrelevant to
views with small apertures. However, there is a long report by Holden (1888) that contains some interesting
comments. Drawings by John Herschel, D'Arrest, Trouvelot, and Lord Rosse do not show the central star.
Lord Rosse's drawing was made with his early 36-inch speculum reflector, not the later 72-inch.
In 1860 Lassell used his 48-inch telescope to measure the field stars, and includes the central star as his no. 14.
Asaph Hall (1878), using the USNO 26-inch refractor made additional micrometer measurements, but does not mention
the central star, except to say "I could see no star...within the ring of the nebula itself."
Holden found this last comment inexplicable, noting that
the central star "has been well seen by Professor Schultz at Upsula [Uppsala, Sweden] with the
Steinheil refractor of 9 1/2 inches, and is seen here [Lick Observatory] with the 12-inch
equatorial." Alas, no citation to the Schultz observation. Holden's continuing description includes
what is apparently the first observation of the companion to the central star, first observed by
Schaeberle at Lick. It is noted as being doubtful, since only Schaeberle could see it—meaning
merely that Holden was not a good visual observer, whereas Schaeberle was one of the best in his day.
These comments make clear that the central star can be seen in modest apertures under good conditions.
Finally, I note that Steve O'Meara has seen the central star using the 9-inch refractor at Harvard (a distinctly urban observing site); see his recent Messier book for details.
The image shows the faint outer halo of the nebula as well as the nearby mag. 14 galaxy IC 1296. The brightest star in the list, bluish HD 175267, appears near the northwest (upper-right) corner of the chart, which covers approximately 15' x 20'. For reference, this is the first star northwest of the nebula as plotted on Uranometria chart 117.
Another take on this field is given by Todd Gross at his site:
Note that his image is significantly rotated counterclockwise; the mag. 13 at the edge of the nebula is nearly due east. The photometry here completely supercedes what is shown in his image.
Bessell, M. S., 2000, PASP 112, 961
Hall, A. 1878, Astron. Nach. 92, 27
Holden, E. 1888, MNRAS 48, 383
Kostyakova, E. B. 1991, Trudy Gos. Astron. Inst. Sternberg, 62, 143
Copyright © 1997 Brian Skiff — All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Formatted by Jeff Medkeff, using some captions and graphics produced by Steve Waldee, and table and other material by Tom Polakis. Major revision of table and graphics for the HAC website done by Doug Snyder. Reformatted for hacastronomy.com by Del Gordon. Jeff Medkeff's science page is here.