An Encounter with Jack-o’-Lantern

While Anson Two-Two waits on Axon Station in the Zagoro system for his friend Jenckque, I have been out in ‘Humourist’ exploring again. That’s the joy of sharing a ship between the real me and my alter-ego Anson. He can be in one place while I go about my business somewhere else. My business on this occasion being to improve my Explorer status hopefully to the next level and just one step below Elite. The last two expeditions had taken me to the Helix Nebula and to the Binary stars 104 and 107 Aquarii. This time I hadn’t chosen a destination from my star atlas but picked on a random system below the plane of the galaxy in the general direction of the Pleiades Nebula – HIP 16388. My thinking was “Let’s see what catches our attention on the way.”

Halfway to HIP 16388 I found Gorgonea Tertia on my right hand side – don’t go reaching for your medical dictionary, it’s one of the 4 star systems that make up the Gorgon’s head in the constellation Perseus. So I decided to take a look and subsequently found Gorgonea Secunda adjacent. ‘Secunda produced my first Neutron star discovery. There I was closing on this star and it’s not activating the detailed surface scanner… I realised, almost too late, that this was a tiny object as stars go! If I’d carried on moving in at the speed I was going a nasty accident would have ensued  I was as close as 35 Light-seconds before the scanner kicked in – Most stars can be scanned from thousands of light-seconds away!

Now, as I was off my original route, I decided to look around for other potential destinations and spotted a purple fuzziness and a dimmer yellow smudge over to the left of my original track. Careful investigation of the galaxy map allowed me to identify the purple as LBN 623, the Gamma Cassiopeiae Nebula. That seemed like a good object to take a look at so I plotted a new course that would take me across the star fields between Human space and the Pleiades. Along the way I’d try and work out what the yellow smudge was.

When travelling outside Human space fuel for the ship is obtained by scooping Hydrogen from the Corona of Main-Sequence stars. Other star types can’t provide fuel, so it’s no good hugging a Brown Dwarf or a T Tauri type because they won’t return the love! The commonest stars found in most of the galaxy are Red Dwarf’s or M-Type stars, which is good because they are on the Main-Sequence. If all this talk of Main-Sequence has left you confused, take a look at the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram of star types which may help. The key point is that Main-Sequence stars are in the H to He conversion part of their lives and thus have free Hydrogen around them. You might also want to read about Stellar Classification.    The big problem for explorers flying around the outer regions of the galaxy is that you can meet star fields out there which have no Main-Sequence stars in them. The wise explorer always keeps one eye on the stars along the plotted route and the other firmly on the fuel gauge. The third eye is used to check the scanner and enjoy the scenery 😉 On the run across to LBN 623 I encountered one such star field and needed to do 16 jumps without refuelling to cross it. Fortunately Humourist, my Cobra mkIII, has big tanks and is quite fuel efficient so it did not present a major problem. But people do get caught out and then need to be rescued by the Fuel Rats!

So, there I am running towards LBN 623 which is becoming more sharply defined all the time. But whilst three of my eyes are doing the normal routine things the fourth is checking out that yellow smudge. It too is becoming more defined – It now looks like a yellow star with a massive ball of haze around it. I’m intrigued… I arrive at LBN 623 and enjoy its beauty – definitely ‘Pretty in Pink’! Then I turn my attention towards our yellow friend. Again, lining up the galaxy map as best I can, I find a possible candidate in HIP 4894 – a very large G Type star (similar to our Sun but much larger). So I set a route to that system. I won’t know if I’m right until I get there.

Jack-o’-Lantern, Will-o’-the-Wisp, Robin Goodfellow, Puck… we all know who he is don’t we. A Faerie spirit who enjoys playing pranks on travellers in the dark of night. He sets his lure – a light among the trees to entice the unwary from their true path. And he leads them on… approach the light and it seems to move further away. So you follow on and the light never gets any closer. The traveller at best finds himself lost or may stumble into a bog or ravine. Remember the Dead Marshes in Lord of the Rings? “The tricksy lights. Candles of corpses… Don’t you heed them! Don’t look! Don’t follow them!” So it was with my yellow ‘lantern’. I got to HIP 4894 only to find that I was no closer (Very nice star by the way!)

Now, finally, I became suspicious. Galactic objects that never seem to get any closer are usually very distant! Once again I turned to the galaxy map and using the ever present Andromeda Galaxy and the object’s apparent relative position, I started moving from distant star to distant star in the general direction within the 3D representation. It took a while but eventually I spotted a faint nebulosity on the map that I was able to home in on. From the angle it looked like a circular haze with a more solid centre. The Cave Nebula! I tried plotting a route but I couldn’t – somewhere in between there is an area where the stars are more than 23Ly’s apart. I’ll need a ship with better jump range than the Cobra if I want to go there. Jack had led me a merry dance! Here is a cockpit view of Jack-o’-Lantern and some shots of Humourist around LBN 623.

LBN 623
In the Pink, LBN 623
Under LBN 623



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