Sunday, October 24, 2010

Helix Nebula

Click on Image for a larger view
Keeping with the theme of stars and the incredible things that they do, here is a photo I took earlier this month of a deep sky nebula known as the "Helix".  The star at the center of the Helix is the creator of this beautiful spiral shape.  During the red giant phase of this dying star, it expelled it's outer layers into space.  Hot stellar winds energize the layers of star stuff and makes them glow.  Also known as a planetary nebula, early astronomers thought they were giant planets when viewed through their small telescopes.  But even though we now know what they are, they are still called planetary nebulae.

The ejected material from planetaries and supernovae is of interest for one very important reason.  Our own star, the Sun, it's planets and life on Earth, were once this star stuff meandering through space, which over millions of years, coalesced into our solar system, and us.

Click on Image for a larger view
The image above was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.  Along the inner edge of the Helix is detail not seen in my photo.  Finger like cometary knots composed of shells of gas ejected by the central star are being stripped away by the star's hot ultraviolet radiation.

The difference in the resolution of the two images are caused by a couple of things.  My telescope's mirror is only 7.5" in diameter.  The Hubble Space Telescope's mirror is 7', 10" in diameter.  My scope is like a 1000mm telephoto lens.  The HST is like a 57,600mm lens, magnifying an image 57.6 times more than my scope..  But one more important thing is that I am shooting through a "puddle" of moving air making my image slightly fuzzy.  The HST is 347 miles in space, high above all that image destroying air.  So it can take incredible images such as this.

Technical Data:
Same as previous image, except I took Nine, 15 minute shots, totaling 2 hours and 15 minutes.


  1. Tom, these are gorgeous! You have hit a new level with these and its evident you have your system finely tuned and have sharpened your skills as a premier Astro imager!

  2. Thank you Mark. Yes, I finally feel like I'm starting to half way understand what I'm doing. I read your messages on CCD New Astronomy Y-Group on how your trying to figure out how to get back into it. Good Luck.

  3. I am actually thinking about a whole different route for imaging. I picked up something and am going to try my starmaster and see how it goes. The only issue I see with those that are doing it today is noise in the images and I think a low noise camera will solve that. My Nikon D700 might make a fantastic main imager.