Saturday, October 30, 2010

Horsehead Region

Click on image for a larger view
Every time I look at the famous Horsehead Nebula it brings to mind a giant, cosmic chess game.  Only this chess piece is 1600 light years away.  Probably the most famous "Dark Nebula" in the heavens, it was first recorded on a photographic plate in 1888.  Dark areas such as this were thought to be holes, or clearings, in space where we could see deeper, or just areas devoid of stars.  Edward E. Barnard photographed and cataloged 370 of these objects, then showed that they were actually clouds of gas and dust that blocked the more distant stars in the background.  The Horsehead is designated as "B33" in his catalog.

We see it as a towering, dense cloud in front of the red emission nebula (IC434) glowing behind it.  This strip of glowing hydrogen marks the edge of a huge dust cloud which extends below the Horsehead.

Below and slightly left of the Horsehead is a "reflection nebula" known as NGC2023.  At the bottom edge of the image is another one called IC435.

The brightest star on the left of the image is Alnitak, the eastern most star in Orion's belt.  At 850 light years, it is half the distance to the Horsehead.

Directly below Alnitak, also about 800 light years away, is the huge emission nebula known as the Flame Nebula. It is only one million years old, which, in cosmic terms is rather young.  More than half of the stars in the nebula have accretion disks.  Such disks of matter may be sites of planet formation and could eventually form into solar systems like ours.

Click on image for a larger view
The closeup image above clearly shows how the Horsehead stands in front of the glowing background.  Embryonic stars are forming inside the brighter areas of the horses neck.  Many, many generations into the future, the whole area will have collapsed into many clusters of stars.  Which shows that even large pieces can be captured in this cosmic chess game of the sky.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Helix Nebula

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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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Crab Nebula -Supernova Remnant

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My previous post was about a star that is shedding pieces of itself out into space.  The above picture is of another star, but in this case the star literally blew itself apart.  What you see is the remnants of a supernova.  Very large stars do this at the time when they start to run out of fuel when gravity takes over imploding the leftover material, then exploding soon after.

Astronomers have determined that the star exploded in 1054 A.D. and was recorded by Chinese and Arab astronomers.  The star they saw was so bright, it was visible in the daytime sky.  Almost 700 years later, John Bevis was the first person to observe the expanding remnants through a telescope.  It was rediscovered in 1758 by Charles Messier, a comet hunter, where he placed it as the number 1 non-comet object in his catalog.  The Earle of Rosse observed it in 1840, made a drawing of it in the shape of a crab, therefore also known as the Crab Nebula.

Part of the star that exploded is still at the center of the nebula.  It is now a pulsar, which is a spinning neutron star, only 12 miles across.  It spins at 30.2 times a second and emits pulses of radiation.  Photographs taken over the years showed that it is expanding over 900 miles per second.  It is now 11 light years across and is located about 6500 light years from us.

Technical Data is the same as the previous post.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Windy Star Erodes IC 59 and IC 63

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You wouldn't think it would be windy in the vacuum of outer space, but it is, just a different kind of wind.  Here on earth wind is caused by air flowing from a high pressure area to a low pressure area and we feel the air molecules moving by us.  In space, wind is caused by stars.

In the above picture, Gamma Cassiopeia, the bright star in the center is an eruptive variable star that sheds massive outflows of itself into space.  These stellar winds interact with clouds of gas and dust, such as the two (IC 59 and IC 63) you see to the right of Gamma.  The stellar winds are eroding this clouds and in time the clouds will disappear.
  • Technical Data:
  • Composite of eight 15-minute exposures
  • Camera: CCD-Labs Q453
  • Telescope: Orion 190mm f/5.3 Maksutov/Newtonian
  • Mount: Parallax Instruments 150C
  • Date: 10-03-2010
  • Location: ASKC Dark Sky Site near Butler, Missouri, USA
  • Captured with "Nebulosity" software; processed in "DeepSkyStacker", and finished in Photoshop CS3.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Comet Hartley Movie

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A fairly bright comet, 103P/Hartley 2, is now heading toward the Sun and passing by the earth.  I photographed this comet last week, Oct 9/10 through my 1000mm telescope.  The above image is a combination of 50 exposures with each shot lasting 4 minutes.  I started the exposure run at 11:12 p.m. and ended the 50th shot at 2:39 a.m.  The comet was moving fairly fast and went past the bright star at the top of the image at the time of the last shot.  With special software (DeepSkyStacker) I was able to combine all 50 images on top of the first image.  Without DeepSkyStacker a normal stack of the images would have created a long streak across the frame.

I have also created a short 50 second movie showing the comet as it trucked on by.  Click here to download the file Comet-Hartley.exe to watch the self running movie.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Yellowstone Grizzlies

 Click on images for a larger view
Two Summers ago, Gloria and I spent two weeks in Yellowstone National Park.  Early the first morning, we were visiting the first of many geysers and hot springs scattered throughout the park.  Click on picture above and look closely at the boardwalk.  Gloria just walked by fresh bear tracks.
 Here is a close up of the bear tracks probably made sometime before we arrived.  We were the only ones in the area.  Needless to say, I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise a bit and thankful to see other people arrive.
 Yellowstone is bear country, mostly grizzly bears.  We saw them practically every day we were there.  The grizzly above was mainly interested in rooting for muchies in the ground and paid no attention to me, although I'm sure she was aware I and many sightseers were there.
 This is a mother bear walking up a hill with her cub not too far behind.  This is the one and only time she actually paid attention to me.  She stopped for a bit and just stared, then kept going on her way.
 This is the grizzly cub, almost half the size of the mother, but probably as large as an adult human.

One day the pair was rooting around in Hayden Valley.  Here the mother crossed a small watery depression.

But the cub wasn't too sure he wanted to cross so he just sat for a while. 
He finally decided to test it out since his mother didn't seem to be coming back.
 Gotta hurry  and catch up!

Here you can see the difference in size between the two.
At one point the mother sat down creating an invitation for some mother's milk.

The time I spent at Yellowstone is one of the fondest memories of my life.  Watching these bears up close made it even more special.  It was amazing to see many families drive into Yellowstone one day and leave the next.  They missed the whole experience of America's first national park.  I spent two weeks and still didn't see everything.