Sky Factory's stellar foreground

By Phil Plait | November 18, 2008 9:52 am

I have managed to pull a muscle in my shoulder, so writing is really hard today. Until I can make my left arm move normally, I will simply leave you with this incredible image of Gamma Cygni, a bright star in the summer constellation of Cygnus.

The image is by Davide De Martin of Sky Factory. He takes archived professional astronomical images and makes these gorgeous mosaics of them (go to the link, his image is zoomable!).

In this picture, the star appears to be surrounded by warm, glowing gas. I looked up what type of star Gamma Cygni is, and was surprised to find out it’s an F star. That makes it hotter than the Sun, but not nearly hot enough to make this kind of gas glow! I was relieved to see that the star is actually coincidentally in the foreground. It’s less than 1000 light years away, but the gas cloud is 3-6 times more distant. It’s being lit up by hotter stars inside it.

You should really spend some time looking at the other images David has done. They’re stunningly beautiful, and a fine way to appreciate the majesty of the heavens.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (32)

  1. That’s beautiful, and the resolution is incredible!

  2. Wow.

    I just did an entry today on space images and visualizations and now I come here and see this. Stunning!

    Hope your shoulder gets better soon, BA

  3. GP

    Wait – you’re LEFT-HANDED?

    That explains everything…

  4. Trebuchet

    I’m sure you can find a good homeopathic pain reliever that will make that arm all better….

    Very pretty picture!

  5. Ed

    Fabulous photo. Due north-west of the star is an outline of a dog!
    Shouldn’t this be in Canis Major or Minor?

  6. James B

    Does anyone think that looks like a map of europe?

  7. Thanks Phil, that’s another excellent astronomical web-site that I have now bookmarked.

    For an alternative view of the background nebulae with the stars digitally removed, click on my name and the link will direct you to the Astronomy Picture Of the Day (2008-4-24) of Cygnus Without Stars.

  8. IVAN3MAN

    Phil Plait’s left-handed?

    Q. How do you know if a Scotsman is left-handed?

    A. He keeps all his money in his right-hand pocket.

  9. goattuber

    Is that Africa in the lower-left?

  10. Chip

    Phil mentioned that the star is “coincidentally in the foreground…less than 1000 light years away, but the gas cloud is 3-6 times more distant…”

    This illustrates a simple but sometimes forgotten interesting point about forced perspective while viewing distant objects. If we were living on an Earthlike planet orbiting Gamma Cygni, that gigantic nebula beyond would be tiny and invisible except through our telescopes. Though there are numerous objects in the sky that are actually close together, many more only appear to be. Some nebulae as well as galaxies would be brighter if closer to us, others much bigger but equally dim. If we had a starship, some nebulae would be brighter from a distance and as we approached perhaps fade to invisible as they loomed larger. There’s room in the universe for all kinds of effects.

  11. Davidlpf

    cool picture, hope the arm gets better.

  12. All the stardust,
    We are.
    All the atoms,
    We are.
    With Beauty,
    Like water,
    We seek our level in the sky.

  13. Click on my name for stellar expert James Kaler’s Gamma Cygni page for more on the star Gamma Cygni. Turns out its an F8 Supergiant so quite an intrinisically bright and colossal yellow-white distant star of thesame kind as Canopus or Sadalmelik (Alpha Aquarii) – & its also known as Sadr.

    Sorry to hear about your shoulder injury Phil, not fun & makes life harder for sure. :-(

    Hope you get well soon – I supppose you can always trying using your right hand to write but know its difficult -from experience. I broke my some of the bones in my right hand once and became semi-ambidextrous by necessity! Who knows maybe that might work for you too! :-)

    Anyway thanks for the post and blog and esp. this post.

  14. IVAN3MAN

    Q. How many left-handed people does it take to change a light bulb?

    A. Only one, but they have to do it right.

  15. Davidlpf

    You kind have to wonder how he injured his arm while at a computer, I wonder what kind things he could of doing.

  16. Laurel

    Beautiful picture. I hope your shoulder feels better soon.

  17. One of the things I enjoyed about the MMORPG EVE Online was its concept of beautifully illuminated and colored nebulae like this one. If only we could experience the heavens like this in real time; then again, it might be hard to get to sleep and indirect sunlight would likely blind us.

  18. IVAN3MAN

    Davidlpf:

    You kind [of] have to wonder how he injured his arm while at a computer, I wonder what kind [of] things he could [have been] doing?

    I think this may be the reason:

  19. Sadr or Gamma Cygni may not be intrinsically superluminous enough for that cloud – although it is a very bright Canopus-or Polaris-like F type supergiant! However Sadr is very near in the sky to the Luminous Blue Variable hypergiant P Cygni which is one of the very brightest stars in our Milky Way Galaxy :


    “From its rather astounding and uncertain) distance of 6000 or more light years, P Cyg, a class B (B2) supergiant (if not “hypergiant), pours between 500,000 and 900,000 times the power of the Sun into space from a blue-white surface of 19,000 Kelvin, making it one of the most luminous stars of the whole Galaxy. Dimmed a little bit by interstellar dust, if the view were clear, the star would appear 4 times brighter. P Cygni belongs to an extremely rare group of stars called “luminous blue variables.”

    In the year 1600 it flared to third magnitude, and still sometimes carries the name “Nova Cygni 1600.” (It is not a nova. True novae are caused by nuclear eruptions on the surfaces of white dwarfs from hydrogen donated by close companions). The eruption went on for six years, and then the star faded below naked-eye visibility, only to rise again for several years in 1654. Since settling in at 5th magnitude a century later, it has slowly increased its brightness (with many superimposed variations) by about 15 percent per century, not intrinsically, but as a result of cooling by six percent per century, which transfers progressively more of the star’s ultraviolet light into the visible. Eruptions of luminous blue variables are accompanied by the ejections of vast amounts of matter.

    The star is surrounded by a faint nebula that has been created over the past 900 years by the current eruptive mass loss, and by faint shells that tell of eruptions from 2400 and 20,000 years ago. … Highly evolved, and with an huge mass of between 50 and 60 times that of the Sun, the star [P Cygni] will build an iron core, its only destiny someday to explode as a great supernova, or even as a newly-recognized “hypernova,” one whose core may collapse into a black hole. When that may happen, however, is entirely unknown.”

    Source : Kaler’s P Cygni page via Sadr (Gamma Cygni) page (linked on my first post this thread) -> Labelled image (linked this post -click on my name) – > P Cygni links on Kaler’s STARS website.

    Kaler also notes of the region around Sadr –click my name for link to a labelled map of the Sadr Stellar &galactic neighbourhood* :

    REGION AROUND SADR

    Sadr lies in a complex region of the Milky Way, the field about 5 degrees across. The glowing interstellar diffuse nebula IC 1318 lies just above the label, while NGC 6914 is just to the left of the label. Several other clouds are visible below and to the left of the star. M (Messier) 29 and NGC 6918 are open clusters, P Cygni is a luminous blue variable, and RS Cygni is a carbon star Mira variable.”

    Source : Kaler, Sadr’s surrounds page accessed Nov. 2008. (Today.)

    Not sure & please correct me if I’m wrong here but the colourful cloud around Sadr (or Gamma Cygni as its Bayer designation goes) that’s starring here may well be considered part of that diffuse nebulosity mentioned – IC 1318 – no?

    * As opposed to the Sadr city neighbourhood – the much less pleasant Iraqi slum city near Baghdad. ;-)

  20. Joker

    Hmm .. is Sadr stellar neighbourhood much more pleasant than Sadr city StevoR? I dunno. Its a * LOT * smaller and a bit of a war zone (literally!) true, but OTOH Sadr City Iraq has breathable air, solid ground and food and drink. Oh and people. I’m not sure the immense gulf of lightyears squared around Gamma Cyg can really say the same! ;-)

    Gotta say the names sound bit gloomy in both cases though .. Sadr or “Sadder” city eh..? :-( ;-)

    Iraqi & Arab names tend to be like that tho’ .. they also had a dictator called “Sad-dam” who was, aptly, pretty sad and dammed.

    Oh & can’t forget my favourite ironically named cities “Allah-is-bad” and Islam-is-bad” in Muslim Pakistan either! ;-)

    Sorry getting off topic here ..

    Nice photo BA – Hope you recover soon!

  21. Oh & I almost forgot (well did forget but thenremembered!) the constellations lucida or brightest star, Alpha Cyngni or as its much better known Deneb is also a fantastically bright star – a rare white supergiant that, I think, lights up the photographically superb North America nebula.

    Deneb too is one of our Galxies brightest stars though dimmer than P Cgyni -click on my name here for Kaler’s page on Deneb.

    Hmm … Not a bad constellation Cygnus for stars and Deep Sky Objects – it hosts :

    1. Deneb as noted here an A-type supergiant lucida,

    2. Albireo, one of the sky’s finest double stars as Beta Cygni – a showpiece binary of “amber and blue-green” hues.

    3. Sadr an F-type supergiant as Gamma cygni, a signpost F-supergiant similar to Polaris and Canopus in nature and surrounded by thenebulosity photographed here.

    4. P Cygni a LBV hypergiant and one of our Galaxies brightest and most eruptive stars with ahistory of outbursts and a prototype spectrum.

    5. The North America Nebula near Deneb.

    6. 61 Cygni which is a nearby historic orange dwarf binary that was the first star ever to have its distance determined by parallax inthe 1860’s (think ’twas anyhow?)

    7. 16 Cygni which was the first binary star known to host an exoplanet.

    8. The bright Messier object M 39 – an open cluster visible clearly in binocs and detectable just to the sharpest eyes under darkest skies.

    9. Cygnus X-1 a famous black hole candidate with a stellar-mass black hole orbited by a blue-supergiant – perhaps the first black hole ever actually discovered?

    &

    10. The Cygnus Rift or Northern Coalsack a dark nebula that impinges heavily on the Milky Way as seen from Earth.

    Worth gazing up & contemplating all that at I reckon. THanks BA fpr directing our attention to it!

    Sources : Kaler’s website & book ‘100 Greatest Stars’, Copernicus Books, 2002 & ‘Collins Guide to Stars & Planets’, Ridpath & Tirion, Collins, 2007.

  22. I wrote too quickly :

    “61 Cygni which is a nearby historic orange dwarf binary that was the first star ever to have its distance determined by parallax inthe 1860’s (think ’twas anyhow?)

    D’oh! Wrong. Should have checked first instead of just writing off-top-o-head. :-(

    61 Cygni’s historic stellar parallax was detected in 1838 by Freidrich Wilhelm Bessel just beating the publication of Alpha Centauri’s parallax which was detected earlier but published later by Henderson.

    Otto Struve determined Vega’s parallax shortly after coming third in that particular scientific race.

    Sources : Collins Guide to Stars & Planets as before & Patrick Moore ‘Brilliant Stars’ Publisher : David Bateman Ltd, 1996.

  23. Joker wrote :

    Hmm .. is Sadr stellar neighbourhood much more pleasant than Sadr city StevoR? I dunno. Its a * LOT * smaller and a bit of a war zone (literally!) true, but OTOH Sadr City Iraq has breathable air, solid ground and food and drink. Oh and people. I’m not sure the immense gulf of lightyears squared around Gamma Cyg can really say the same!

    Well I know where I’d rather be – given an FTL starship and the ability to fly it! Give me stars and nebulae over war-torn slums anyday! ;-)

    Joker also said :

    “Iraqi & Arab names tend to be like that tho’ .. they also had a dictator called “Sad-dam” who was, aptly, pretty sad and dammed.”

    Maybe, but I understand Saddam was well pretty well hung! ;-)

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  24. Well neither of those names is pronounced like they’re spelled exactly, but Saddam does mean “confronter”. Though Sadr means bosom, implying heart, which is interesting and ironic considering the reality on the ground, though it’s actually names for the family of Muqtada As-Sadr.

  25. Phil Plait, regarding your shoulder injury, I think that you may have Frozen Shoulder Syndrome or Rotator Cuff Injury, both of which are common in people over the age of 40. You may find the advice at Virtual Sports Injury Clinic useful — click on my name for the link. Get well soon.

  26. IBY

    Nice! Drool incucing astronomy picture. ^_^

  27. I miss the live chat.

  28. Nigel Depledge

    Joker said:

    my favourite ironically named cities “Allah-is-bad” and Islam-is-bad” in Muslim Pakistan either!

    Well, I’ve never heard of that first one, but do you perhaps refer to Islamabad with your second?

    Incidentally, while I am neither Muslim nor Pakistani, I find your jokes to be in rather poor taste.

  29. Nigel Depledge

    Back on-topic…

    Oooooh! Pretty!

    Thanks, BA. You get well soon, and don’t do any more of that – erm – whatever it was that you did to injure yourself.

  30. It’s the Medusa Cascade!

  31. Ouch. I sympathize on the shoulder issue. I had a tetanus shot last week and typing (among other things) was extremely unpleasant for the next few days.

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