The total lunar eclipse two weeks ago spurred a lot of astrophotographers to capture the event, and I saw quite a few really pretty shots. But then I saw this one, which is so breath-taking I immediately emailed the photographer to get permission to share it with you:
[Click to enumbranate.]
Wow. What you’re seeing is the totally eclipsed Moon glowing a dull orange-red as it reflects sunlight filtered through Earth’s atmosphere, sitting next to the Lagoon Nebula, itself pinkish-red due to the presence of octillions of tons of warm hydrogen. Just above the Lagoon and much farther away in space lies the blue-and-red Trifid Nebula, itself a star-forming region like the Lagoon. The Moon was in the constellation of Ophiuchus, near Sagittarius; from Earth this direction is looking straight into the galactic center. That’s why you can also see thousands of densely-packed stars in the image.
The photographer, Emil Ivanov, combined five two-minute exposures during the deepest part of the eclipse to create this stunning picture. He took it in a small village (with dark skies!) about 40 km from Varna, Bulgaria. Funny– this same image taken an hour or so later would look very different; the full Moon (outside of the Earth’s shadow) would totally swamp the shot, and all you’d see was the moon itself! But this eclipse was so dark that even faint stars could be seen.
The Lagoon and Moon look to be about the same size in this shot, but in fact the Lagoon is about 100 light years across or a quadrillion kilometers. The Moon is a mere 3500 km across, but is a wee bit closer.
And while I’m at it, just so’s you know, that tree looks to be about 10 meters away. That would make the Moon 40 million times farther away than the tree… but the Lagoon Nebula, at 4000 light years distant, is 100 billion times farther away than that.
I love astronomy for the incredible artistic appeal it provides, but man, sometimes just as important is the perspective it provides.
Image credit: Emil Ivanov; tip o’ the lens cap to the Amateur Astronomy Picture of the Day
The Lagoon Nebula is one of the more famous objects in the sky. It’s a big, bright gas cloud easily spotted using binoculars in the constellation of Sagittarius, and through a telescope reveals quite a bit of detail. I’ve seen it literally hundreds of times, observing in the summer when Sagittarius is up. You can even see it in a picture I took a few weeks ago (if you’re really curious, scroll to the bottom, click the pic of Sagittarius, and then look off to the right of center; the compact fuzzy pink thing is the Lagoon).
So when you take something big, bright, and close, and point Hubble at it, the detail is pretty spectacular:
As you might expect, I could go on and on about what you’re seeing here: dense clouds of gas and dust, star forming regions, shock waves, and the like. Instead, though, I’ll direct you to the four bumps, like a wave going across the nebula from left to right and downsloping a bit. Take a look at that third one from the left. Does it look familiar…?
[Punch line after the jump... don't wanna rue-een it...]
When I was a kid, I used to haul my 25 cm ‘scope out to the end of the driveway every clear night to observe. In the summer, one of my favorite targets was the Lagoon Nebula: it’s bright, easy to find, and even with the frakkin’ streetlight I had to peer past, details in the vast gas cloud were easy to spot.
But I kinda wish I had access to a 1.5 meter telescope. Their view is a wee bit better:
I have been behind in my cool-astronomy-posting, and haven’t mentioned the GigaGalaxy Zoom project, an ambitious and totally awesome three-part image series by the European Southern Observatory. The first part was to create a magnificent all-sky view of the heavens; the second was a zoom in on the Milky Way showing a region choked with stars and dust.
The third is of the Lagoon Nebula, a star forming region a quadrillion miles across and 4000 light years in toward the center of the galaxy. And the image? Well, if you want the full-res version, you’d better have some room on your drive: it has 370 million pixels and will eat up a whopping 700 Mb of disk space.
And what does it look like? Heh heh heh. Like this:
[You know the drill, click to embiggen. Do it! Now!]
Oh. Wow. And that’s low-res! Here’s the monster one if you want it.
The depth and detail are simply and truly jaw-dropping. You can zoom in and see young stars, massive stars, dark clouds, ribbons and sheets of gas sculpted by vast winds of subatomic particles blown off of supergiant stars.
The Lagoon was always a favorite target of mine in the summer months when the center of the Milky Way in Scorpius and Sagittarius would just clear my neighbor’s trees. A nearby streetlight always made observing in that direction a pain, but even from a distance of 40 quadrillion kilometers away the nebulous glow of gas and newly-born stars still shone through. I wouldn’t have been able to imagine back then that I’d be able to zoom in on the Lagoon using a 2.2 meter telescope equipped with a 67 megapixel camera!
There is science in this picture, to be sure. We can study it to look at the shape of the nebula, how it interacts with the stars and other nearby nebulae, and much more. But you know what? At this exact moment, I don’t care.
Because my oh my, the Universe is a beautiful place. And sometimes, for just a little while, that’s enough.