ken crawford and barnard 33

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

IF YOU KNOW NOTHING about as­tronomy and galactic for­ma­tion and neb­ulae, you still prob­ably know about the Horse­head Nebula. The gor­geous image of that mass of dirt and de­bris above was taken by Ken Craw­ford in 2011. He took this photo from his back­yard ob­ser­va­tory in Rancho Del Sol Camino, the image taking twenty hours of ex­po­sure and seven dif­ferent filters!

He be­lieves this image is pop­ular be­cause of the rec­og­niz­able shape of the nebula and the striking as­tro­nom­ical fea­tures. “The glowing pink/red hy­drogen pro­vides a beau­tiful back drop to this amazing re­gion of the deep sky,” he said.

I agree with Mr Ken Craw­ford: looking at the image—as a painting and starting in the lower left corner, the move­ment from the cold blue up through the neu­tral gray in the center and on to the warm reds of the top is stun­ning. That both of these latter two areas are punc­tured by the spiked white light of a star/galaxy only heighten the dra­matic horse-like image of the mas­sive cloud of stellar de­bris in the center.

The Horse­head Nebula is extraordinary—beautiful be­yond be­lief, per­haps for­ever be­yond grokking—to the human con­scious­ness and yet so or­di­nary that if the Uni­verse had a mind of its own it might not ever get around to noticing it . . .


HorseNebula 1050

The astronomical picture of the day

Craw­ford, who owns a carpet busi­ness, be­came an am­a­teur as­tropho­tog­ra­pher in 2001. This is a spe­cial­ized type of pho­tog­raphy for recording im­ages of as­tro­nom­ical ob­jects and large areas of the night sky. Be­sides being able to record the de­tails of ex­tended ob­jects such as the Moon, Sun, and planets, as­tropho­tog­raphy has the ability to image ob­jects in­vis­ible to the human eye by long time exposure.

Pho­tog­raphy rev­o­lu­tion­ized the field of pro­fes­sional as­tro­nom­ical re­search, with long time ex­po­sures recording hun­dreds of thou­sands of new stars and neb­ulae that were in­vis­ible to the human eye, leading to spe­cial­ized and ever larger op­tical tele­scopes that were es­sen­tially big cam­eras de­signed to col­lect light to be recorded on film.

The Horse­head nebula ap­pears dark be­cause of the dust in the neigh­bouring area, with the bright spots at the base marking newly formed or forming young stars.

As­tropho­tog­raphy is a large sub-discipline in am­a­teur as­tronomy, where it is usu­ally used to record aes­thet­i­cally pleasing im­ages rather than for sci­en­tific research.

As­tronomy Pic­ture of the Day (APOD) is a NASA-backed web­site with a dif­ferent image or pho­to­graph of the uni­verse fea­tured each day. The pic­tures and de­scrip­tions are often re­lated to cur­rent events in as­tronomy and space exploration.

When APOD began on June 16, 1995, it re­ceived only four­teen page views on its first day. As of 2012, it is es­ti­mated that there have been over 1,000,000,000 views.


Photo of galaxy NGC660 by Ken Crawford.

Photo: Galaxy NGC660

Young stars in the process of forming

The dark cloud of dust and gas is a re­gion in the Orion Mol­e­c­ular Cloud Com­plex where star for­ma­tion is taking place. It is lo­cated in the con­stel­la­tion of Orion, which is promi­nent in the sky on winter evenings the northern hemi­sphere. This stellar nursery can con­tain over one hun­dred known kinds of or­ganic and in­or­ganic gases as well as dust; some of the latter is made up of large and com­plex or­ganic molecules.

“The Horse­head Nebula is a dif­fuse dark nebula found in the Orion Mol­e­c­ular Cloud Com­plex in Orion con­stel­la­tion. It is a dark cloud com­posed of dust and gas where star for­ma­tion is taking place. The nebula is also known as Barnard 33, and is lo­cated in emis­sion nebula IC 434. It is ap­prox­i­mately 1,500 light years dis­tant from Earth.

The swirling clouds of gas and dark dust are lit by a pinkish glow of hy­drogen gas lo­cated be­hind the nebula and ion­ized by the nearby bright star Sigma Ori­onis, which is in fact a five-star system [that] il­lu­mi­nates the en­tire region.

The brighter star vis­ible in this area of the sky in im­ages is Zeta Ori­onis, but it is lo­cated in the fore­ground and not re­lated to the Horse­head Nebula.

The nebula formed from a col­lapse of an in­ter­stellar cloud of ma­te­rial and ap­pears dark mainly be­cause of the thick dust in the neigh­bouring area, with the bright spots at the base marking hidden pro­to­stars, newly formed or forming young stars.” (Con­stel­la­tion Guide)

The red or pinkish glow orig­i­nates from hy­drogen gas pre­dom­i­nantly be­hind the nebula, ion­ized by the nearby bright star Sigma Ori­onis. Mag­netic fields channel the gases leaving the nebula into streams, shown as streaks in the back­ground glow.

The heavy con­cen­tra­tions of dust in the Horse­head Nebula re­gion and neigh­boring Orion Nebula are lo­cal­ized, re­sulting in al­ter­nating sec­tions of nearly com­plete opacity and trans­parency. The dark­ness of the Horse­head is caused mostly by thick dust blocking the light of stars be­hind it. Bright spots in the Horse­head Neb­u­la’s base are young stars just in the process of forming.

The ar­ticle above is adapted liberally—would I adapt any other way?—from sev­eral en­tries in Wikipedia. I did this rather that write some­thing orig­inal be­cause I wanted this image on my site with some kind of ex­pla­na­tion and I am un­qual­i­fied to have any kind of opinion or write any kind of orig­inal commentary.


Photo: Heart Nebula IC1805

Ken Crawford mini-gallery

The Horse­head Nebula was first recorded in 1888 by Scot­tish as­tronomer Williamina Fleming on pho­to­graphic plate B2312 taken at the Har­vard Col­lege Ob­ser­va­tory. It is ap­prox­i­mately 1500 light years from Earth. Today, it is one of the most rec­og­niz­able im­ages of our uni­verse that is not a part of our solar system!

In 2004, Craw­ford was one of the prin­ciple founders of the Ad­vanced Imaging Con­fer­ence held every year in San Jose; he has served as Pres­i­dent of AIC since 2007. In 2008, he was in­vited to sit on the NASA As­tronomy Pic­ture of the Day site, with many of his im­ages ap­pearing as the pic­ture of the day. I have in­cluded four amazing photos from his port­folio in this article.

Photo by Ken Crawford of the entirety of the Sun's disc with solar flares along the bottom.

This last image should need no title to be rec­og­nized: just look up on any cloud­less day. If you have read this far, you need to visit Ken Crawford’s web­site, Imaging Deep Sky.





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