HorseNebula 800

ken crawford and barnard 33

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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