Deep Space……from the Orange Skies of Camberwell

The results of a brief real time video observing session last night.

First up is a very feint Horsehead Nebula in Orion. An impossible visible target from the light polluted skies of London but within reach with a 30sec video exposure using a Lodestar Colour camera and the free Lodestar Live software.

The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is located to the south of Alnitak the Eastern of the 3 stars in Orion’s belt. This dark cloud of molecular dust is about 1500 Light Years from Earth.

The Horsehead shape is just about visible as the dark indentation to the red emission nebula behind. The Horsehead is dark because it is an opaque molecular dust cloud that lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. The Horsehead is a stellar nursery and within it many young stars are forming as the dust and gas coalesce through gravity and begin the process of star formation.


Horsehead Nebula Orion IC434

Horsehead Nebula Orion IC434

Next is the Great Nebula of Orion M42 is an emission and reflection nebula, illuminated by hot luminous stars emitting high energy ultra violet radiation. Located in the sword of Orion, M42 is the closest and most prominent star formation region to Earth (about 1500 light years distant). Again an area of massive star formation within immense molecular clouds of gas and dust with some 700 stars in various stages of star formation.  The nebula is about 30 light years across. The bright area at its very centre is a very young open cluster of stars known as the trapezium cluster. M42 is thought to contain the mass equivalent to 2000 Suns. The smaller M43 or Flame Nebula is to the upper right in the image below.

M42 The Great Orion Nebula

M42 The Great Orion Nebula

Click on the artist impressions below showing the location of the Orion Nebula in relation to our Sun/the Solar System and the rest of the Milky Way.

Orion Spur Credit Wikipedia


Artists impression of Milky Way

Artists impression of Milky Way Credit Wikipedia

Lastly, Hubble’s Variable Nebula NGC 2261.

This peculiar object is located in the constellation of Monoceros, to the East of Orion. Discovered by W Herschel in 1783.

This is an emission and reflection nebula that is enveloping the erratic variable star R Monocerotis and is at a current visual Magnitude of 10.0. The variable nature of the brightness was first noted by Edwin Hubble in 1916 from a series of photographs. The unpredictable variation is thought to be due to shadows cast by the dense regions of dust passing by the star at its tip which cannot be seen directly and the light is only visible as the scattered light reflecting on dust particles in the surrounding molecular cloud.

Hubble’s Variable Nebula is about 3000 Light Years away. The cone shaped nebula is about 3 Light Years long and 1.5 Light Years across. The variable star R Mon is a very young star some 300,000 years old, of a mass of 10x our Sun  and has the illumination equivalent to 80x that of our Sun.


Hubble's Variable Nebula

Hubble’s Variable Nebula

For comparison is an image of the Hubble Variable Nebula taken using the Hubble Space Telescope:

Hubble Nebula using Hubble Space Telescope. Credit NASA

Hubble Nebula using Hubble Space Telescope. Credit NASA


Hadley Rille – Apollo 15 landing site

Image of the Archimedes and Mons Hadley region. Image taken from home in London on 09th March using a 200mm SCT telescope and an Imaging Source camera.  A 60 second AVI file is recorded at 15 frames per second and then the frames are stacked in Registax software to reduce the detrimental affects of the atmosphere and then tweaked to bring out the detail. Hadley Rille can just be made out.

Archimedes and Hadley Rille

Archimedes and Hadley Rille

The site of the Apollo 15 landing on 30th July 1971, just to the East of hadley Rille is circled in the close up from the same image below:

Hadley Rille - Apollo 15 Landing site

Hadley Rille – Apollo 15 Landing site

The image below is a high resolution image of the same area for the Apollo 15 mission from NASA:

Apollo 15 landing site Credit: NASA

Apollo 15 landing site Credit: NASA

Another NASA image from the Apollo 15 mission with the landing location indicated:

Apollo 15 landing site - NASA photograph AS15-1537[M]

Credit: NASA

The image below is from the Apollo 15 lunar module of the landing site taken from the final orbit before landing:

Apollo 15 Fly By

Apollo 15 Fly By Credit: NASA

The 3D image below is from the more recent Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO):

LRO 3D image

LRO 3D image Credit: NASA

The first use of lunar rover which travelled a total distance of 27KM on the Apollo 15 mission. Image below is of David Scott and the rover at the very eastern edge of Hadley Rille.

Lunar Rover at the Edge of Hadley Rille

Lunar Rover at the Edge of Hadley Rille Credit: NASA

Apollo 15 was the fourth manned mission to the Moon and was considered at the time to be one of the most successful, the 2 astronauts who actually landed David Scott and James Irwin stayed for just under 3 days before heading back home.

Astronaut Jim Irvin with the Apollo 15 lunar module and rover in front of Mons Hadley

Astronaut Jim Irvin with the Apollo 15 lunar module and rover in front of Mons Hadley Credit: NASA

The Great Nebula of Orion

The Great Orion Nebula

The Great Orion Nebula

The Great Nebula in the Sword of Orion – Messier 42 (NGC 1976).

The Orion Nebula is a diffuse emission & reflection nebula where star formation is taking place. The stars here are very young and only about 1 million years old.

The nebula is one of the closest star formation regions to us at an approximate distance of 1600 light years and the nebula is about 30 light years across.

However the field of view above is only 9.4′ x 12.6′ across, so equivalent to about 1/3rd the width of the full moon showing just the very central region of the nebula.

The four stars seen in the very centre are called the Trapezium cluster, a tight open cluster that was discovered by Galileo in 1617.

These young bright stars (each between 10-30 solar masses in size) emit immense quantities of high energy ultraviolet radiation causing ionisation of the surrounding molecular clouds of mainly hydrogen. This process causes the ‘lighting up’ the surrounding turbulent nebula as the excited electrons in the hydrogen atoms cascade back down from their excited states, emitting lower energy radiation in the process which can be seen as the distinctive red and green tones in the image above. Regions of dark nebula containing interstellar dust can also be seen in the foreground.

The image above is a single 20 second exposure using an 11″ SCT telescope from the back garden in London on 19th January. The drawing below is a drawing by famous astronomer Charles Messier in 1774  (Wikipedia).


Galileo in Venice

It was on the 25th August 1609 that Galileo demonstrated his telescope to the authorities of Venice.

From the top of St Mark’s Campanile, Galileo showed several officials from the Senate and the ruling Doge the power of his new instrument which was capable of 8x magnification.

Galileo had based his telescope design on that of similar instrument that he had heard about which was invented the previous year by a Dutch spectacle maker but was yet to be patented.


Image Credit: Wikipedia – Painting by Giuseppe Bertini 1858 – Galileo Galilei showing the Doge of Venice how to use the telescope

At the time, Venice was a major maritime port and its ships were under regular threat of attack from the Turks and Galileo demonstrated the telescope as a potential maritime instrument which could be used to spot distant ships on the lagoon before they could be seen with the naked eye thus providing an early warning of enemy attack.

The Venetian officials were impressed and Galileo was rewarded with a professorship at the University of Padua along with a pension of 1,000 Florin per year.

Later that year, Galileo pointed his telescope at the Moon discovering that it was not smooth as was the belief at the time but in fact had mountains and craters.

Some months later, in January 1610 and with an improved telescope with a magnification of 30x, Galileo went on to discover the moons of Jupiter. As he observed these over several nights he realised that they must be orbiting the great planet, this discovery led him to wonder if these moons orbited Jupiter then perhaps the Earth is not the centre of the Universe but in fact it orbits the Sun?

At the time, this was a radical idea that was was contrary to the teaching of the Church as at the time the Copernican model where the Earth was the centre of the Solar system was the accepted theory.

Galileo’s discovery landed him in big trouble with the Church over the following years and he was accused of heresy for the suggestion that the Earth moves around the Sun, he was, threatened with torture, made to confess that he was wrong and that the Earth was at the centre of the solar system.


Image Credit: Wikipedia: Painting by Cristiano Banti 1857 – Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition – in 1663 where he was found ‘gravely suspect of heresy’.

Galileo lived out his final years under house arrest near Florence until his death in 1642. He was posthumously pardoned by by the Vatican (Pope John Paul II) in 1992.

St Marks Campanile

The Bell tower at St Marks Basilica today, just under t 100 metres high. Where just over 400 years ago Galileo demonstrated his telescope. The bell tower was originally constructed in the 9th century and used as a watchtower, it was rebuilt in its current form in the early 1500s but collapsed in 1902 and was subsequently rebuilt to the same design in 1912.

View from St Marks Campanile

View from the top of the bell tower, looking across the lagoon to the sea.