Sunday, June 8, 2014

An Eerie Astronomical Photo


Click on the photo to make it bigger ^

Here is a gorgeous image taken by master astro-photographer Travis Rector (of the University of Alaska), showing a region of cosmic raw material (glowing gas and dark dust.) This is like one of those inkblot tests that psychologists are fond of -- what shape you see in the picture may be highly individual.

What we are actually looking at is a small part of a larger region where star birth is going on right now. Known by its catalog number of IC1396, this "emission nebula" is set to glow by the brilliant light of new stars that have already been born in this region and are shining with adolescent energy.

IC1396 is a cloud of loose gas and dark dust (the dust really isn't that different from what you find under your desk when you are too busy thinking cosmic thoughts to clean up regularly.) The dust is shaped into long filaments, when the light of energetic stars pushes the less dense parts of the dust away from the stars (in this case, in the down direction on this photo.) Only the thickest regions of dust remain after a while, making long, dark tendrils like we see here.

IC 1396 is about 3000 light years away in the constellation of Cepheus. You can see the entire nebula (much larger than the small part seen in our photo) here:
http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120805.html

So what did the dark shape remind YOU of?

3 comments:

  1. Remember you can click on the photo to see a larger version with more impact.

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