Many stargazers are familiar with the giant Orion Molecular Cloud, a vast star-making complex some 1,300 light years away that harbours, among many other celestial objects, the Great Orion Nebula. But there’s a closer, lesser known molecular cloud quietly churning out new stars just 430 light years away towards the constellation Taurus. The Taurus Molecular Cloud, or TMC-1, is smaller and less dense than Orion but it still intrigues professional astronomers. The complex contains hundreds of solar masses of dust and gas and all sorts of complex organic molecules formed out of the soot of long-dead stars.
Professional observatories with telescopes equipped with infrared detectors and cameras see a great deal of star forming activity in TMC-1. But capturing visual images of molecular clouds is no easy task. Much of the Taurus cloud is cool and dark and barely visible at optical wavelengths. But this part of the sky has a rich tapestry of more distant stars, so some dark molecular clouds in TMC-1 stand out by blocking light from the background stars and appearing as unnerving patches of near nothingness.
The carefully crafted image above, for example, shows a smoky patch of dark nebulosity known as Barnard 22. Light from a few stars pokes through this uneven cloud, and there’s also a small flame-like glow of the reflection nebula IC 2087 lit by the light of an adjacent newly-formed star. This whole assembly is about 10º north of the Hyades star cluster in the constellation Taurus. Visual observers will struggle to see much here, but it’s a different story with a camera and a telescope.
The image above was a collaboration between Tom Masterson, who acquired the data, and Terry Hancock, who performed the pre and post processing. It was captured using Grand Mesa Observatory’s TAK E180 telescope and a QHY128C Full Frame CMOS camera. The image spans about 4.0 x 2.75 degrees and comprises data collected over 4.16 hours.
Additional Technical Details:
Credit: Terry Hancock, Tom Masterson and Grand Mesa Observatory
Captured on December 13 2018
Color 250 min 50x 300 sec
Camera: QHY128C @ -20C
Offset 60, Gain 2200 Calibrated with flat, dark & bias
Optics: System 4, Takahashi E-180 F2.8 Astrograph
Image Acquisition software Maxim DL6
Pre Processed in Pixinsight