Not far from the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters along the northern Milky Way lies the coal-black fingers of the Taurus Molecular Cloud, the nearest star-forming region to Earth. Unlike the more famous Orion star factory, with the dazzling Orion Nebula and associated bright blue-white stars, the TMC is not well known to most stargazers. That’s because it doesn’t offer much to see, with no bright nebulae and just a dark and sooty network of tendrils that span more than 30o of sky. But the TMC is the nearest star-forming region to Earth, making it of considerable interest to astronomers. It’s also a rewarding target for astrophotographers who can capture its structure against the starry background in the constellations Taurus and Auriga [Read more…] about The Taurus Molecular CloudShare This:
Recent Astronomy Articles at Cosmic Pursuits
To call me an astrophotographer would be an overstatement. But that doesn’t stop me from bringing a camera along when stargazing on a clear night to complement some casual visual observations. No image can reproduce what it’s like to look through a telescope or binoculars, especially in dark sky when the eye beholds the scintillation of stars and silver-white nebulae and galaxies against the black matte of the background universe. But images have the advantage of permanence, to some degree at least, and of leaving a record of what we’ve seen and where we’ve been in the night sky over the months and years [Read more…] about Five Favorite Images from 2020Share This:
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.
The Christmas Star – it may be the most famous “star” in history. But was it real? Mentioned just once in the gospel of Matthew, the “Star of Bethlehem”, or the “Christmas Star”, may have guided three wise men from the East in search of a newborn king. A few words written on a scroll two thousand years ago isn’t much to go on, but astronomers have a few ideas that may explain the apparition of a star near the time of the birth of Jesus [Read more…] about Was the Christmas Star Real?Share This:
Like many constellations along the arc of the Milky Way, the constellation Cygnus harbors an embarrassment of celestial riches. There’s everything here: emission nebula, supernova remnants, open star clusters, star clouds, and dark nebulae that reach like intertwined fingers over the bright and unresolved star clouds in this part of the sky. In dark sky, with a pair of binoculars or wide-field telescope, a contemplative stargazer can spend many happy hours hopping from object to object, wondering why more people turn their eyes skyward more often.
Which is what I was doing on a cool northern autumn night as I toured the celestial Swan, looking for a handful of pretty emission nebulae that radiate a deep red light and stand out along the rich star field in this part of the sky. These nebulae make ideal targets for urban stargazers like me because their contrast is readily enhanced with a good light pollution filter which passes their emission while reducing the effect of urban light pollution. The nebula doesn’t appear brighter, but it does have better contrast against fish-grey urban and suburban skies [Read more…] about Nebula Hopping in the Constellation CygnusShare This:
“It’s better to burn out than to fade away”, as Neil Young once said, and when it comes to burning out nothing beats a big star that blows up as a supernova. These catastrophic events occur as big stars run out of fuel in their core and become unable to hold themselves up against the relentless pull of their own gravity. Their outer layers collapse, crush the star’s dense core into a neutron star or black hole, then snap back in a violent explosion that eject as much energy in a few minutes as our sun does in its entire lifetime.
Since only the largest stars expire like this, and since the explosion itself plays out quickly over a few days or weeks, a supernova is a relatively rare event: the last known supernova in the Milky Way happened more than 400 years ago. But such explosions often leave a long-lasting imprint in the form of a visible nebula caused by the rapidly expanding shock wave of the exploding star colliding with and setting aglow the rarefied gas of the interstellar medium. Dozens of these so-called supernova remnants fleck the night sky. Most require a big telescope and sensitive camera to detect, but one of the brightest and easiest to see lies off the eastern ‘wing’ of the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. This is the famous Veil Nebula, a sprawling complex of glowing gas and one of the most intricate and intrinsically beautiful objects in our galaxy [Read more…] about The Veil NebulaShare This: