Monday, 11 January 2016

NGC2359, Thor's Helmet

The sky is full of ancient mythology. Our constellation of Orion, the hunter or soldier, was to the ancient Egyptians part of the constellation of Sah, the god of the heavens and father of all the other gods. The three stars we know today as Orion's belt were to the Egyptians Sah's eyes and nose. To the Aztecs the same three stars represented Mamalhuaztli, the sticks that lit the new fire at the beginning of their calendar. The Chinese used to call them Shen, meaning "three stars" and they were part of the chinese zodiac. The Vikings on the other hand saw a distaff in them, which was used by the godess Frigg. 

Much of this mythology is now lost, apart from the official designations of the modern constellations which still refer to their Greek-Roman origin. But here and there we find an exception. One of them is this spectacular nebula called "Thor's Helmet". In my telescope I rather saw it upside down, but it doesn't take too much imagination to see a Germanic helmet in it. It's almost 12.000 lightyears distant but its gigantic central star is so incredibly hot that it heats up the nebula to the extent that to us it's already visible in a good pair of binoculars. It is believed that this central star is in fact in a pre-supernova stage and that one day it will die in an explosion of biblical proportions. The gas bubble around it, 30 lightyears across, is expanding at a rate varying between 10 to 30 km/s, blown up by the central star's radiation. So looking at the heavens not only tells us something about the origins of the stars, such as the baby stars in the Monkey Head nebula of which I told you in another post, but also about their end. 

My drawing was a fairly old one which I've recently completely re-edited using my new elaboration secrets and skills. It's one of my favourites and I hope that you'll appreciate the way in which I've drawn the stars and their subtle colour owing to the use of a nebula filter, the varying brightness of the background and the delicate filaments of the nebula. 

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