Friday 3 February 2017

The Orion Nebula in all its splendour

I've already written many times about the Orion Nebula (see e.g. here and here) and I've also created a video about what it would be like to fly through it with a spaceship. The Orion Nebula, or M42, is of course the brightest nebula in the sky and can already be seen quite easily with the naked eye, even under less than perfect conditions. It's a giant stellar nursery, where hundreds of baby stars are born out of the vast, glowing hydrogen clouds.

I wasn't actually planning on making another sketch of it for the moment because it's such an impressive object that it always takes me many hours of work to put it all on paper (or on the pc). But when I had another peek at it last week, I was so shocked by what I saw that I just had to sketch it. It was in fact only the second time that I'd looked at the Orion Nebula with my new binoscope and as you may recall the first time I concentrated on zooming into it at high magnifications. This time I "only" used 104x in order to see it in all of its glory. And what a glory it was! The bluish colour was more than obvious and the view was filled with its delicate filaments. Nothing out of the ordinary when you've got a big telescope and reasonably good sky. The extraordinary thing was the black cloud of dust that covers the brightest region in part. Really... it was pitch-black, or in any case much darker than the background! Usually dark nebula are hardly visible because they disappear against the dark background and can only be spotted if there's something bright behind them that makes them stand out. That's why scientists are having such a hard time to determine how many dark matter there actually is, and hence to calculate if the overall gravity of all the matter in our universe will stop its current expansion or not. But in this case, I observed how the dark dustlanes continued into the background and what's more, I "felt" that they were well in front of the nebula as if I saw them in 3D.

It's theoretically impossible to see objects as distant as stars in 3D, simply because they're too far away and the light rays come from "infinity", meaning that they don't reach our eyes under different angles. There is however a theory that explains why observing with both eyes such as with a binoviewer or binoculars can still give a 3D feeling, and that's because the light's diffracted differently in both eyes. But here I was far beyond a mere superficial feeling of three dimentions. This was like seeing the Orion Nebula through a Viewmaster (those who've grown up in the 70ies or 80ies will know what I'm talking about :-) ). I had the impression that slightly changing the position in front of the eyepieces also made the view change, as if the dark cloud would move a bit to one side or the other! This is of course complete nonsense, theoretically speaking. The whole idea simply must be a distortion of my human brain. Well, I don't care because astronomical observing is all about sensations. This was perhaps the strongest sensation I've had... ever. 

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