Space for the Earthbound - A Journey Through the Universe

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The Horsehead Nebula (Equine Elegance)

The Horsehead Nebula, located in the constellation Orion, is one of the most easily recognizable and most photographed nebulae in the sky. Found just below Alnitak, the left star of the three stars that define Orion's belt, the Horsehead is a dark nebula. A dark nebula is an extremely dense interstellar cloud, so dense that light from surrounding stars will not pass through the cloud. It is within the inner regions of dark nebulae that stars are born.

Photo Credit and Copyright: Jean-Charles Cuillandre (CFHT), Hawaiian Starlight, CFHT

The Horsehead, or as it is also called Barnard 33, is visible to us due the bright nebula IC 434 behind it. The pinkish/red glow typically associated with the Horsehead is caused by hydrogen gas ionized by Sigma Orionis, a bright star that is close by. The bright spots seen in the base of this magnificent nebula are stars preparing to emerge.

Approximately 1500 light years away, the Horsehead Nebula was first identified in 1888 on photographic plate B2312 by Williamina Fleming, who was working at the Harvard College Observatory as an assistant to Edward Charles Pickering.

The Hubble Space Telescope Institute, in 2001, conducted a  public survey on which formation in the heavens people would most like the Telescope to observe for its eleventh Birthday - the Horsehead Nebula was the runaway winner. Over 5,000 registered their votes online, including astronomers, both amateur and professional, teachers and students.

Many amateur astronomers and astrophotographers use the Horsehead Nebula as a test for their detection skills and equipment quality. This nebula can be difficult to find and will require at the least a high-end amateur telescope. Fortunately for those of us who do not possess professional equipment, others do and are willing to share the beauties of our night sky!

Author Resource: Written by Starr Hendon


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