Nebulous Pursuits

I love astronomy. I don’t know why, but looking up at the stars makes me so incredibly happy. It is the one thing that brings me great peace. Corny, but true. My favourite things in the universe, however, are nebulae. These star-forming regions contain gas and dust and seem like works of art hanging in the universe.

It is because of this that I was drawn to astrophotography. Nebulae are relatively difficult to see, particularly from urban areas. You can see the Orion Nebula (M42) in the constellation of Orion (below), but barely: it’s just a fuzz.


Where you can find the Orion Nebula (visible only in the winter)

I wanted to see MORE. I wanted to see the clouds and dark dust lanes that make these nurseries so stunning; I love how they have depth and, in hi-resolution imagery, such as that of the Hubble Space Telescope, it almost seems like you can reach out and touch them.


A stunning close-up image of part of the Carina Nebula, taken by Hubble

Though I have my own equipment, I am not very adept yet at utilizing it to its fullest potential. I am extremely anxious to do so, but still:  I live in south central Ontario where winters are very cloudy, and summers, hazy with short nights. Not only that, but astrophotography (the imaging of the night sky) is an expensive hobby: the gear I do have isn’t even near top of the line. So, after a suggestion by a astronomer friend, I decided to dip into remote astrophotography. I joined a site called iTelescope where they provide the equipment — which is mind-blowing — and the dark, clear skies in three locations: New Mexico, Spain and Australia. You have to choose your targets, work out how many images you want to take (because the telescopes use CCD cameras, which — most of them — shoot in monochrome: you have to combine the images using various filters), and you book your time. It’s convenient and cost-effective. Using this service is addictive — and rewarding. In just a year, I’ve learned so much. Below are images that I’ve taken over the past year. I still have much more to learn, but I love being able to image these wonderful nebulae. I am addicted.

The Horsehead Nebula, taken from Nerpio, Spain.

The Horsehead Nebula, taken from Nerpio, Spain

The Carina Nebula, taken from Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia

The Carina Nebula, taken from Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia

The Cone Nebula, taken from Nerpio, Spain

The Cone Nebula, taken from Nerpio, Spain

I’m hoping that this summer I’ll be able to image using my own telescope, though I know the images will be nothing even CLOSE to the quality of these. Still, the summer nebulae are amazing: the Lagoon Nebula, the Trifid Nebula and so much more. Looking forward to summer.

Nebulous Nikki, signing off.

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