Thursday, July 8, 2010

Your Mind's Eye

Took my big, dumb telescope out to a state park early this week for a very satisfying stroll around Sagittarius and Scorpio. This is right where the center of the Milky Way galaxy is, which is part of the allure of that bit of the sky: a black hole millions of times the size of the sun is hiding behind all that dust. You can't see it (and there's a metaphor there I won't bother exploring about the most massive thing in the galaxy being utterly invisible to the human eye). But because you're looking toward the center of things, it's more dense, there's more stuff to see.

Like this.

It's the Omega Nebula. It didn't look nearly as defined in my own scope; I could only see the inner bit that looks like a sitting duck (this is also called the Swan Nebula, for that reason). But that's much of the joy of amateur astronomy, so much of it happens in your head, sketching in the details, seeing it in your mind's eye.

Here's another critter I saw that night. The Triffid Nebula, which brings to mind the great John Wyndham novel Day of the Triffids.

It didn't look quite this clear in my own scope either, though I could just make out the dust lanes. But there is a wealth of activity going on in there, stars in their first birth throes, flinging out tremendous amounts of gas and dust, forming spheres, pillars, small dark knots called Bok Globules (love that term). A detail of this nebula, taken by the Hubble:

So yeah, what you're seeing in your eye is a smudge of white and gray, with a few discernible dark lanes inside it, the barest hint of color. But in your mind you know there is so much more lurking deep in there, waiting for your inner vision to discover it.

For those of you keeping score at home, I also found M22 (a globular cluster, very pretty, picture below), M25 and M28 (open clusters, and disappointing), and the gorgeous Lagoon nebula. My electronic starfinder has been broken for a year, so I found these all the good old fashioned way, pointing it up at the sky and poking around til I found what I was looking for.


slommler said...

Such beauty and majesty!! Thank for the tour!! Loved it!

Laurita said...

Wow! That's about all I can say. Those photos are amazing. They really make me want to run out and buy a telescope.

Margaret said...

space is outta sight.

Clowncar said...

It's a pleasure to relive it by writing about it, SA.

It worth doing, Laurita, particularly if you have dark skies near (and they are harder and harder to find). Don't start too small - get something good enough to see the cool stuff. Otherwise it'll gather dust (like my first one).

Margaret, actually it's in sight. And all around you. Every night. It's a little intimidating, actually.

Gordo said...

There's some amazing stuff up there. My favourite's the Eagle Nebula.

I keep meaning to learn the ropes of using the observatory at work. I have a 16" inch reflector at my disposal and have never learned to use it. Soon. :-)

Clowncar said...

I tried to find the Eagle, Gord. It was just above the other stuff I found. No dice.

I'd scold you about not using that amazing telescope. But mine sat in the shed for just over a year, gathering dust. So no scolding.

Poet in Residence said...

This nebula, dark hole etc. stuff is way beyond Oort. Oort rocks I can get my head round. Just about. Whenever I look at Hubble and similar images I'm completely lost for words. Perhaps there are no words. I mean really suitable words.

Clowncar said...

PiR, you are right, there really aren't words that fit. You have to sort of talk around it to get at it. Or focus on the science and let the mystery leak in through the cracks.