Night Vision: Notorious Nebulae

Nick Jarvis

Recently the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced a remarkable accomplishment: using their Very Large Telescope (VLT) facility in Chile – which is possibly the only ground-based telescope that can make Hubble sweat a little – the ESO captured the deepest look at the Great Orion Nebula that has ever been seen.

A deep infrared view of the Orion Nebula. Click for links to larger versions. Image Credit: ESO/H. Drass et al.

A deep infrared view of the Orion Nebula. Click for links to larger versions. Image Credit: ESO/H. Drass et al.

Not to be too coarse about it, but… what is that? What are we looking at here? It’s unquestionably gorgeous, and nebulae are often the subject of photography and astronomical art because of their incredible appearance. But what’s really going on?

In this week’s Night Vision, we’ll take a special look at nebulae, what they are made of, and how they’re integrated into the deep-space “circle-of-life.” For starters, it’s worth noting that “nebula” is simply the Latin word for “cloud” or “fog,” and that’s really what these things are, just big clouds out in space. But then, Latin always makes things sound more official and sciency. Ex latīnus, legitimitas!

Join us as we review the basic types of nebulae and their astronomical importance. Since nebulae are frequent targets for amateur astronomers, we’ll also discuss the equipment and techniques that can be used to see nebulae for yourself. Of course, we’ll indulge in some pretty pictures too but hopefully these wonderful images become even more beautiful when paired with some appreciation of what they are and what’s happening inside them.

The four 8.2m telescopes of the VLT array, located in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Credit: ESO

The four 8.2m telescopes of the VLT array, located in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Credit: ESO

Night Vision: Notorious Nebulae​ is presented by Nick Jarvis on Thursday, August 18th and Saturday, August 20th, in the Hansen Dome Theater at 6:45pm. Tickets available online​ or at the Clark Planetarium ticket desk. Free for members and $2 for everyone else.

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