The more I photograph a deep sky object, like Orion’s Nebula above, the more I learn about it. This image is my best in a single shot. Note the greenish hue to the dark gas clouds encircling the new-born stars. It is a birthplace of stars. The gases condensing through timespace-gravity, and ignite their fusion reactions by turning hydrogen into helium.
It appears to be an opening umbrella, or egg splitting open with new “chicks”, as the stars photoionize the dark gasses which created them and through the pressure of light push them out of the way revealing for us, the insignificant humans here on Earth, a show of stellar proportions. This. This is where we came from too. Oh my!
Orion’s Nebula is an amateur astronomers’ nebula and deep sky object. Messier 42, M42, or NGC 1976, it is the same to us, without a name.
Neither Ptolemy‘s Almagest nor the famous Al Sufi in his Book of Fixed Stars noted this nebula, even though they both listed patches of nebulosity elsewhere in the night sky; nor did Galileo mention it, even though he also made telescopic observations surrounding it in 1610 and 1617!
The first discovery of the diffuse nebulous nature of the Orion Nebula is generally credited to French astronomer Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, on November 26, 1610 when he made a record of observing it with a refracting telescope purchased by his patron Guillaume du Vair.
(So the French are the real discoverers after all)
“one sees how in like manner some stars are compressed into a very narrow space and how round about and between the stars a white light like that of a white cloud is poured out.”
His description of the center stars as different from a comet’s head in that they were a “rectangle” may have been an early description of the Trapezium Cluster. (The first detection of three of the four stars of this cluster is credited to Galileo Galilei in a February 4, 1617 although he did not notice the surrounding nebula – possibly due to the narrow field of vision of his early telescope.)
The nebula was independently “discovered” (though visible to the naked eye) by several other prominent astronomers in the following years, including by Giovanni Battista Hodierna (whose sketch was the first published in De systemate orbis cometici, deque admirandis coeli characteribus).
Charles Messier observed the nebula on March 4, 1769, and he also noted three of the stars in Trapezium. Messier published the first edition of his catalog of deep sky objects in 1774 (completed in 1771). As the Orion Nebula was the 42nd object in his list, it became identified as M42.
On September 30, 1880 Henry Draper used the new dry plate photographic process with an 11-inch (28 cm) refracting telescope to make a 51-minute exposure of the Orion Nebula, the first instance of astrophotography of a nebula in history. This is of what we might call the interior of the nebula, the 4 birthing stars in the middle and the blue and red luminous gasses around them, all in black-and-white.
1883: These images for the first time showed stars and nebula detail too faint to be seen by the human eye.
Photographs of the nebula in 1883 saw this breakthrough in astronomical photography when amateur astronomer Andrew Ainslie Common used the dry plate process to record several images in exposures up to 60 minutes with a 910mm homemade reflecting telescope constructed in the backyard of his home in Ealing, West London. Can you imagine his awe when he developed the first image from this set? I do not believe this part of London is now well-suited to the study of deep sky objects as it once was.
Mr. Common was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne on 7 August 1841. His father, Thomas Common, a surgeon known for his treatment of cataract, died when Andrew was a child, forcing him to go early into the world of work. In the 1860s he teamed up with an uncle in the sanitary engineering firm of Matthew Hall and Company. He married in 1867. In 1890 he retired from Matthew Hall. Andrew Ainslie Common died of heart failure 2 June 1903.
Despite his work work in sanitation, or because of it, he was equipped for the hard-life of an astronomer and saw the beauty of innovation and technology.
His earlier telescope, a 457mm reflector popping out of his former greenhouse, now observatory in the 1876.
“As a child Andrew showed interest in astronomy. At age 10 his mother borrowed a telescope for him to use from a local doctor, Dr. Bates of Morpeth. He returned to astronomy in his 30s when he took up experimenting with gelatin plate photography of the moon and planets with a 5.5 inch refracting telescope.
“In 1876 Common became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. At this time he also moved to Ealing, which was outside of London back then, where he would live for the rest of his life operating an astronomical observatory from the back garden of his house. Common realized he would need very large telescopes to gather enough light to record the images of stars photographically so he began building a series of ever larger Newtonian reflecting telescopes using the then new technology of silver coated glass mirrors. For the first of these, a telescope of his own design constructed in 1876, he tried to grind and polish his own 17 inch mirror but gave up on the idea and ordered an 18-inch (457 mm) mirror from the optical firm of George Calver of Chelmsford. In 1877 and 1878 he published several articles on his visual observations of the satellites of Mars and Saturn.
“In 1879 he bought a new 36-inch (910 mm) mirror from Calver to mount in a larger Newtonian reflecting telescope he was building. He used it to make further observations of satellites of Mars and Saturn, and was able to see Saturn’s moon Mimas and show that the ephemeris of its orbit was incorrect. With this instrument he also obtained a photograph of a comet in 1881, C/1881 K1. His most notable work with this telescope were the long-time exposures he made of the Orion Nebula between 1880 and 1884. His 1883 photograph of that nebula for the first time showed photography’s ability to record stars and other features invisible to the human eye. Common noted of his own photographs that:
“although some details are lost in the enlargement, sufficient remains to show that we are approaching the time where a photograph will give us the means to recording in its own inimitable way the shape of a nebula and the relative brightness different parts, in a better manner than the most careful hand drawing.”
“These pictures earned Common the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1884. Common eventually sold the 36-inch reflector to British politician Edward Crossley who gave it to Lick Observatory in 1895, becoming the Crossley telescope at that observatory.
“In 1902, Vogel and Eberhard discovered differing velocities within the Orion nebula, and by 1914 astronomers at Marseilles had used the interferometer to detect rotation and irregular motions. Campbell and Moore confirmed these results using the spectrograph, demonstrating turbulence within the nebula.
“In 1931, Robert J. Trumpler noted that the fainter stars near the Trapezium formed a cluster, and he was the first to name them the Trapezium cluster. Based on their magnitudes and spectral types, he derived a distance estimate of 1,800 light years. This was three times farther than the commonly accepted distance estimate of the period but was much closer to the modern value.
“In 1993, the Hubble Space Telescope first observed the Orion Nebula. Since then, the nebula has been a frequent target for HST studies. The images have been used to build a detailed model of the nebula in three dimensions. Protoplanetary disks have been observed around most of the newly formed stars in the nebula, and the destructive effects of high levels of ultraviolet energy from the most massive stars have been studied.”
Orion Nebula with a 15″ exposure, ISO 16,000 (H1.0). The Artistry in Science.