Monday, February 6, 2012

The Southern Mystery of the Mistral

Image Credit: ESO

Everyone loves a mystery, and this mystery involves star formation and the Nobel Prize winning Chilean Poet, Verschatse. When you look at this image, and the one below, NGC 3324 looks like mysterious cave, luring you closer to come in and have a look around.

One of the interesting aspects of astronomy is the distribution of the world's telescopes, many of which (along with the broader population of the planet) are northern hemisphere based. So the people of Chile were well qualified to play the "what does it look like" game and noticed that the dusty edge bore a stark resemblance to the profile of the Chilean Poet Daniel Verschatse and the name of the "Gabriela Mistral Nebula" seemed appropriate.

The stunning star forming region around Eta Carina is where NGC 3324 can be found - not far from the southern cross. For those from the north, especially those honored guests visiting us in November for the Solar eclipse, this stunning video will assist you to get your bearings.
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Video Credit: ESO/Nick Risinger ( Sky Survey 2. Music: John Dyson (from the album Moonwind)

The European Southern Observatory has just released a new image of NGC 3324. Utilizing the power of the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory (Chile), it reveals many dark features in NGC 3324.

The ESO describes this stunning region of Star formation as follows:

"Dust grains in these regions block out the light from the background glowing gas, creating shadowy, filigree features that add another layer of evocative structure to the rich vista."

[Not sure who wrote that but some Chilean wine company should sign them up to write their wine labels]

The ESO continues ....
"NGC 3324 is located in the southern constellation of Carina (The Keel, part of Jason’s ship the Argo) roughly 7500 light-years from Earth. It is on the northern outskirts of the chaotic environment of the Carina Nebula, which has been sculpted by many other pockets of star formation. A rich deposit of gas and dust in the NGC 3324 region fuelled a burst of starbirth there several millions of years ago and led to the creation of several hefty and very hot stars that are prominent in the new picture.

Stellar winds and intense radiation from these young stars have blown open a hollow in the surrounding gas and dust. This is most in evidence as the wall of material seen to the centre right of this image. The ultraviolet radiation from the hot young stars knocks electrons out of hydrogen atoms, which are then recaptured, leading to a characteristic crimson-coloured glow as the electrons cascade through the energy levels, showing the extent of the local diffuse gas. Other colours come from other elements, with the characteristic glow from doubly ionised oxygen making the central parts appear greenish-yellow".

NGC 3324, because of its proximity deep in the southern skies, has not been widely photographed by astronomers. Australian amateurs have previously turned their attention to this stunning target with long duration stacked exposures. Perhaps the finest example is Brad Moore's study of the Gabriel Mistral Nebula. Brad is the MD of and is regularly sought after as a speaker for his astrophotography and remote telescope management skills.

Brad's image consists of 36 Hours of exposure time in narrowband - 8Hrs Oiii, 19Hrs Ha & 9Hrs Sii color mapped to RGB. It is a testament to the fact that so long as you have the field of view even a 12.5 inch amateur scope can pull in the photons if you are patient enough.
Image Credit: Gabriela Mistral Nebula - Brad Moore

What a beautiful part of the universe - it doesn't take a Nobel Prize to know that's a cave I'd love to hide in!

The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor.

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