2/04 Observatory Corner

For those of you interested in visiting the observatory this week, the best chance to avoid Michigan’s perpetual cloud cover will be during the beginning of the week. While there, be sure to ask to see a Messier object (an astronomical object that is not a comet).

These nebulae and star clusters appeared similar to comets in some of the first telescopes and were initially ignored since comets were the object of interest at the time. Today, these objects make up some of the most spectacular viewing opportunities in the night sky.

One such object is called the Crab Nebula, or Messier 1 (M1). This nebula was discovered by the Anasazi tribe after they witnessed the supernova that emitted the material that later formed the nebula. As the nebula expanded, it gathered more material forming a high density shell.

The result was a distinct separation between the inner material of the nebula and the outer region. The outside of the nebula is characterized by a high density structure resembling filaments; the inside of the nebula consists of a low density core.

Despite the low density material inside the nebula, there is a large amount of synchrotron radiation due to its highly magnetic core.

By viewing M1 through special filters, the different regions of the nebula can be viewed separately as shown in the images below that were taken by Calvin’s telescope in Rehoboth, N.M. Additional filters can make colored images such as the one taken by the Hubble telescope, so keep your eyes open for clear weather and remember to stop by the observatory the next chance you get.