Archive for Orion Nebula

Henry Draper’s Photograph of M42

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on July 29, 2016 by telescoper

I just remembered that last night I happened across an interesting episode of The Essay on Radio 3. It was about the first ever photograph of an astronomical nebula, which happened to be of the Orion Nebula (M42). The programme features Omar Nasim, a lecturer in History at Kent University, and is available on iPlayer or as a download here. It’s only 15 minutes long, but absolutely fascinating.

Here is the photograph concerned, taken by Henry Draper in 1880:


The stars of the constellation Orion are clearly over-exposed in order to reveal the much fainter light from the nebula, and the resolution is poor compared to, e.g., this glorious Hubble Space Telescope image:

Hubble's sharpest view of the Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula seen by Hubble. Credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble Space Telscope

Nevertheless the Draper photograph is of great historical importance, as it changed the way astronomers made images of such objects (by photography rather than by drawing) and ushered in a new era of scientific research.

Hat’s off to Henry Draper!


Orion Nebula (Herschel, after Turner)

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on September 6, 2013 by telescoper

I stumbled across this wonderful image (and associated description) yesterday and thought I’d share it. It’s a region of the Orion Nebula (which is located in the  Midlands region of Orion’s “sword”, i.e. the long thing hanging down below his belt).  It’s a turbulent region of dust and gas in which stars are forming. This image was taken in the far-infrared part of the spectrum by the Herschel Space Observatory, which is now defunct but much data remains to be analysed. Because the image was taken at wavelengths much longer than optical light, the colours are obviously “false”. I don’t work on star formation so I tend to see images like this just as beautiful things to be enjoyed for themselves rather than as a subject for scientific research. In fact, I have no difficulty at all in describing this picture as a work of art, slightly reminiscent of the cloudscapes and seascapes of  J.M.W Turner in that it is, at the same time, both a representation of a natural phenomenon and  an abstract creation that transcends it. You can click on the image to make it larger…


UPDATE: I see that someone else has thought of the parallel with Turner!