An overwhelming nebula

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Thor's Helmet (NGC 2359) is an emission nebula created by a Wolf-Rayet star. It lies some 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Canis Major the Great Dog. // Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona
If you’re a regular Astronomy reader, the name Adam Block will be familiar to you. In addition to being one of the world’s preeminent astroimagers, Adam also contributes the “Cosmic Imaging” column each month. After a brief phone call, I encouraged Adam to submit a guest blog from time to time in which he highlights one of his latest creations. This is his first, and it’s a stunner! So, here's Adam in his own words.

Each time I take a new image, I write a caption about it, and this can be almost as difficult as creating the picture! In the case of Thor’s Helmet (NGC 2359), the only thing that came to my mind was how staggeringly overwhelming this nebula is.

The central star that powers this large space bubble is a Wolf-Rayet star.  It exceeds 20 times the mass of the Sun and loses mass at a rate 1 billion times faster than our wonderfully stable star. If our Sun were to shed its mass this quickly, it would evaporate completely in less than 1 million years.

The Wolf-Rayet star is so hot that most of the light it emits is in the ultraviolet range beyond our visual abilities. Imagine that: It would appear brighter if it were less energetic. Still, there’s a lot to see. Note how the radiation and stellar wind sculpt the gas and make it glow in fantastic ribbons of color.

But my mind could only fixate on the hyperbole of the nebula. Eventually the awesomeness transformed to gratefulness when I noticed that “helm” (an ancient word for helmet) also exists within the word overwhelming. I figure that is exactly how it should be.

Not every nebula or galaxy has a full-color, high-resolution image. Adam is out to change that. Be one of the first people in the world to see the latest work by following his Facebook page and checking out his website.

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