I shot a few subs of the deceptively small Crab Nebula (Messier 1) last night before realizing that the seeing just wasn’t where it needed to be for me to get that target under my belt. It will have to wait for another time. So, after calling that audible and knowing that I had let my focuser gravity drift the night before on my Flame attempt, I decided to grab a few more subs and see what happened when I integrated both nights (which I had never tried previously). The result was about 2.7 hours worth of data that looked like a train wreck when I stacked it, but after cropping off the tattered edges, there was some good in the middle… even if still out of focus. Live and learn. I will definitely put more time into this DSO in the future!
The Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) is an emission nebula in the constellation Orion. It is about 900 to 1,500 light-years away. The bright star Alnitak, the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion, shines energetic ultraviolet light into the Flame and this knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. Additional dark gas and dust lies in front of the bright part of the nebula and this is what causes the dark network that appears in the center of the glowing gas. The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a star-forming region that includes the famous Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33). It is one of the most identifiable nebulae because of the shape of its swirling cloud of dark dust and gases, which bears some resemblance to a horse’s head when viewed from Earth. This stellar nursery, as it is known, can contain over 100 known organic and inorganic gases as well as dust consisting of large and complex organic molecules. The red or pinkish glow originates from hydrogen gas predominantly behind the nebula, ionized by the nearby bright star Sigma Orionis. Magnetic fields channel the gases leaving the nebula into streams, shown as streaks in the background glow. A glowing strip of hydrogen gas marks the edge of the massive cloud and the densities of stars are noticeably different on either side. The heavy concentrations of dust in the Horsehead Nebula region and neighboring Orion Nebula are localized, resulting in alternating sections of nearly complete opacity and transparency. The darkness of the Horsehead is caused mostly by thick dust blocking the light of stars behind it. The lower part of the Horsehead’s neck casts a shadow to the left. The visible dark nebula emerging from the gaseous complex is an active site of the formation of “low-mass” stars. Bright spots in the Horsehead Nebula’s base are young stars just in the process of forming.