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The Flame Nebula and the Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33)

1200mm f/4.8 ISO6400 81 x 32s = 43.2 minutes

Here is another example where we look at a random shape and recognise a pattern. In this case there is a remarkable resemblance to a horse's head. It is part of a cloud of dust: notice how there are many more stars in the upper part of this image than in the lower part because of a bank of dust obscuring some. The head is several light years across and so it will not change shape significantly in a human lifetime.

The American astronomer E.E.Barnard compiled a catalogue of dark nebulae in the early 20th century, in which the Horsehead is number 33.

When I was little I saw photographs of this in books but in those days one needed the world's largest telescopes to be able to get such an image. I was amazed when my digital camera revealed it quite easily.

The red glow behind the head is due to hydrogen again, being irradiated by stars in the area.

Other gaps in the dust cloud reveal further glowing gas. The one next to the bright star is called the Flame Nebula.

The bright star with long spikes is the end one of Orion's belt (the leftmost one as viewed from the northern hemisphere). I have rotated the photo to make the Horsehead obvious: north is to the left here. The spikes are an artifact caused by diffraction around the metal vanes supporting the secondary mirror in my telescope...

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