Don't stop at the red light

 tl;dr - Recently the astronomy students' group 'astrocusanus' has started remote imaging of various celestial objects using the observatory 'torretta' on the roof of our neighboring school IPC. Maximilian Komar laid his focus upon hydrogen clouds that emit most of their light in the deep red color. The highlights are shown here.


As our faithful readers learned in our last blog article, our astronomy group sought and found a way to at least partially overcome the limitations imposed by the ongoing pandemic. We went remote! The refractor dwelling in the dome on the roof of our neighboring school 'Istituto pluricomprensivo di Brunico' may be small however, it does the trick. Along with a black and white CMOS cam from Starlight XPress it delivers free and sharp images straight to our junior astronomers' hard disks, where they then linger for further processing with the free software Siril.

Recently Maximilian Komar, who is about to graduate from our school, laid his focus on a special type of objects, the so called H-alpha regions. What a weird name, you say? You're quite right. So let's check out what a H-alpha region is! 

Actually you could guess what the H stands for. I mean, 90% of the whole known matter in the Universe consists of that elementary substance. I'm sure now the penny has dropped: it's hydrogen. So it is hydrogen regions, huge clouds of hydrogen atoms, we are talking about. But what does the annex 'alpha' mean? Well, that's surely less intuitive, so let's make it short: A hydrogen atom is basically just a proton with a tiny electron swirling around it. The farther away it orbits the core the more energy it holds. When it falls down to a lower orbit it releases the excess energy as a light beam. Most of the time the colour of that special light is a deep red, barely visible to our eyes, the H-alpha light. 

But why should we (💪) shy away from that red light? The cam Maximilian used is quite sensitive in the near infrared regime and so, by making use of a special filter, he deliberately emphasized on this hardly tangible colour. The results are stunning.


Image 1: In the constellation Cygnus we find a well known H-alpha region. It's the so
called North America Nebula. The section shown in this four panel mosaic is a part
of this complex: The Gulf of Mexico. The dark dust lanes, which block the light
of the gas make this view especially appealing. 


Image 2: The Bubble nebula in the constellation Cassiopeia. The stellar wind of the young 
giant star right from the centre has pushed the gas outwards, hence forming this wispy shell.


Image 3: Starless versions of gaseous nebula may be what is called an acquired taste.
However, this starless version of Pickering's Triangular Wisp may very well
please the eyes of some beholders.


Image 4: Last and least, as must be frankly admitted, the somewhat curly nebular lump
NGC7538 in the constellation Cepheus. It may not be the most prominent representative
of its kind but, with a proud total weight of 400,000 solar masses, yet a respectable one.


Provided the weather god is merciful (which at the moment he is not 😩), our quest will go on. There are many more objects lurking in the dark, waiting to cast their deep red light on our docile chip. Just imagine how beautiful the 'Great ... 

Ok, you're right. That is good stuff for another article. Stay tuned!

Christof Wiedemair

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