What Space Really Looks Like
When we humans use our eyes to look at the sky, the detail and colour we see is limited by our brain frequently refreshing the image forming on our retina. This means that most the distant objects in the night sky appear as faint milky patches of light. However, when a camera lens or telescope replaces our eyes and a camera sensor replaces our brain, long exposure photography can be employed to record many more photons of light than our eyes ever could, giving a much more detailed and colourful impression of the night sky. The advent of astrophotography in the mid-19th century led to astronomers seeing the universe as never before resulting in a wealth of discoveries.
Rich Region in Cygnus
In the image is a portion of the constellation Cygnus the Swan. The bright star in the top centre of the image is Deneb and forms the tail of the swan while the star in the right centre of the frame is called Sadr and represents the mythical swan’s body. Gienah, the star in the bottom left of the image, forms part of the wing of the swan. In the top left of the image you should be able to pick out the aptly named North America Nebula. The Cygnus Wall or the bright part that appears as Central America and Mexico is actually a hot bed of gas, dust, and newly formed stars. If we return our focus to Sadr in the right of the image, we can see another accurately named nebula- the Butterfly Nebula, while the remains of an exploded star, or supernova remnant, are visible below Gienah in the form of the Veil Nebula. Finally, the dark dust lane of the Milky Way is visible in the image as the dark river running between the 3 stars Deneb, Sadr and Gienah. This area of the sky contains many more points of interest that are just too numerous to list.
What We See
Orion the Hunter is one of the most recognisable constellations in the night sky. The three bright stars in Orion's belt stand in a nearly vertical line above the snow covered road at the bottom. Hanging from his belt, the stars and nebulae of the Hunter's sword are visible lower and to the right. Yellow-orange Betelgeuse is the brightest star on the image left.
What the Camera/Telescope Records
This is the Orion Nebula, a region of intense star birth. While observing the nebula with the naked eye, take a moment to think about the numerous other solar systems being formed deep within the glowing dust that makes up the nebula. The light from this region of the sky travelled for 1,500 years before hitting the CCD chip of the camera.