Astrophotographer Ted Wolfe looks up at the night sky through telescopes from his home in Naples and photographs it through specialized cameras. His pictures of colliding galaxies, dying stars, supernovas, glowing nebulas, etc., are published in the leading national magazines in the field of astronomy. Exhibits of his pictures have appeared in numerous science museums, universities and institutions — including a 20-month show featuring a large number of his images at the Kennedy Space Center. A full collection of his pictures are on permanent display at the Center for Space Studies at the University of Florida.
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This wonderful object looks like it belongs in the deep sea — not deep space. It carries the delightful name "The Jellyfish Nebula."
You can see it rising toward the upper left of the picture like a red jellyfish floating gently toward the top of a celestial sea. Its official (and much less interesting) name is IC 443. It resides in the constellation Gemini, the Twins, and is about 5,000 light years away from us.
What is going on here?
About 30,000 years ago a star blew up with a great fury, propelling its material into the surrounding space. The star may have been visible on the earth during daytime for a short period of time. This is the source of the Jellyfish's propulsion.
In relatively recent times astronomers feel they have identified the progenitor star that blew up. Its name is CXOU Jo61705.3 + 222127. Lets just call it CXOU for now. It has been found near the lower right side of the Jellyfish. The star today exists as a neutron star — imagine a drab looking ball bearing about a dozen miles across.
When astronomers examined the spectral data from CXOU they determined that it underwent a Type II supernova explosion. This means that it was an implosion. It was originally a large star between 1.3 -3.0 solar masses. Like all stars its internal nuclear core pushed out, while its surrounding mass pushed in, due to gravity.
CXOU was a sort of "spend thrift" star. During its short life it burned brightly but used up its nuclear fuels rapidly, and the core began to quickly collapse. With less pressure pushing out from the core the rest of the star came hurtling inward. The resulting implosion strewed its material outward. This left only a small, but incredibly dense neutron star behind, which is what CXOU is today.
The Jellyfish Nebula is of particular interest to astronomers since in its outward expansion it has encountered a molecular nebula in space. The Jellyfish contains heavier elements like iron, carbon, oxygen, gold, silver, uranium, copper, etc., that were born in the supernova explosion. As it collides with the molecular nebula it will "enrich" it. New stars will be born out of the enriched nebula and their planets, moons, comets, etc., will also contain the heavier elements (the good stuff).
Scientifically, as you look at this picture the head of the Jellyfish is brighter since it is encountering the molecular nebula first, and glowing from the impact. The Jellyfish's bottom "tentacles" are the result of a blow back effect from the resistance of the molecular nebula.
Enjoy this creature of the deep — space, not sea.
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Ted is a member of the Everglades Astronomical Society. Organized in 1981 it serves the Naples community providing information in all aspects of amateur astronomy. Its goals include educating the general public, school children, and other groups to the wonders of the universe. The Society meets at 7 p.m. every second Tuesday of the month at the Norris Center (public invited). Regular viewing visits to a special, dark sky site in the Everglades are held each month, allowing the general public to observe the night sky through telescopes, under pristine conditions. For more information visit the website at http://naples.net/clubs/eas