Monday, April 07, 2008

Where did the Rosette Nebula go?

The Astronomy students panicked slightly when the fantastic image that they saw a couple of nights ago of the Rosette Nebula, didn't seem to match the image that they got through the IAC80 telescope at the Observatory in Teide, today. This is a finder chart taken from the Simbad database.

Happily they found out that the object that they were focused on was in the correct region, but was just a few arcminutes out. The Rosette is really very big - the nebula is almost a degree across - very large in astronomical terms. In astronomy widths of objects are usually measured in arcminutes or arcseconds -1/60 or 1/360 of a degree. For the Rosette Nebula - which is approximately 5,200 Light Years away - a degree translates as 130 Light Years across - that is it would take 130 years traveling at the speed of light (1,079,252,849 km/h) to cross from one side of the nebula to the other and it would take us 5,200 light years to get there.

The students also worried that the nebula had disappeared below the limit of the telescope, however the altitude their programme was using to determine the position of the nebula above the horizon was incorrect, placing us and the telescope in the centre of the volcano, rather than on the top of the mountain at the Teide Observatory. The students soon realized the mistake - because the IAC80 is such a clever telescope it informed them that their nebula was still high enough up in the sky to observe. Panic over and back to work.

Images have been taken by the IAC80 telescope by the Astronomy Students; Hannah Calcutt, Alex Terris, James Pettler and Claire longbottom - assisted by project supervisor Dr Andrea Dieball and Santiago the telescope operator.


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