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Astr110 Photography Projects, Spring 2010

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Owl Nebula , Michael Shade

Owl Nebula

Messier Object 97, or the Owl Nebula as it is less formally known, is a Planetary Nebula that is situated in the constellation Ursa Major. Planetary Nebulae are created by stars that have ejected large amounts of gas after having depleted most of their nuclear fuel. The expanding shell of gas, which experiences a phase of hyper-excitation as a result of the extreme heat of the core of the star, is visible in the light emitted by the star. Such nebulae come and go quite quickly compared to the lifespans of other kinds of nebulae. The Owl Nebula was discovered by French astronomer and physicist, Pierre Méchain, in 1781. Other astronomers throughout history have marveled at the Owl Nebula. Lord Rosse noted that, "From the observation of the 20-foot telescope, it appears that the profundity of this object is beyond the gauging power of that instrument," and Sir John Herschel referred to it as "a very remarkable object."

It is obvious how the nebula came to be called by its informal name. Of course, the fact that the nebula seems to resemble and owl's head is a mere coincidence. At 2.6 thousand light years away, it appears to every earth-bound astronomer to resemble that shape, but it may very well resemble an entirely different shape from a distance light years away from earth. The un-romantic truth of the matter is that the gas that expands from the depleted star is billowing out randomly. In a short time (on a cosmic scale, that is), this nebula will resemble something entirely different, and eventually will disappear. Right now, the Owl Nebula's angular size is 2.72 (calculated in arcseconds). Its linear size is 2.05 light years.


"Owl Nebula." Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. <http://www.seds.org/messier/m/m097.html>

"Nebulae." Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. <http://www.seds.org/messier/nebula.html>

"Pierre François André Méchain (August 16, 1744 - September 20, 1804)." Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. <http://www.seds.org/messier/xtra/history/pmechain.html>

"Observations and Descriptions." Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. <http://www.seds.org/messier/Mdes/dm097.html>

Right Ascension (J2000) 11:14:48
Declination (J2000) +55:01:00
Filters used blue(B), green(V), red(R), and clear(C)
Exposure time per filter 300 seconds in BVRC (one exposure per filter
Date observed March 2, 2010 (BVRC)
Time observed

04:04:23 AM UTC (12:04:23 PM EDT)