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Running Man Nebula (NGC 1973, 1975, & 1977)
Michaela Blain

Running Man Nebula (NGC 1977)

This is a color mosaic of the Running Man Nebula (NGC 1973, 1975, & 1977). This object is actually three nebulas separated by dust sheets. Each one is a reflection nebula, illuminated by the hot blue stars which recently formed within them. The blue color is caused by blue light scattering off dust behind the stars while the dark regions are sheets and wisps of dust in front of the stars obscuring their starlight. The reddish color in some areas is caused by hydrogen gas which has been ionized by stellar radiation.

The Running Man Nebula is part of the greater Orion Molecular Cloud, which consists of mainly molecular hydrogen and is located in the constellation Orion. The cloud is many times larger than the Running Man and includes a series of objects known as Orion's Sword. Below is an annotated image noting some of the other objects in Orion's Sword.

Seen at the top of the image is NGC 1981, an open cluster. In the middle are the three reflection nebulas of the Running Man. At the bottom of the image, and most well-known of the three, is the Orion Nebula (M42). The Orion Nebula is a naked eye object and has been a timeless favorite among astronomers. Galileo discovered a bright cluster of many stars within a cloudy (nebulous) region of the sky in the early 1600s. This cluster is now called the Trapezium. Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch astronomer, was the first person to make a sketch of the nebulosity using one of his early telescopes in 1659. Although he didn't sketch the Running Man Nebula, he was the first of many astronomers to take interest in the area. Below is an image of his sketch.

As astronomers continued to study the region, they realized that the Orion Molecular Cloud extended far beyond just the bright Orion Nebula. In fact, it covers an area hundreds of light years across which covers the entire constellation of Orion. Astronomers also discovered the cloud is full of young stars in varying stages of formation. The brightest of these are also the most massive and won't live long enough to move out of the nebula in which they formed. These young stars are extremely hot and cause the gas around them to glow. In this second image below, the screen stretch was adjusted to show this nebulosity in the surrounding region.

References:

Orion Molecular Cloud Complex: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_Molecular_Cloud_Complex

Orion's Sword Image: https://oculum.de/newsletter/astro/100/70/9/179.fm1ob.asp

Huygens' Sketch: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/sky-and-telescope-magazine/beyond-the-printed-page/sketching-orion-nebula/

Orion and Galileo: http://mo-www.harvard.edu/microobs/guestobserverportal/Galileo/ThenNow/Orion/mObsOrionWeb.htm

NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD): https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap071220.html

Right Ascension (J2000) 05:35:16
Declination (J2000) -04:47:07
Filters used B (Blue), R (Red), V (Green)
Exposure x number of images for each filter B (20s x 10 images x 4 fields), V and R (10s x 10 x 4 fields)
Image dimension 1314x850 pixels; 28.7x18.6 arcminutes
Date/time observed March 18, 2018, 04:16 UT
Distance 1500ly (NASA APOD)
Scale 0.134 pc/arcminute

 

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