B33 - The Horsehead Nebula in Orion


Copyright 2005 Hap Griffin

Many of the areas of the sky appear dark in photographs not because of a lack of stars or glowing nebulae, but because of great lanes of obscuring dust between our vantage point and the objects beyond.  Such is the case with the Horsehead Nebula shown here...the most famous of all dark nebulae, and known as B33.  The dust is the remnant of an older generation of stars that long ago died in great nova and supernova blasts spreading the heavy elements they synthesized from primordial hydrogen during their lives back into space.  Spectral analysis reveals that the dust is composed largely of silicon, carbon and oxygen.  Here we see brand new stars being formed out of this material...one can be seen on the horse's "brow" and another near the tip of its "nose" glowing dimly in red light as they come to life.  These new star systems will likely eventually form terrestrial-type planets containing the heavy elements from the dust cloud from which they formed.

The Horsehead figure is actually a dynamic structure formed by the protrusion of a dense area of the larger dust cloud that can be seen at its base.  It lies in front of and obscures an area of red glowing hydrogen,  IC434.  Parts of the base dust cloud can be seen partially obscuring the bright blue reflection nebula NGC2023 at the lower left.  The structure is huge...between 12,000 and 13,000 of our own solar systems could be spread out across it's "neck".  It is theorized that the Horsehead itself is a "Bok Globule" which will eventually break free from the main cloud and condense into individual stars.  Examples of Bok Globules can be seen in the Rosette Nebula HERE.

B33 lies at a distance of 1500 light years.

Date/Location:    December 22, 2005     Griffin/Hunter Observatory    Bethune, SC
Instrument:    Canon 350D (modified IR filtering) Digital SLR through 10" Meade RCX400 
Focal Ratio:   F8 
Guiding:    Auto via SBIG ST237 through Orion ED80 refractor w/2x Barlow
Conditions:    Visually clear
Weather:    30 to 21 F
Exposure: 180 minutes total (36 x 5 minutes @ ISO 800)
Filters:    Baader UV/IR block
Processing:    Focused and captured with DSLRFocus.  RAW to TIFF conversion, auto-dark and flat frame calibration, Digital Development, Richardson-Lucy deconvolution, resizing and JPEG conversion in ImagesPlus.  Color correction in Photoshop 6.  Noise reduction in Neat Image.