Wednesday 1 October 2014

The Spider's Web - the mighty Tarantula Nebula, NGC 2070

This piece so far has been the most challenging for me.  The level of complexity is just an extraordinary thing.  From bright nebulosity, through to angle's-breath faint.  Intense bright clusters, through to vast space between stars.  This piece I ended up working on over two nights as it required me to develop new techniques to depict certain details.

The Tarantula is so named for its somewhat arachnid appearance.  Tendrils of nebulosity, fashioned from the extraordinary push and pull of stellar radiation and strong gravitation influences, give this nebula its spridery appearance.  It sits on the edge of the Large Magellanic Cloud closest to the Milky Way galaxy.  The gravitational tidal pull between the Milky Way and that of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), has acted to create a massive compression front at this point of the LMC.  The compression front has triggered an enormous amount of stellar formation activity.  Such stellar formation activity is also witnessed in other galaxies that have also experience massive gravitational tidal influence by the interaction with another galaxy.

What cannot be forgotten is the clusters of super massive stars that powers' the glowing mass of gas and dust.  These same stars were born from this gas and dust.  The radiation that they blow of creates new compression fronts within the gas cloud.  These compression fronts within the gas cloud creates concentrations of this gas and dust.  This increase in the mass density results in a localized increase in gravity.  Over the course of millions of years, this ever so slight localized gravitational pull attracts more material onto itself, and this slowly builds and builds until a star is born out of this dust and gas.  Many of the super massive stars that are inside these huge clusters are burning their hydrogen fuel at such a staggering rate that their life span is short - tens of millions of years as opposed to several billion for our Sun.  Finally, when their hydrogen fuel is exhausted, they undergo a cataclysmic explosion, spewing themselves back into the space that they were formed from, and from their ashes new stars will be born.

From a dark site, the Tarantula is also a naked eye object, seen  as a large dot off one of the general bar-like appearance ends of the LMC.  And it is a massive structure.  The LMC is some 160,000 light years away from us, and the Tarantula is still visible as a unique solitary item in the sky.  It is some 100 times larger than the Great Orion Nebula.  Were the Tarantula at the same distance to us as the Great Orion Nebula, its brilliance would be enough to cast shadows on Earth.

This nebula has presented a great creative challenge for me.  I spent two and a half hours on it the first night.  The details within the tendrils confounded my capabilities to depict accurately that night.  I ended up exhausted and frustrated.  The following day I experimented with techniques to achieve the effects I was after.  Last Saturday night I paid another visit to the Tarantula, armed with the new techniques.  This time around, not only was I less daunted, but it afforded me greater freedom to more critically examine the fainter details.  I was surprised at how much more detail I was able to detect now not being so concerned with details I was struggling to depict in a satisfactory manner.

All up I spent close to 5 hours at the eyepiece with this piece.  The Tarantula has proven to be a fantastic challenge, and a wonderful inspiration.  Again, it is through the time taken in developing a sketch that the full splendor that the Tarantula was revealed.

Object:  The Tarantula Nebula, NGC 2070
Telescope:  17.5" push-pull Karee dob
Gear:  13mm LVW - 158X, NPB & OIII Filters
Location:  Katoomba Airfield, Australia
Date:  28th September, 2014
Media:  Soft pastel, charcoal and white ink on A4 size black paper

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