Peanut Butter and Telescopes

This past summer, Dad and I decided to upgrade to a larger telescope to keep at the house due to the great skies back in our little corner of Henry County. This weekend I finally had a moment to run home, set up the scope, and enjoy a crystal clear night outside to slowly learn how it works.  I was able to check out some old favorites, like Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune; but also was able to dig a bit deeper, and combined with a long-exposure camera, could see things that normally, no naked eye could ever see.

A telescope is more than magnification. You need more light. Without collecting more light, there would be no way to magnify an image. Think of it like spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. If you only have a little bit of peanut butter and try to cover the whole piece of bread, it makes for a pretty tasteless snack. Just like trying to take a dim object and magnify it to make it bigger makes for a pretty bad image. A nice wide telescope is like collecting a big ole hunk of peanut butter for this nerd sandwich. It collects a lot of light, thus allows us greater magnification, and better images of some objects in the sky that are just too dim to see naturally.

But that’s not all. The Orion Nebula, for example, is a somewhat textured smudge of grey through the scope. The intricate little cells in our eyeballs just aren’t sensitive enough to pick up the color, even when seen through a larger scope. In fact, you could be right up next to some of these deep space objects, and still not pick up color. However…if you take a picture, and leave the shutter open, and hold that camera VERY still, the light collects in the camera, much like a big telescope collects light.

So a big telescope collects a lot of light, a camera that can leave it’s shutter open ALSO collects a lot of light, and thus, you get an image of a bright deep-space-object…in color.

As for this image, The Orion Nebula is so bright you can almost see it with the naked eye. If you can find Orion in the sky (right now is coming up in the east around midnight or so) and look straight below the middle star in his belt, you can find the nebula. It’s a gigantic cloud of dust and gas that is slowly coming together by gravity to create new stars, similar to how our sun was once made. The darker parts are the outside of that ball of gas, and the pink bits are the inside of the cocoon, with the atoms of dust and gas (hydrogen) being excited (nuked) by the radiation of the new stars.

If you notice, there are already a few stars, and a lot of dust left over. What’s up with that? Stars don’t use ALL of the dust and gas in the nebula they are formed in. Some bits can either combine together to form ANOTHER star (or stars) to have two stars orbiting one another, or…you get something even better…for example 8 planets orbiting your star, with a bunch of people living on the 3rd one. One of which writing a blog post about peanut butter and telescopes.


6 thoughts on “Peanut Butter and Telescopes

  1. smashesmarie says:

    Joe, tell me again why you aren’t teaching science? Great explanation for the scientifically-impaired! 🙂

  2. Bruce says:

    Great picture and explanation! To save me a lot of time looking it up, how long did it take for the light from the nebula to reach earth?

    Kinda blows the mind to think how much the nebula changed from when it was as it is pictured above and how it looked at that instant “there”.

    Hopefully you can get what I mean…

    • jzhamlin says:

      Good thinking! After snooping around, the stars there seem to have formed around 300,000 years ago. Pretty darn recent compared to the 5 billion years our star has been burning away. Considering it’s only about 1,300-1,500 light years away, it’s likely that it looks pretty much the same. It is possible though that during that 1,300-1,500 years, new stars have ‘turned on’ and have blown away other pockets of dust. However, even if we could go and see it ‘right now,’ it’s 6 light years across. It’s so massive that the closer you got, the more the larger structure of it all would disappear, as you slowly became a part of the cloud itself.

  3. songbirdrw says:

    That’s an amazing photo! You should put your own photo credit in so it’s real obvious that it’s your shoot. 🙂

  4. Bruce says:

    Thanks for the reply Joe, I checked to see what was happening 1500 years ago…. same old stuff, Everyone was picking fights with the Persians, so nothing new there, those not fighting the Persians were scrapping amongst themselves and the Pope was accused of crimes…… Hmmmmm I’m seeing a pattern, wonder what’s happening at the nebula… maybe they have figured out how to stop the insanity.

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