THE CALIFORNIA NEBULA IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT.
Photo By: Bob Franke of Focal Pointe Observatory: http://bf-astro.com/index.htm
This photo is of the beautiful and famous NGC 1499 or as its known; the California Nebula and its floodlight Menkhib. An emission nebula located approximately 1800 light years from Earth, this object when viewed in a certain orientation slightly resembles the outline of the state of California, thus securing the name California Nebula.
The reason this object is glowing at all is because of a process where the brightest star in the photo, Menkhib (Xi Persei) is ionizing the gas and material in the nebula. As a Class-O star, the blue/white Menkhib is one of the hottest stars visible to us in the night sky; its surface temperature is around 66,000 degrees F° or about 37,000 Kelvin. That’s nearly 6 times the temperature of the surface of the Sun. Also, it’s about 40 times the mass of our Sun, giving off 330,000 times the light. If the star replaced the Sun we would have to evacuate Earth to nearly 14 times the distance of Pluto to find a location where we receive the same solar energy as we do from the Sun today. Known as a giant or supergiant, the star is slightly unstable and has likely ceased hydrogen fusion at its core and quite possibly has already begun to fuse helium atoms, either way the fuse and primer have been set for detonation in the distant future. Known as a “runaway” star it’s moving through space at a high rate of speed. This is either due to previous gravitational interactions with another star or perhaps it was the companion to a larger companion that detonated, sending Menkhib hurtling through the cosmos. It is believed, but not certain that Menkhib was born from the California Nebula itself a few million years ago.
Menkhib as well as a few other local stars refer to a larger Arabic construction in which Atik is the “collarbone” of the Pleiades, Menkhib is the “shoulder” and Caph in Cassiopeia represents the “hand”. Remember that although Menkhib is in the knee region of Perseus it means shoulder but it’s in reference to the Pleiades. I know, Pleiades is a group of people so how is there a shoulder, hand or collar bone? I don’t make this stuff up, I just report it.
Colors in this image are represented by green = hydrogen, red = sulfur and blue = oxygen.
NAME: NGC 1499, California Nebula, Sharpless 220, LBN 756.
WHAT IS IT?: Emission Nebula.
HOW BIG IS IT?: A very large 2.5 degrees of night sky or about 100 light years long.
HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: According to NASA it’s 1800 light years from Earth though as everything else in space estimates range wildly all the way down to 1000 light years away.
HOW OLD IS IT?: Few million years old.
APPARENT MAGNITUDE?: 6 or +6 but with a very low surface brightness (Integrated magnitude of 5 or +5). Viewing requires telescope, very dark skies and either a H-Beta, OIII or UHC filter. Large telescopes are not ideal due to the size of the object, a 90mm refractor with H-Beta filter is a good starting point to attempt viewing of this object.
WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Perseus (The Hero) near the star Menkhib (HD24912, Xi Persei or SAO056856) in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy (Same as us).
WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 04h 00m 52s / Dec +36° 27’ 46”
Actual page for this image: http://bf-astro.com/ngc1499nb.htm
Skyhound Observatory tips on this object: http://observing.skyhound.com/archives/dec/NGC_1499.html
Ashland Astronomy Studio page for the star Menkhib: http://www.astrostudio.org/xhip.php?hip=18614