The Veil Nebula Essay

2001 words - 8 pages

The Veil Nebula rides high in the northern summer sky on the wings of the beautiful constellation Cygnus the Swan. Cygnus' brightest star, Deneb, along with Altair in Aquila and Vega in Lyra, form the well-known asterism of the Summer Triangle, which encloses a fabulous portion of the Milky Way. Within Cygnus lie numerous binocular and telescopic objects that delight observers. The Veil Nebula ranks as one of the most fascinating -- and challenging.Myths galoreDuring the reign of emperor Caesar Augustus, Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C-17 A.D.) wrote the Metamorphoses. Its stories deal with death and transformation. One of the tales highlights the Trojan warrior Cygnus, son of the sea-god Poseidon.Cygnus boldly challenged the Greek hero Achilles to combat. As bravely as Cygnus fought, he was no match for Achilles, who pummeled Cygnus with a shield and sword. When Achilles went to claim his opponent's armor, the body was gone. Poseidon had transported Cygnus into the sky on the back of a magnificent swan.Another Greek myth relates how Zeus turned himself into a swan to seduce the beautiful nymph Nemesis. The result of this union was a single egg, which was given to Leda, Queen of Sparta. The exquisite Helen (whose birth resulted in the destruction of Troy) hatched from the egg. Zeus placed the swan he became into the sky in remembrance of his amorous adventure.Other stories say the swan is the musician Orpheus, who the gods transformed into a bird and placed near the beloved harp he invented, Lyra. But even more transformations lie deep within the Veil Nebula that today are the territory of astronomers.Discovery and historyEnglish astronomer Sir William Herschel (1738-1822) first spotted the Veil Nebula September 5, 1784. In 1783, Herschel beganwhat he called "a series of observations (or Sweeps of the heavens), which I am still continuing till the whole be completed."Like all astronomers since the invention of the telescope, Herschel needed as much light-gathering power as he could muster. At the time he was using a homemade telescope. It had a 20-foot (6.1 meters) focal length and a speculum (an alloy of 70-percent copper and 30-percent tin) mirror almost 19 inches (0.5m) in diameter.Even with this large telescope, Herschel was looking for ways to gather more light. In a note from his first catalog of deep-sky objects, Catalogue of One Thousand New Nebulae and Clusters of Stars, he describes how he developed what current observers call the "Herschel focus."He says he used the "front-view" observation method. This "consists in looking with the eye glass, placed a little out of the axis, directly in at the front, without the interposition of a small speculum [a diagonal mirror]; and has the capital advantage of giving us almost double the light of the former constructions."In 1784, Herschel was using every trick he could think of to capture more light. In his original catalog, he gave the Veil three number designations, and there have been many names...

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