Looking Up: California Nebula... Some Assembly Required

Nov 18, 2019

The California Nebula... such a lovely place, such a lovely face?
Credit Farmakopoulos Antonis / nasa.gov

This week on Looking Up we are California Nebula dreamin'.

We humans like to find order in chaos, and we have a trait, called Pareidolia, which leads us to try to see patterns in, well, lots of things. That’s why we think we see a man in the Moon, and why some folks thought they saw a face on Mars.

And so it is with the California Nebula, high in the Colorado night sky right now. This very dim nebula is nearly impossible to spot if you are near city lights, and you’ll need a decent size telescope to see it, but when you do see the nebula, you may well say, “hey, it’s shaped like California.”

It is, however, a tad larger. Our California is about 850 miles long, while the nebula is roughly 100 ly across. When you recall that one ly is about 6 trillion miles across, you see my point.

The nebula is interesting because of what it is – left over stuff from the formation of the Milky Way galaxy roughly 4.6 billion years ago. The nebula is basically made up of the building blocks from which everything we see in our galaxy is made. It is, to borrow Carl Sagan’s famous phrase, the star stuff of creation, in kit form, so to speak.

Sometimes remarkable things come in dull packaging, and so the dim but amazing California Nebula is worth a look at one of our star parties. Cool, man!

If you’d like to take a closer look at the California Nebula, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.