Incredible Astrophoto: Thor’s Helmet in Canis Major

At first glance, you might expect this beautiful image to be from a big ground-based observatory or even one of the space telescopes. But this image was taken by “amateur” astronomer Rolf Wahl Olsen. We’ve featured his work before, and he’s done amazing stuff – such as the first amateur image of another solar system — but even he says this latest image of an emission nebula might be his best image to date.

It’s a stunning look at what is known as Thor’s Helmet. This helmet-shaped feature (complete with wings!) is an emission nebula is located in the constellation of Canis Major, about 15,000 light years from Earth. The nebula is a large expanding bubble illuminated by a central star in its last stage of life — a massive Wolf-Rayet star which is shedding its outer layers of gas at an extremely high rate due to intense radiation pressure. Wolf-Rayet stars are thought to represent a brief stage of evolution near the end of life for giant super massive stars; the last unstable phase before the star explodes as a brilliant supernova.

The nebula is some 30 light years in diameter is embedded among a dense star field consisting of thousands of multi-colored stars, adding more beauty to the scene.

Thanks to Rolf for sharing this gorgeous image with Universe Today.

Here’s more details from Rolf:
Date: 8th, 14th, 19th December 2012 and 5th, 6th, 9th January 2013
Exposure: LRGB: 530:44:33:33m, total 10hrs 40mins @ -28C
Telescope: 10″ Serrurier Truss Newtonian f/5
Camera: QSI 683wsg with Lodestar guider
Filters: Astrodon LRGB E-Series Gen 2
Taken from his observatory in Auckland, New Zealand

A wider view:

Thor's Helmet in Canis Major. Credit and copyright: Rolf Wahl Olsen.
Thor's Helmet in Canis Major. Credit and copyright: Rolf Wahl Olsen.

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3 Replies to “Incredible Astrophoto: Thor’s Helmet in Canis Major”

  1. I see Thor’s Hammer, NGC2359 at 07h18m30s, -13*13.8′ with a visual magnitude ~10. The Wolf-Rayet star that illuminates is HD56925…. Too big a star to do anything other than live fast, die young…. Poof!

  2. A truly Superb image. Maybe you should have an annual compettiton for best amateur astrophoto.

  3. Rolf Wahl Olsen.! I would SOOO like to take your image into Photoshop to enhance that ‘face’! I see an alien critter face in there!

    SciFi short story subject: A race of aquatic, cetacean-like creatures evolve on a distant water world in our galaxy. Their shape resembles a cross between earthly seals and whales? But the four strange appendages are axial at the shoulders and their tails and tentacles are definitely more squid-like. After nearly a billion years they evolve into a star fairing culture. One of their scientists discovers a way to project avatars into the depths of space. The avatars accidentally modify space-time and slip into another stream when collecting energetic particles. This is how they manifest in a physical presence as a projected/assembled body – light years across… It was found to make exploration simple as one simply ‘swims’ from star to star…

    With your permission… I think I could render that!

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