Hubble's Variable Nebula

This photograph of Hubble's Variable Nebula (NGC 2261) was the first official photograph taken through the 200-inch Hale Telescope. The exposure was made by Edwin Hubble from the prime focus observing cage on the night of January 26, 1949.

Edwin Hubble began his studies of the nebula that now bears his name at the Yerkes Observatory in 1916. The nebula is a fan-shaped cloud of gas and dust known as a reflection nebula.  It is illuminated by a young star known as R Monocerotis (R Mon). The star is located in the bright region at the lower part of the nebula which is 2,500 light years from Earth. Hubble noticed that the nebula seemed to undergo rapid variations in its appearance.

The variations are due to changes in lighting. Opaque clouds of gas and dust near the star cast shadows out onto the nebula. As they move the illumination on the nebula changes, giving rise to the variations that Edwin Hubble observed.

Hubble's Variable Nebula 1949 photograph (450 kb)

More recently Hubble's Variable Nebula was photographed by David Thompson of the California Institute of Technology. The image was recorded in November, 2003 with the 200-inch Hale Telescope's Wide-field Infrared Camera.

Full resolution image (1 mb kb)

Medium resolution image (490 kb)

More information:

Hubble Space Telescope's image of Hubble's Variable Nebula

Detailed study of Hubble's Variable Nebula

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