M57 – The Ring Nebula

When I was young my parents took me to Yellowstone. My most vivid memory of that trip was seeing the Morning Glory Pool. I had never seen water that color before, fiery orange on the outer rim changing to yellow then green and finally to a vibrant teal. and as I stepped closer I was able to see down further into the center, the teal becoming bluer and richer until I got close enough to lean against the safety fence, and saw it…a bright green Mountain Dew can some terrible person tossed into such a wonderful feature of nature.

This is my image of the Ring Nebula (M57). It reminds me of the Morning Glory Pool, but instead of having a Mountain Dew can in the center, it has a white dwarf.

A white dwarf is a planet-sized stellar remnant. Very massive stars explode (and some even implode!) when they run out of fuel but lower mass stars (like our sun) lose their outer layers while the core remains behind cooling very slowly over time. This photo tells that story. You can see the white dwarf in the center and the stellar material that diffused away as the star began to run out of fuel. The colors themselves reveal the chemical composition of the gas. The blue in the center is caused by helium, the greenish-blue inner ring is caused by hydrogen and oxygen and the reddish outer ring is caused by nitrogen and sulfur.


I looked through a telescope for the first time in 2003 at Perkins Observatory. It was pointing at M13, a globular cluster that looked like thousands of diamonds frozen in time and space. It was mesmerizing. I felt like I could reach out and touch them and they were more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. Even after all this time, it is one of the few images I can close my eyes and see as if the eyepiece was still right in front of me.

When I picked up stargazing as a hobby, I knew that someday I wanted to do astrophotography, but I didn’t know if I would ever be able to afford it. Almost one year ago I gave up a few habits that were not good for me and set aside the money I was saving to eventually buy an astrophotography setup.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began I decided that I would stay at home with the exception of going out on clear nights to remote locations to try to realize my dream. A friend of mine and professional astrophotographer, Joe Renzetti, agreed to help me learn the craft. I bought a nice computerized telescope mount with the money I had saved and have spent the last month learning how to use it (along with a telescope I am borrowing from Joe).

Last night I was able to take my first successful astrophoto with a telescope. Fittingly, it is an image of M13.