Orion Rises Over Mount Etna

Image title: Orion Rises Over Mount Etna
Author: Dario Giannobile
Country: Italy

Taken in February 2021, this image is a composite of an astronomy picture in the background and Mount Etna, the famous volcano in Sicily, Italy, in the foreground. Prominently, we see the red hydrogen clouds in space in the area of Orion. Barnard’s Loop is the gigantic bow with the Great Orion Nebula and the Horsehead Nebula in its centre. The deeper-coloured Horse Head is below the southernmost stars in Orion’s Belt, which is the line of white stars above the red nebula. Clearly visible is also the division between the Small and the Great Orion Nebula, the circular and the trapezium-shaped structure in light pink within which one of the nearest star-forming regions is located. The nebula is only a bit more than a thousand light-years away.

In the middle-left, close to the edge of the image, the small red structure is the Monkey Head Nebula still in the constellation Orion. It hosts a young star cluster and the deep red colour of this hydrogen cloud indicates its potential to build new stars in the future if the material is compressed again. All these reddish objects are strongly processed in this image, as they are not visible to the unaided eye.

Still, this image provides an interesting feature; the red supergiant star Betelgeuse lies in the middle of the image and it seems to be directly above the active volcano Mount Etna. At the foot of this volcano is an ancient settlement, the city of Catania. We consider both Betelgeuse and Mount Etna somehow dangerous — but which of them will erupt first?

Ok, we know that Etna occasionally erupts. Normally it exhibits only small eruptions, but the bigger ones happen every few centuries. We also know that Betelgeuse as a giant star will become a supernova in the future. Astronomers call the timescale for the potential supernova short, implying that it will be only 10 000 or maybe 100 000 years until this star explodes. This is “soon” for astronomers, meaning that on Earth, two to four precession cycles will pass by (with the consequence that the Sahara will turn green and dry again two to four times), continental drift will take Africa further north and cause the Alps to grow in height, the Niagara falls in America will wash the rock completely away and only after all this (and much more) happening on Earth will Betelgeuse explode as a supernova. Mount Etna is much more dangerous for the people in Sicily, and Catania in particular, because it will erupt sooner.

Also see image in Zenodo: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7425536


Dario Giannobile/IAU OAE

About the Image

Release date:
15 December 2022, 12:00
Related announcements:
5472 x 3848 px
Image Use

About the Object

Milky Way : Nebula

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