Here's a deep space object that is worthy of its name, The Monkey Head Nebula (NGC 2174). Unlike the famous Great Orion Nebula, NGC 2174 shines primarily in Hydrogen Alpha (HA) light. This 6,400 light year distant giant molecular cloud is located above Orion's head near the bright alpha star Betelgeuse. It is being reshaped and ionized by stellar energy from newborn stars forming within it. You can see two of the stars embedded in the reddish glow of the Monkey's "ear." A dark streamer appears to emanate from a star just above the Monkey's "eye." Interesting shapes form as this cloud condenses to form stars. It reminds me of lying on the ground on a Summer day and looking at the shapes of cumulus clouds as they are formed by heat, moisture, and winds.
This is far from being a star nursery although it may someday contribute to one. Rather, it's a shout out to the surrounding Universe that this is a star gone wild! The perpetrator of this glowing mega structure (30 light years in diameter) is a single star called a Wolf-Rayet star (bright star just under the top of a "C" shaped outburst center left in the main bubble of this nebula). The central star in this nebula is designated as WR 7 (also cataloged as HD 56925). WR 7 is a tough star to study because it has enveloped itself in a series of nebulous outbursts that obscure it to the point that it's difficult to estimate the distance to the star or the nebula it's shrouded in. Distance estimates range wildly from 11,500 to 22,500 light years. That much of a distance range makes it an educated guess at best about the details of this star. Things we can be sure of...it's HOT! and it's BIG! and it's VERY UNSTABLE! All three of these attributes lend to tumultuous outbursts of this star's outer atmosphere into interstellar space. You can see the history by counting the number of circular shock wave shells emanating from the star. Some of the shells have passed into nearby molecular clouds causing them to glow and add to the complexity of this nebula. The unusual shape of this nebula has earned it's name as Thor's Helmet (NGC 2359). The reason for the false green light in this image is that it glows best in the ionized oxygen part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This image was taken using an OIII filter on the Mount Sangre Observatory's telescope imaging system.
This is Thor's Helmet imaged in Hydrogen Alpha (HA) light. It's a bit muted and some of the fine details that you saw in the OIII image are missing. That's because this star is so energetic that a lot of the resulting emission nebula shines in the much higher energy range (green, blue, ultraviolet, and X-Ray) of the electromagnetic spectrum. It's unfortunate that I was only able to take these two images on a night that started out clear, but quickly became cloudy. It prevented me from taking the spectrum of this high energy star. No matter, This nebula has been around for quite a few years and I'll have another opportunity to image it again in good time! A big part of astronomy involves patience, and failure is the norm. That's why I'm always happy when I can get any kind of image at all to share with you.
This is a color version of the famous Hertzprung-Russel (HR) Diagram of stellar evolution. The star causing all the havoc in Thor's Helmet (WR 7) would be at the very top left side of this chart. Stars inhabiting this part of the Main Sequence (curved blue-yellow-red stripe in the middle of the diagram) are doomed to live relatively short chaotic lives ending in glorious supernovas. You might describe them as the "daredevils" and "thrill seekers" of the stellar realm.