Author Archives: Chompsky

This is how the Orion Nebula appeared to astronomers at the turn of the 20th century when advances in astrophotography opened up new vistas for science. To wit:

… his stunning image of the star-forming Orion Nebula was captured in 1901 by American astronomer and telescope designer George Ritchey. The original glass photographic plate, sensitive to green and blue wavelengths, has been digitised and light-to-dark inverted to produce a positive image. His hand written notes indicate a 50 minute long exposure that ended at dawn and a reflecting telescope aperture of 24 inches masked to 18 inches to improve the sharpness of the recorded image. Ritchey’s plates from over a hundred years ago preserve astronomical data and can still be used for exploring astrophysical processes.

(ImageGeorge Ritchey, Yerkes Observatory – Digitization Project: W. Cerny, R. Kron, Y. Liang, J. Lin, M. Martinez, E. Medina, B. Moss, B. Ogonor, M. Ransom, J. Sanchez (Univ. of Chicago)


‘The Railrodder’ (1965) directed by Gerald Potterton and produced by the National Film Board of Canada, was Buster Keaton’s last silent movie. The comedian, writer, producer and stunt performer died at the age of 70 the following year.

As “the railrodder”, Keaton crosses Canada from east to west on a railway track speeder. True to Keaton’s genre, the film is full of sight gags as our protagonist putt-putts his way to British Columbia. Not a word is spoken throughout, and Keaton is as spry and ingenious at fetching laughs as he was in the old days of the silent slapsticks.

In the documentary ‘Buster Keaton Rides Again’ (above), Keaton – resting in the specially appointed railway coach where he and his wife Eleanor lived during filming – talks (yes, talks) about the movie.


Behold: the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula winding its way through the star cluster complex of IC1396, some 3000 light years distant in the constellation of Cepheus. To wit:

Also known as vdB 142, the cosmic elephant’s trunk is over 20 light-years long. This colourful close-up view was recorded through narrow band filters that transmit the light from ionised hydrogen, sulphur, and oxygen atoms in the region. The resulting composite highlights the bright, swept-back ridges that outline pockets of cool interstellar dust and gas. Such embedded, dark, tendril-shaped clouds contain the raw material for star formation and hide protostars within

(Image: Chuck Ayoub)