Muppets from Space (1999)

 

Concept featured in film: Nebulae, emission nebulae

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Summary of clip: In this clip, Gonzo is flying through red and blue clouds of dust and gas

Connection of flick to concept: Often, students have difficulties comprehending astronomical entities. While most students have seen brilliant images of beautiful nebulae, it is hard for students to comprehend how low density nebulas are. "Emission nebulae are direct evidence of gas atoms in the interstellar medium. Typical emission nebulae have masses that range from about 100 to 10,000 solar masses. Because this mass is spread over a huge volume that is light-years across, the denisty is quite low by Earth standards, only a few thousand hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter. (By comparison, the air you are breathing contains more than 10^19 atoms per cubic centimeters)" (p. 455)

Emission nebulae are associated with hot, young, blue, or white stars of classes O and B. These young stars peak emissions is in the ultraviolet range. This UV light is of the correct frequency to ionize the hydrogen atoms in the gas cloud. Astronomers denote ionized hydrogen (which is just a proton and a free electron) wiht HII. HI denotes un-ionized hydrogen. Emission nebulae are also know as HII regions.

Visible light is produced when the free electrons merge with an available proton, or hydrogen nucleus. The energy released in this process is given off in the form of visible light; with hydrogen, the transition is from teh n=3 to n=2 orbital level. The light given off is red (lambda=656nm). This process is known as recombination.

Universe, 6th Edition by Freedman, R.A. and Kaufmann, W.J. III. W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, 2002, was consulted for this.