Volumetric Vision of Elefant's Trunk Nebula IC1396
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I turned my photo of IC1396 to a 3d-model back in 2012 to show that it’s actually a three-dimensional volume floating in three-dimensional space. This artwork is not just a guess work, it’s based on scientific data about the structure of emission nebulae and distance information.

Location, Constellation Cepheus at distance of about 3000 light years IC 1396 spans about three degrees of sky (Full Moon has diameter of 0,5 degrees) I took the photo and made the model at 2012, exposure time 15 hours, time for the 3D-model and animation way too much.

My original photo of emission nebula IC1396

Rotating Nebula in media

Back in 2012 this animation went viral and it was also published by many news agencies and major websites, here are some of them.

SLATE by Phill Plait
Best Astronomy Images of 2012:

Jaw-dropping rotating 3D nebula

Amazing Astrophotography Lets You See Nebulae in 3D

WIRED by Nadia Drake,
New Dimension: Nebulas Are Even More Amazing in 3-D

HUFFINGTON POST by Ryan Grenoble,
Nebula IC 1396, Animated In 3D By Finnish Astrophotographer J-P Metsavainio, Is Astounding

Insider, Jennifer Welsh
Awesome Animation Shows An Interstellar Gas Cloud In 3D

PetaPixel, Michael Zhang
Amazing Animated GIFs Capture Nebulae in 3D Using Artificial Parallax

Moving the Still Excibition, part of Miami Art Week
Moving the Still Overview

How the 3D-model is made

My Moleskine notebook pages fom 2008 shows plans how to turn nebulae to 3d model.

For as long as I have captured images of celestial objects, I have always seen hem three-dimensionally in my head. The scientific information makes my inner visions much more accurate, and the 3-D technique I have developed enables me to share those beautiful visions with others.

How accurate my 3-D-visions are depending on how much information I have and how well I implement it.

The final 3-D-image is always an appraised simulation of reality based on known scientific facts, deduction, and some artistic creativity.

After I have collected all the necessary scientific information about my target, I start my 3-D conversion from stars. Usually there is a recognizable star cluster which is responsible for ionizing the nebula. We don’t need to know its absolute location since we know its relative location. Stars ionizing the nebula have to be very close to the nebula structure itself. I usually divide up the rest of the stars by their apparent brightness, which can then be used as an indicator of their distances, brighter being closer. If true star distances are available, I use them, but most of the time my rule of thumb is sufficient. By using a scientific estimate of the distance of the Milky Way object, I can locate the correct number of stars in front of it and behind it.

Emission nebulae are not lit up directly by starlight; they are usually way too large for that. Rather, stellar radiation ionizes elements within the gas cloud and the nebula itself is glowing light, the principle is very much the same as in fluorescent tubes. The thickness of the nebula can be estimated from its brightness, since the whole volume of gas is glowing, brighter means thicker.

By this means, forms of the nebula can be turned to a real 3-D shape. Nebulae are also more or less transparent, so we can see both sides of it at the same time, and this makes model-making a little easier since not much is hidden.

The local stellar wind, from the star cluster inside the nebula, shapes the nebula by blowing away the gas around the star cluster. The stellar wind usually forms a kind of cavity in the nebulosity. The same stellar wind also initiates the further collapse of the gas cloud and the birth of the second generation of stars in the nebula. The collapsing gas can resist the stellar wind and produces pillar like formations which must point to a cluster.

Ionized oxygen (O-III) glows with a bluish light, and since oxygen needs a lot of energy to ionize it, this can only be achieved relatively close to the star cluster in the nebula. I use this information to position the O-III area (the bluish glow) at the correct distance relative to the heart of the nebula.

Many other small indicators can be found by carefully studying the image itself. For example, if there is a dark nebula in the image, it must be located in front of the emission one, otherwise we couldn’t see it at all.

Using the known data in this way I build a kind of skeleton model of the nebula. Then the artistic part is mixed with the scientific and logical elements, and after that the rest is very much like creating a sculpture on a cosmic scale