Apr 9, 2018

The Most Beautiful Nebulae In The Entire Universe

A nebula is a cloud of gas and dust in space. Some nebulae (more than one nebula) are regions where new stars are being formed, while others are the remains of dead or dying stars. Nebulae come in many different shapes and sizes. There are four main types of nebulae: planetary nebulae, reflection nebulae, emission nebulae, and absorption nebulae. The word nebula comes from the Latin word for cloud.

Most nebulae are of vast size, some are hundreds of light years in diameter. A nebula that is barely visible to the human eye from Earth would appear larger, but no brighter, from close by. The Orion Nebula, the brightest nebula in the sky that occupies a region twice the diameter of the full Moon, can be viewed with the naked eye but was missed by early astronomers. Although denser than the space surrounding them, most nebulae are far less dense than any vacuum created on Earth – a nebular cloud the size of the Earth would have a total mass of only a few kilograms. Many nebulae are visible due to their fluorescence caused by the embedded hot stars, while others are so diffuse they can only be detected with long exposures and special filters. Some nebulae are variably illuminated by T Tauri variable stars. Nebulae are often star-forming regions, such as in the "Pillars of Creation" in the Eagle Nebula. In these regions the formations of gas, dust, and other materials "clump" together to form denser regions, which attract further matter, and eventually will become dense enough to form stars. The remaining material is then believed to form planets and other planetary system objects.

A Beautiful Boomerang Nebula

This symmetric cloud dubbed the Boomerang Nebula was created by a high-speed wind of gas and dust blowing from an aging central star at speeds of nearly 600,000 kilometers per hour. The rapid expansion has cooled molecules in the nebular gas to about one degree above absolute zero - colder than even the cosmic background radiation - making it the coldest known region in the distant Universe. Shining with light from the central star reflected by dust, the frigid Boomerang Nebula is believed to be a star or stellar system evolving toward the planetary nebula phase. This Hubble image was recorded using polarizing filters (analogous to polaroid sunglasses) and color coded by the angle associated with the polarized light. The gorgeous result traces the small dust particles responsible for polarizing and scattering the light. The Boomerang Nebula spans about one light year and lies about 5,000 light years away toward the constellation Centaurus.

The Horsehead Nebula in Orion

One of the most identifiable nebulae in the sky, the Horsehead Nebula in Orion, is part of a large, dark, molecular cloud. Also known as Barnard 33, the unusual shape was first discovered on a photographic plate in the late 1800s. The red glow originates from hydrogen gas predominantly behind the nebula, ionized by the nearby bright star Sigma Orionis. A blue reflection nebula dubbed NGC 2023 surrounds the bright star at the lower left. The darkness of the Horsehead is caused mostly by thick dust, although the lower part of the Horsehead's neck casts a shadow to the left. Streams of gas leaving the nebula are funneled by a strong magnetic field. Bright spots in the Horsehead Nebula's base are young stars just in the process of forming. Light takes about 1500 years to reach us from the Horsehead Nebula. The above image was taken earlier this month with a 0.6-meter telescope at the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter in Arizona, USA.

The Pillars of Eagle Castle (Eagle Nebula)

What lights up this castle of star formation? The familiar Eagle Nebula glows bright in many colors at once. The above image is a composite of three of these glowing gas colors. Pillars of dark dust nicely outline some of the denser towers of star formation. Energetic light from young massive stars causes the gas to glow and effectively boils away part of the dust and gas from its birth pillar. Many of these stars will explode after several million years, returning most of their elements back to the nebula which formed them. This process is forming an open cluster of stars known as M16.

Light from the Heart Nebula
What powers the Heart Nebula? The large emission nebula dubbed IC 1805 looks, in whole, like a human heart. The nebula glows brightly in red light emitted by its most prominent element: hydrogen. The red glow and the larger shape are all created by a small group of stars near the nebula's center. A close up spanning about 30 light years contains many of these stars is shown above . This open cluster of stars contains a few bright stars nearly 50 times the mass of our Sun, many dim stars only a fraction of the mass of our Sun, and an absent microquasar that was expelled millions of years ago. The Heart Nebula is located about 7,500 light years away toward the constellation of Cassiopeia

M57: The Ring Nebula

It looks like a ring on the sky. Hundreds of years ago astronomers noticed a nebula with a most unusual shape. Now known as M57 or NGC 6720, the gas cloud became popularly known as the Ring Nebula. It is now known to be a planetary nebula, a gas cloud emitted at the end of a Sun-like star's existence. As one of the brightest planetary nebula on the sky, the Ring Nebula can be seen with a small telescope in the constellation of Lyra. The Ring Nebula lies about 4,000 light years away, and is roughly 500 times the diameter of our Solar System. In this picture by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1998, dust filaments and globules are visible far from the central star. This helps indicate that the Ring Nebula is not spherical, but cylindrical.

The Dumbbells

These two nebulae are cataloged as M27 (left) and M76, popularly known as The Dumbbell and the Little Dumbbell. Not intended to indicate substandard mental prowess, their popular names refer to their similar, dumbbell or hourglass shapes. Both are planetary nebulae, gaseous shrouds cast off by dying sunlike stars, and are similar in physical size, at a light-year or so across. In each panel, the images were made at the same scale, so the apparent size difference is mostly because one is closer. Distance estimates suggest 1,200 light-years for the Dumbbell compared to 3,000 light-years or more for the Little Dumbell. These deep, narrow-band, false-color images show some remarkably complex structures in M27 and M76, highlighting emission from hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen atoms within the cosmic clouds.

The Trifid Nebula in Stars and Dust

Unspeakable beauty and unimaginable bedlam can be found together in the Trifid Nebula. Also known as M20, this photogenic nebula is visible with good binoculars towards the constellation of Sagittarius. The energetic processes of star formation create not only the colors but the chaos. The red-glowing gas results from high-energy starlight striking interstellar hydrogen gas. The dark dust filaments that lace M20 were created in the atmospheres of cool giant stars and in the debris from supernovae explosions. Which bright young stars light up the blue reflection nebula is still being investigated. The light from M20 we see today left perhaps 3,000 years ago, although the exact distance remains unknown. Light takes about 50 years to cross M20

IC 418: The Spirograph Nebula

What is creating the strange texture of IC 418? Dubbed the Spirograph Nebula for its resemblance to drawings from a cyclical drawing tool, planetary nebula IC 418 shows patterns that are not well understood. Perhaps they are related to chaotic winds from the variable central star, which changes brightness unpredictably in just a few hours. By contrast, evidence indicates that only a few million years ago, IC 418 was probably a well-understood star similar to our Sun. Only a few thousand years ago, IC 418 was probably a common red giant star. Since running out of nuclear fuel, though, the outer envelope has begun expanding outward leaving a hot remnant core destined to become a white-dwarf star, visible in the image center. The light from the central core excites surrounding atoms in the nebula causing them to glow. IC 418 lies about 2000 light-years away and spans 0.3 light-years across. This false-color image taken from the Hubble Space Telescope reveals the unusual details.
NGC 281: The Pacman Nebula

NGC 281 is a busy workshop of star formation. Prominent features include a small open cluster of stars, a diffuse red-glowing emission nebula, large lanes of obscuring gas and dust, and dense knots of dust and gas in which stars may still be forming. The open cluster of stars IC 1590 visible around the center has formed only in the last few million years. The brightest member of this cluster is actually a multiple-star system shining light that helps ionize the nebula's gas, causing the red glow visible throughout. The lanes of dust visible left of center are likely homes of future star formation. Particularly striking in the above photograph are the dark Bok globules visible against the bright nebula. The NGC 281 system, dubbed the Pacman nebula for its overall shape, lies about 10 thousand light years distant

NGC 1999: Reflection Nebula In Orion
A dusty bright nebula contrasts dramatically with a dusty dark nebula in this Hubble Space Telescope image recorded shortly after December's orbital servicing mission. The nebula, cataloged as NGC 1999, is a reflection nebula, which shines by reflecting light from a nearby star. Unlike emission nebulae, whose reddish glow comes from excited atoms of gas, reflection nebulae have a bluish cast as their interstellar dust grains preferentially reflect blue starlight. While perhaps the most famous reflection nebulae surround the bright young stars of the Pleiades star cluster, NGC 1999's stellar illumination is provided by the embedded variable star V380 Orionis, seen here just left of center. Extending right of center, the ominous dark nebula is actually a condensation of cold molecular gas and dust so thick and dense that it blocks light. From our perspective it lies in front of the bright nebula, silhouetted against the ghostly nebular glow. New stars will likely form within the dark cloud, called a Bok globule, as self-gravity continues to compress its dense gas and dust. Reflection nebula NGC 1999 lies about 1500 light-years away in the constellation Orion, just south of Orion's well known emission nebula, M42

Cone Nebula Close Up

Cones, pillars, and majestic flowing shapes abound in stellar nurseries where natal clouds of gas and dust are buffeted by energetic winds from newborn stars. A well-known example, the Cone Nebula within the bright galactic star-forming region NGC 2264, was captured in this close-up view from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. While the Cone Nebula, about 2,500 light-years away in Monoceros, is around 7 light-years long, the region pictured here surrounding the cone's blunted head is a mere 2.5 light-years across. In our neck of the galaxy that distance is just over half way from the Sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri. The massive star NGC 2264 IRS, seen by Hubble's infrared camera in 1997, is the likely source of the wind sculpting the Cone Nebula and lies off the top of the image. The Cone Nebula's reddish veil is produced by glowing hydrogen gas.

AE Aurigae and the Flaming Star Nebula

AE Aurigae is the bright star below and left of center in this evocative portrait of IC 405, also known as the Flaming Star Nebula. Embedded in the cosmic cloud, the hot, variable O-type star energizes the glow of hydrogen along convoluted filaments of atomic gas, its blue starlight scattered by interstellar dust. But AE Aurigae wasn't formed in the nebula it illuminates. Retracing the star's motion through space, astronomers conclude that AE Aurigae was probably born in the Orion Nebula. Close gravitational encounters with other stars ejected it from the region, along with another O star, Mu Columbae, over two million years ago. The runaway stars have drifted in opposite directions ever since, separating at about 200 kilometers per second. This sharp, detailed image of IC 405 spans over 5 light-years at the nebula's estimated distance of 1,500 light-years in the northern constellation Auriga, the Charioteer.

IC 4628: The Prawn Nebula
South of Antares, in the tail of the nebula-rich constellation Scorpius, lies emission nebula IC 4628. Nearby hot, massive stars, millions of years young, radiate the nebula with invisible ultraviolet light, stripping electrons from atoms. The electrons eventually recombine with the atoms to produce the visible nebular glow. This narrow band image adopts a typical false-color mapping of the atomic emission, showing hydrogen emission in green hues, sulfur as red and oxygen as blue. At an estimated distance of 6,000 light-years, the region shown is about 250 light-years across. The nebula is also cataloged as Gum 56 for Australian astronomer Colin Stanley Gum, but seafood-loving astronomers might know this cosmic cloud as The Prawn Nebula.

Orion Nebula: The Hubble View

Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula. Also known as M42, the nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away. The Orion Nebula offers one of the best opportunities to study how stars are born partly because it is the nearest large star-forming region, but also because the nebula's energetic stars have blown away obscuring gas and dust clouds that would otherwise block our view - providing an intimate look at a range of ongoing stages of starbirth and evolution. This detailed image of the Orion Nebula is the sharpest ever, constructed using data from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys and the European Southern Observatory's La Silla 2.2 meter telescope. The mosaic contains a billion pixels at full resolution and reveals about 3,000 stars

The Helix Nebula

Will our Sun look like this one day? The Helix Nebula is one of brightest and closest examples of a planetary nebula, a gas cloud created at the end of the life of a Sun-like star. The outer gasses of the star expelled into space appear from our vantage point as if we are looking down a helix. The remnant central stellar core, destined to become a white dwarf star, glows in light so energetic it causes the previously expelled gas to fluoresce. The Helix Nebula, given a technical designation of NGC 7293, lies about 700 light-years away towards the constellation of Aquarius and spans about 2.5 light-years. The above picture was taken by the Wide Field Imager on the 2.2-meter Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory. A close-up of the inner edge of the Helix Nebula shows complex gas knots of unknown origin.

The Elusive Jellyfish Nebula

Normally faint and elusive, the Jellyfish Nebula is caught in this alluring, false-color, telescopic view. Flanked by two bright stars, Mu and Eta Geminorum, at the foot of a celestial twin, the Jellyfish Nebula is the brighter arcing ridge of emission with dangling tentacles below and right of center. In fact, the cosmic jellyfish is seen to be part of bubble-shaped supernova remnant IC 443, the expanding debris cloud from a massive star that exploded. Light from the explosion first reached planet Earth over 30,000 years ago. Like its cousin in astrophysical waters the Crab Nebula supernova remnant, IC 443 is known to harbor a neutron star, the remnant of the collapsed stellar core. Emission nebula Sharpless 249 fills the field at the upper left. The Jellyfish Nebula is about 5,000 light-years away. At that distance, this image would be about 300 light-years across. The color scheme used in the narrowband composite was made popular in Hubble Space Telescope images, mapping emission from oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur atoms to blue, green and red colors.

A Dusty Iris Nebula

These clouds of interstellar dust and gas have blossomed 1,300 light-years away in the fertile star fields of the constellation Cepheus. Sometimes called the Iris Nebula and dutifully cataloged as NGC 7023, this is not the only nebula in the sky to evoke the imagery of flowers. Surrounding it, obscuring clouds of dust and cold molecular gas are also present and can suggest other convoluted and fantastic shapes. Within the Iris, dusty nebular material surrounds a hot, young star. The dominant color of the brighter reflection nebula is blue, characteristic of dust grains reflecting starlight. Central filaments of the cosmic dust glow with a faint reddish photoluminesence as some dust grains effectively convert the star's invisible ultraviolet radiation to visible red light. Infrared observations indicate that this nebula may contain complex carbon molecules known as PAHs. At the estimated distance of the Iris Nebula this remarkable wide field view is over 30 light-years across.

IC 5146: The Cocoon Nebula

Inside the Cocoon Nebula is a newly developing cluster of stars. Cataloged as IC 5146, the beautiful nebula is nearly 15 light-years wide, located some 4,000 light years away toward the northern constellation Cygnus. Like other star forming regions, it stands out in red, glowing, hydrogen gas excited by young, hot stars and blue, dust-reflected starlight at the edge of an otherwise invisible molecular cloud. In fact, the bright star near the center of this nebula is likely only a few hundred thousand years old, powering the nebular glow as it clears out a cavity in the molecular cloud's star forming dust and gas. This exceptionally deep color view of the Cocoon Nebula traces tantalizing features within and surrounding the dusty stellar nursery.

The Cat's Paw Nebula
Nebulae are perhaps as famous for being identified with familiar shapes as perhaps cats are for getting into trouble. Still, no known cat could have created the vast Cat's Paw Nebula visible in Scorpius. At 5,500 light years distant, Cat's Paw is an emission nebula with a red color that originates from an abundance of ionized hydrogen atoms. Alternatively known as the Bear Claw Nebula or NGC 6334, stars nearly ten times the mass of our Sun have been born there in only the past few million years. Pictured above, a wide angle, deep field image of the Cat's Paw nebula was culled from the second Digitized Sky Survey.

The Rosette Nebula

Would the Rosette Nebula by any other name look as sweet? The bland New General Catalog designation of NGC 2237 doesn't appear to diminish the appearance of this flowery emission nebula. Inside the nebula lies an open cluster of bright young stars designated NGC 2244. These stars formed about four million years ago from the nebular material and their stellar winds are clearing a hole in the nebula's center, insulated by a layer of dust and hot gas. Ultraviolet light from the hot cluster stars causes the surrounding nebula to glow. The Rosette Nebula spans about 100 light-years across, lies about 5000 light-years away, and can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Unicorn

IC 2118: The Witch Head Nebula
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble -- maybe Macbeth should have consulted the Witch Head Nebula. This suggestively shaped reflection nebula is associated with the bright star Rigel in the constellation Orion. More formally known as IC 2118, the Witch Head Nebula glows primarily by light reflected from bright star Rigel, located just off the upper right edge of the full image. Fine dust in the nebula reflects the light. The blue color is caused not only by Rigel's blue color but because the dust grains reflect blue light more efficiently than red. The same physical process causes Earth's daytime sky to appear blue, although the scatterers in Earth's atmosphere are molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. The nebula lies about 1000 light-years away

NGC 7008: The Fetus Nebula

Compact and round, NGC 7008 is recognized as a planetary nebula about 2,800 light-years distant in the nebula rich constellation of Cygnus. This impressive telescopic view shows off NGC 7008's remarkable colors and details by the skillful combination of broad band and narrow band images from two different telescopes with about 12 hours of total exposure time. The intriguing assortment of features within the nebula's approximately 1 light-year diameter suggest its popular name, the Fetus Nebula, but planetary nebulae are not associated with star birth. Instead, nebulae like NGC 7008 are produced during a brief phase that sun-like stars pass through toward the end of their lives. Ejecting their outer layers, the stars cool to eventually become white dwarf stars, like the star seen near the center of NGC 7008. This colorful image also includes an unrelated but still lovely gold and blue binary star system just below NGC 7008.

NGC 6888: The Crescent Nebula

NGC 6888, also known as the Crescent Nebula, is a cosmic bubble about 25 light-years across, blown by winds from its central, bright, massive star. This beautiful portrait of the nebula is from the Isaac Newton Telescope at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in the Canary Islands. It combines a composite color image with narrow band data that isolates light from hydrogen and oxygen atoms in the wind-blown nebula. The oxygen atoms produce the blue-green hue that seems to enshroud the detailed folds and filaments. NGC 6888's central star is classified as a Wolf-Rayet star (WR 136). The star is shedding its outer envelope in a strong stellar wind, ejecting the equivalent of the Sun's mass every 10,000 years. The nebula's complex structures are likely the result of this strong wind interacting with material ejected in an earlier phase. Burning fuel at a prodigious rate and near the end of its stellar life this star should ultimately go out with a bang in a spectacular supernova explosion. Found in the nebula rich constellation Cygnus, NGC 6888 is about 5,000 light-years away

The Lagoon Nebula

The large majestic Lagoon Nebula is home for many young stars and hot gas. Spanning 100 light years across while lying only about 5000 light years distant, the Lagoon Nebulae is so big and bright that it can be seen without a telescope toward the constellation of Sagittarius. Many bright stars are visible from NGC 6530, an open cluster that formed in the nebula only several million years ago. The greater nebula, also known as M8 and NGC 6523, is named "Lagoon" for the band of dust seen to the left of the open cluster's center. A bright knot of gas and dust in the nebula's center is known as the Hourglass Nebula. The above picture is a newly released, digitally stitched panorama of M8 taken as part of the GigaGalaxy Zoom project by the Wide Field Imager attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter Telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The vista spans three times the diameter of the Moon, while the highest resolution image version occupies over 350 million pixels. Star formation continues in the Lagoon Nebula as witnessed by the many globules that exist there.

The Medusa Nebula

Braided, serpentine filaments of glowing gas suggest this nebula's popular name, The Medusa Nebula. Also known as Abell 21, this Medusa is an old planetary nebula some 1,500 light-years away in the constellation Gemini. Like its mythological namesake, the nebula is associated with a dramatic transformation. The planetary nebula phase represents a final stage in the evolution of low mass stars like the sun, as they transform themselves from red giants to hot white dwarf stars and in the process shrug off their outer layers. Ultraviolet radiation from the hot star powers the nebular glow. The Medusa's transforming star is near the center of the overall bright crescent shape. In this deep, wide telescopic view, fainter filaments clearly extend below and to the left of the bright crescent region. The Medusa Nebula is estimated to be over 4 light-years across

MyCn18: An Hourglass Nebula

The sands of time are running out for the central star of this hourglass-shaped planetary nebula. With its nuclear fuel exhausted, this brief, spectacular, closing phase of a Sun-like star's life occurs as its outer layers are ejected - its core becoming a cooling, fading white dwarf. In 1995, astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to make a series of images of planetary nebulae, including the one above. Here, delicate rings of colorful glowing gas (nitrogen-red, hydrogen-green, and oxygen-blue) outline the tenuous walls of the "hourglass". The unprecedented sharpness of the HST images has revealed surprising details of the nebula ejection process and may help resolve the outstanding mystery of the variety of complex shapes and symmetries of planetary nebulae.

The Butterfly Nebula

The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth's night sky are often named for flowers or insects, and NGC 6302 is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the central star of this particular planetary nebula is exceptionally hot though -- shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This dramatically detailed close-up of the dying star's nebula was recorded by the newly upgraded Hubble Space Telescope. Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view, almost edge-on to the line-of-sight. Molecular hydrogen has been detected in the hot star's dusty cosmic shroud. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation Scorpius.

The Ant Nebula
Why isn't this ant a big sphere? Planetary nebula Mz3 is being cast off by a star similar to our Sun that is, surely, round. Why then would the gas that is streaming away create an ant-shaped nebula that is distinctly not round? Clues might include the high 1000-kilometer per second speed of the expelled gas, the light-year long length of the structure, and the magnetism of the star visible above at the nebula's center. One possible answer is that Mz3 is hiding a second, dimmer star that orbits close in to the bright star. A competing hypothesis holds that the central star's own spin and magnetic field are channeling the gas. Since the central star appears to be so similar to our own Sun, astronomers hope that increased understanding of the history of this giant space ant can provide useful insight into the likely future of our own Sun and Earth.

Rotten Egg Nebula

Fast expanding gas clouds mark the end for a central star in the Rotten Egg Nebula. The once-normal star has run out of nuclear fuel, causing the central regions to contract into a white dwarf. Some of the liberated energy causes the outer envelope of the star to expand. In this case, the result is a photogenic proto- planetary nebula. As the million-kilometer per hour gas rams into the surrounding interstellar gas, a supersonic shock front forms where ionized hydrogen and nitrogen glow blue. The complex shock front had been hypothesized previously but never so clearly imaged. Thick gas and dust hide the dying central star. The Rotten Egg Nebula, also known as the Calabash Nebula and OH231.8+4.2, will likely develop into a full bipolar planetary nebula over the next 1000 years. The nebula, pictured above, is about 1.4 light-years in extent and located about 5000 light-years away toward the constellation of Puppis. 

The Cat's Eye Nebula

Staring across interstellar space, the alluring Cat's Eye nebula lies three thousand light-years from Earth. A classic planetary nebula, the Cat's Eye (NGC 6543) represents a final, brief yet glorious phase in the life of a sun-like star. This nebula's dying central star may have produced the simple, outer pattern of dusty concentric shells by shrugging off outer layers in a series of regular convulsions. But the formation of the beautiful, more complex inner structures is not well understood. Seen so clearly in this sharp Hubble Space Telescope image, the truly cosmic eye is over half a light-year across. Of course, gazing into the Cat's Eye, astronomers may well be seeing the fate of our sun, destined to enter its own planetary nebula phase of evolution ... in about 5 billion years.

The Eskimo Nebula

In 1787, astronomer William Herschel discovered the Eskimo Nebula. From the ground, NGC 2392 resembles a person's head surrounded by a parka hood. In 2000, the Hubble Space Telescope imaged the Eskimo Nebula. From space, the nebula displays gas clouds so complex they are not fully understood. The Eskimo Nebula is clearly a planetary nebula, and the gas seen above composed the outer layers of a Sun-like star only 10,000 years ago. The inner filaments visible above are being ejected by strong wind of particles from the central star. The outer disk contains unusual light-year long orange filaments. The Eskimo Nebula spans about 1/3 of a light year and lies in our Milky Way Galaxy, about 3,000 light years distant, toward the constellation of the Twins (Gemini).

The Red Rectangle Nebula

How was the unusual Red Rectangle nebula created? At the nebula's center is an aging binary star system that surely powers the nebula but does not, as yet, explain its colors. The unusual shape of the Red Rectangle is likely due to a thick dust torus which pinches the otherwise spherical outflow into tip-touching cone shapes. Because we view the torus edge-on, the boundary edges of the cone shapes seem to form an X. The distinct rungs suggest the outflow occurs in fits and starts. The unusual colors of the nebula are less well understood, however, and current speculation holds that they are partly provided by hydrocarbon molecules that may actually be building blocks for organic life. The Red Rectangle nebula lies about 2,300
 light years away towards the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros). The nebula is shown above in unprecedented detail as captured recently by the Hubble Space Telescope. In a few million years, as one of the central stars becomes further depleted of nuclear fuel, the Red Rectangle nebula will likely bloom into a planetary nebula.

NGC 6369: The Little Ghost Nebula
This pretty planetary nebula, cataloged as NGC 6369, was discovered by 18th century astronomer William Herschel as he used a telescope to explore the medicinal constellation Ophiucus. Round and planet-shaped, the nebula is also relatively faint and has acquired the popular moniker of Little Ghost Nebula. Planetary nebulae in general are not at all related to planets, but instead are created at the end of a sun-like star's life as its outer layers expand into space while the star's core shrinks to become a white dwarf. The transformed white dwarf star, seen near the center, radiates strongly at ultraviolet wavelengths and powers the expanding nebula's glow. Surprisingly complex details and structures of NGC 6369 are revealed in this delightful color image composed from Hubble Space Telescope data. The nebula's main ring structure is about a light-year across and the glow from ionized oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms are colored blue, green, and red respectively. Over 2,000 light-years away, the Little Ghost Nebula offers a glimpse of the fate of our Sun, which should produce its own pretty planetary nebula only about 5 billion years from now.

The Cosmic Web of the Tarantula Nebula

It is the largest and most complex star forming region in the entire galactic neighborhood. Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy orbiting our Milky Way galaxy, the region's spidery appearance is responsible for its popular name, the Tarantula nebula. This tarantula, however, is about 1,000 light-years across. Were it placed at the distance of Milky Way's Orion Nebula, only 1,500 light-years distant and the nearest stellar nursery to Earth, it would appear to cover about 30 degrees (60 full moons) on the sky. Intriguing details of the nebula are visible in the above image shown in scientific colors. The spindly arms of the Tarantula nebula surround NGC 2070, a star cluster that contains some of the brightest, most massive stars known, visible in blue on the right. Since massive stars live fast and die young, it is not so surprising that the cosmic Tarantula also lies near the site of the closest recent supernova

NGC 1499: The California Nebula

What's California doing in space? Drifting through the Orion Arm of the spiral Milky Way Galaxy, this cosmic cloud by chance echoes the outline of California on the west coast of the United States. Our own Sun also lies within the Milky Way's Orion Arm, only about 1,500 light-years from the California Nebula. Also known as NGC 1499, the classic emission nebula is around 100 light-years long. On many images, the most prominent glow of the California Nebula is the red light characteristic of hydrogen atoms recombining with long lost electrons, stripped away (ionized) by energetic starlight. In the above image, however, hydrogen is colored green, while sulfur is mapped to red and oxygen mapped to blue. The star most likely providing the energetic starlight that ionizes much of the nebular gas is the bright, hot, bluish Xi Persei, just outside the right image edge. A regular target for astrophotographers, the California Nebula can be spotted with a wide-field telescope under a dark sky toward the constellation of Perseus, not far from the Pleiades.

NGC 6960: The Witch's Broom Nebula

Ten thousand years ago, before the dawn of recorded human history, a new light must suddenly have appeared in the night sky and faded after a few weeks. Today we know this light was an exploding star and record the colorful expanding cloud as the Veil Nebula. Pictured above is the west end of the Veil Nebula known technically as NGC 6960 but less formally as the Witch's Broom Nebula. The rampaging gas gains its colors by impacting and exciting existing nearby gas. The supernova remnant lies about 1400 light-years away towards the constellation of Cygnus. This Witch's Broom actually spans over three times the angular size of the full Moon. The bright star 52 Cygnus is visible with the unaided eye from a dark location but unrelated to the ancient supernova.

Snake Nebula

Dark nebulae snake across a gorgeous expanse of stars in this wide-field view toward the pronounceable constellation Ophiuchus and the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. In fact, the central S-shape seen here is well known as the Snake Nebula. It is also listed as Barnard 72 (B72), one of 182 dark markings of the sky cataloged in the early 20th century by astronomer E. E. Barnard. Unlike bright emission nebulae and star clusters, Barnard's nebulae are interstellar dark clouds of obscuring gas and dust. Their shapes are visible in cosmic silhouette only because they lie in the foreground along the line of sight to rich star fields and glowing stellar nurseries near the plane of our Galaxy. Many of Barnard's dark nebulae are themselves likely sites of future star formation. Barnard 72 is a few light years across and about 650 light years away

Source : Nebula
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