A Swan’s Starry Lake

Credit: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgement: OmegaCen/Astro-WISE/Kapteyn Institute

A swan glides in a glowing lake in this image of the Swan Nebula from the European Southern Observatory’s VST telescope.

Explore the plumes of gas that make up the swan’s body and neck. Some observers see the Greek letter omega in the nebula’s dust clouds. Others see a barber’s pole. What images or stories do you see? Tell us by leaving a note below.

The Swan Nebula, also known as Messier 17 or the Omega Nebula, is a vast region of gas and dust near the heart of our Milky Way Galaxy. This region is rich in dust and hydrogen gas making it a perfect place for new stars to form. In nebulae, gravity pulls gas and dust together. If enough dust and gas compresses together, the clump can begin to fuse hydrogen. A star is born producing its own light and heat. Hot, young stars dominate the Swan Nebula. Searing winds from these young stars carve patterns and bubbles in the nebula while scorching ultraviolet light warms and energizes the nebula causing it to glow.

The Swan Nebula is located about 5,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Sagittarius the Archer. It takes light zipping along at more than six trillion miles per year more than 15 years to cross the nebula. Swiss astronomer Jean-Philippe Loys de Chéseaux discovered the nebula in 1745. Charles Messier added it to his catalog in 1764.

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