Posts Tagged ‘M17’

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.

Dark Dragons

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Povich (Penn State Univ.)

A dark dragon appears to shoot out of a bright nebula in this image of M17 from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

M17 is a dusty place where stars are born. In this infrared image from Spitzer, M17 glows with the light of giant newborn stars. Explore the wispy clouds, dark lanes of dust and bubbles of this nebula. The bright blaze of light and color near the bottom is home to the most massive type of star, known as an O-type star. These stars are many times heavier than our Sun. Intense winds from these stars blow bubbles in the nebula.

Right now, M17 is moving through the Sagittarius spiral arm of our Milky Way Galaxy. Waves of star formation will be triggered as the gas and dust of the nebula interacts with gas and dust of the spiral arm. New stars are being born within the dusty dragon, called M17SWex. Sometime in the future, the dark nebula will flare up like the bright nebula nearby.

Also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula, M17 is found about 6,800 light-years from Earth toward the rich starfields of the constellation Sagittarius. Swiss astronomer Philippe Loys de Chéseaux discovered the bright nebula in 1745. French astronomer Charles Messier catalogued the object in 1764.

Thanksgiving Swan

Credit: NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA

I can’t share turkey with you today but I can share a deep look by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope of the Swan Nebula. When you’re zoomed out, look for the red part of the image near the left edge. This part of the nebula has a turkey look to me. What else can you find as you explore the image?

NASA/JPL–Caltech/Univ. of Wisc.

NASA/JPL–Caltech/Univ. of Wisc.

Also called the Omega Nebula, the Horseshoe Nebula, or the Lobster Nebula, M17 is a region of star formation. The nebula glows from the light and radiation of hot, blue stars buried deep in the nebula. The watercolor-like image shows ridges of gas and dust; all the ingredients needed for making new stars.

M17 is found in the constellation Sagittarius about 5,500 light-years from Earth.

Hooded in the mist

Credit: European Space Agency, NASA, and J. Hester (Arizona State University)

This nebula is known as the Omega or Swan Nebula but look close. Can you see the hooded figure in the mist?

The Omega Nebula, or M17, is an area raging with gas and dust. It is a perfect place to make stars. Glowing hydrogen, oxygen and sulfur gas make up this massive and bright nebula. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope peered into this sea of dust showing how ultraviolet radiation coming from young, massive stars are sculpting the nebula around them. Wave-like patterns of gas, glowing red, in the center of the image are being warmed by the ultraviolet light. UV light also causes the atoms in the gas to move quicker and to glow. The heat and light cause some of the gas to stream away into space. Look for the greenish and bluish gas near the top of the image. The bluish gas is oxygen and the greenish gas hydrogen. This hotter gas creates a mist that hides background structure in the nebula. The UV light also clumps up the gas in the wave tops and compresses it. Eventually solar wind from the hot stars may push enough material into the wave tops to cause new stars to light up the nebula.

M17 is found about 5,500 light-years away toward the constellation Sagittarius, the centaur. If we started on one side of this huge nebula, it would take 3 years traveling at the speed of light to reach the other side of the image.

Is it a Swan or Lobster?

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisc.

Deep in the constellation Sagittarius, a cloud that looks like a swan is making new stars. The Swan Nebula is not a quiet nursery though as shown in this image from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope. It’s an active and tumbling cloud of gas and dust. Massive stars make up the center part of the star cloud. These stars force rivers of gas and dust to slam into the quiet outer regions creating twists and dark areas. Eventually, these dark pockets will form into new stars as well.

Astronomers also are interested in bow shocks found in the image. The bow shocks, like the ripples made by a boat in a lake, form when the fast moving gas slams into another object. The gas piles up on the front edge and then flows around the object. One astronomer, Matt Povich, describes it like a “rock in a rushing river.”

The Swan Nebula, or M17, is about 6,000 light years away toward the constellation Sagittarius, the archer. It is also called the Omega Nebula, M17, NGC 6618, The Horseshoe Nebula, and in the southern hemisphere, the Lobster Nebula

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows astronomers the universe in infrared. Infrared is a kind of light that we cannot see but we feel in the form of heat. Spitzer has special telescopes that change that heat into something we can actually see.


The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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