Posts Tagged ‘nebula’

Smoky Horse


A smoky horse rises from a pink cloud of hydrogen gas in this spectacular new image of the Horseahd Nebula from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Zoom in and explore this dark pillar of dust. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most easily recognized nebula in the sky. Identified in 1888 by Williamina Fleming, its swirling shape resembles a horse’s head when viewed from Earth. Even in a telescope, the emission nebula is hard to see. Fleming identified the nebula using photographic plates taken at the Harvard College Observatory.

The vast interstellar cloud of dust is found just south of the star Alnitak, the most eastern star in Orion’s belt. The pillar of dust and gas, found about 1,500 light-years from Earth, collapsed from the even larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The clumps of material reflect light from the nearby hot star Sigma Orionis.

Usually the Horsehead Nebula is shown as a dark pillar against a bright pink background. The pink nebula is being energized by young, hot stars deep in the nebula. Ultraviolet radiation streaming from these stars causes hydrogen gas in the the nebula to glow pink and red. For this image, Hubble shows this area in infrared light. Infrared is a longer wavelength of light than visible light. We feel infrared light as heat. By using this kind of light, Hubble can pierce the dusty outer layers of the nebula and see deeper, revealing ghostly swirls and delicate folds of gas.

The image also reveals hundreds of faraway galaxies glowing with their own warm light. Pan around to find these stunning gems.

Scientists released this new image of the Horsehead Nebula to celebrate Hubble’s 23rd year in orbit.

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A Running Chicken


With wings spread, a chicken-shape dominates this pink cloud of hydrogen gas and newborn stars in this image from the European Southern Observatory.

Explore the Running Chicken Nebula. What stories or pictures do you see in the patterns of this nebula? Leave a comment below.

Officially the nebula is known as IC 2944 or the Lambda Centauri Nebula. The nebula is a sprawling star-making factory. The nebula is lit by a loose cluster of hot, blue stars. These stars were born just eight million years ago. Radiation from these new stars warms and excites the hydrogen gas of the nebula causing it to glow with a characteristic pink color. These stars are also much more massive than our Sun. Their howling stellar winds and blistering ultraviolet radiation carve out the unique shapes, cavities and pillars we see within the cloud.

Zoom into the dark blobs near the top of the image. These are known as Thackeray Globules. Named after their discoverer AD Thackeray, these little inky blobs of dust are found in areas rich in star formation. Similar to Bok Globules, they may be cocoons where new stars are born. Each of these little clouds is about one light-year across. They contain enough gas and dust to create more than 15 stars the same size as our Sun.

IC 2944 is found relatively close to Earth. Light, traveling at more than 6 trillion miles per year from the direction of the constellation Centaurus, the Centaur, has taken almost 6,000 years to reach our eyes.

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Growing, glowing spider

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L.Townsley et al.; Infrared: NASA/JPL/PSU/L.Townsley et al.

A glowing spider is grows inside this massive star-forming region known as the Tarantula Nebula.

Explore the spider outlines in this image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope. What stories or patterns does your imagination see? Leave a note below.

The Tarantula Nebula or 30 Doradus, is one of the largest star-making regions known to astronomers. It is huge and it is growing. It takes light more than 1,100 years, traveling nine trillion kilometers per year, to cross the nebula. The gargantuan nebula is found in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring dwarf galaxy, about 160,000 light-years from Earth. About 2,400 massive lie in the heart of the Tarantula Nebula. Scorching radiation and powerful winds from these stars sculpt and shape the surrounding nebula. The ultraviolet radiation from the stars also causes the hydrogen gas within the nebula to glow bright red.

Look deep in the nebula for bubbles in the nebula. Shockwaves, like ripples in a pond, move out from the massive stars. Bubbles also form as the massive stars destroy themselves as supernovae.

The Tarantula Nebula has enough material to make 450,000 sun-like stars. Astronomers speculate that one day the nebula will form a globular cluster. The Tarantula Nebula is similar to the closer Orion Nebula. If the much brighter Tarantula Nebula was as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula, it would cast shadows.

A twisting and turning sea

Credit: NASA/ESA and Hubble

Dark dust twists and turns in this image of the Carina Nebula from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the glowing gas and dark blobs. What stories can you tell? Leave a note below.

This image is just a tiny part of the vast Carina Nebula. The nebula is a star-making factory about 7,500 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Carina, the Keel of Jason’s ship the Argo from Greek mythology. The abundance of gas and dust makes it a perfect place for stars to form. Gravity pulls globs of dust closer together. As more material piles up, it starts to warm up and eventually gets hot enough for hydrogen atoms to begin to fuse. The inky dark blobs in the upper right of the image may be cocoons for new stars. Astronomers call them Bok Globules, after American astronomer Bart Bok who first described them in the 1940s.

Some big stars have already been born from the nebula. These stars blaze so brightly and give off so much radiation that it carves the nebula into incredible shapes. The stars radiation also excites atoms in the cloud causing them to glow like a neon sign.

A thin veil of dust lies between Earth and the glowing background. Just like clouds on Earth, the dust clouds in the nebula flow, swirl and twist with unseen currents.

Carina Blues

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

We are used to seeing a rainbow of colors when we gaze out into the universe. But light beyond the range of our eyes is no less beautiful as we see in this image of Eta Carinae from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore the subtle reds and blues in this image surrounding one of the most massive stars in the Milky Way. What shapes and pictures do you see in this star cloud? Leave a note below.

The region surrounding Eta Carinae is a giant star-making factory. Sometimes pockets of hydrogen gas and dust form pockets. Gravity pulls this star-stuff together. If enough material comes together, a star may be born. In these vast clouds, giant stars can be born. Eta Carinae is one of them. It is 100 times heavier and a million times brighter than our own Sun. Eta Carinae is the bright star in the upper center of this image. Surrounding the star is a bubble of gas and dust that is being pushed away by strong winds and blistering radiation.

Blue areas in the image are regions of transparent gas and dust. We see these regions in normal, visible light. Red, orange and green areas are usually hidden from view by dark clouds of dust.

Eta Carinae is found about 10,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Carina, the Keel of the mythological ship Argo Navis.


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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