Posts Tagged ‘Scorpius’

Elephants in the Mist


A couple of elephants wander across a celestial savannah in this image from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.

Zoom across the pink clouds of NGC 6357. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

NGC 6357 lies deep in the heart of the Milky Way galaxy in the constellation Scorpius, the Scorpion. Zoom into the bright stars at the center of the broad ribbon of dust. These bright blue stars are just a few million years old. New stars are being born in this chaotic cloud of gas and dust. Intense ultraviolet radiation and streaming solar winds hollow out the dust forming cavities and sculpt it into fantastic shapes. To the right, where the image was originally centered, look for the elephant trunk-like columns. These are similar to the “Pillars of Creation” in the Eagle Nebula.

Some observers think the nebula looks like a lobster. English astronomer Sir John Herschel first observed NGC 6357 during an observing trip to South Africa in 1837. It was only in the 20th century with the aid of photography that the full extent of the huge nebula was found. In infrared images (this one is in visible light), scientists noted that a dove shape dominated the left side of the nebula while the right side resembled a skull. They gave it the name “War and Peace Nebula.”

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Sam and a Billion Fireflies

ESO/S. Guisard (

Sam, the owl, in hues of pink, yellow and blue glares out of the panorama of a billion fireflies in an image from the European Southern Observatory.

Explore the rich star fields of Sagittarius and Scorpius. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The owl, to the right in the image, is actually Rho Opiuchi cloud complex and Antares. This nebula, similar to the Great Nebula in Orion, is just over 400 light-years away, making it one of the closest star-making regions to Earth. As gas and dust interact within these nebulae, they begin to swirl and collapse under gravity. When enough material collects, the temperature rises. Sometimes the temperature rises enough so that hydrogen atoms begin to fuse. When this happens a new star is born. some of the stars in these gas-and-dust rich areas are many times more massive and brighter than our Sun. These stars give off strong solar winds that clear out a space around the star. The huge stars also send out a torrent of ultraviolet radiation that excites hydrogen atoms in the nebula causing it to glow.

The bright glow of stars to the left is the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Between here and there a dusty spiral arm blocks the light. In this image, look for the S-shaped dark nebula near the center of the image toward the top. Astronomers call this Snake Nebula. It is part of a larger structure known as the Dark Horse Nebula. The horse is standing up and down. The Snake Nebula forms its front leg while the back legs are outlined in a dark ribbon of dark dust just below. That leg also forms what’s known as the Pipe Nebula.

As we dive deeper into the dark lane of dust, look for the reddish nebulae, including Trifid Nebula and the Lagoon Nebula. Toward the bottom of the image, look for NGC 6357 and the Cat’s Paw Nebula, or NGC 6334. New stars are forming in all of these nebulae.

This image, taken by astrophotographer Stéphane Guisard, is part of ESO’s GigaGalaxy Zoom project. The mosaic was assembled from about 1200 individual images taken at the observatory at Cerro Paranal in Chile.

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Jabbah’s Dolphin

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team


A dolphin frolicks in the dust around the bright star Jabbah in this image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Explorer, or WISE.

Explore the green filaments of nebula, yellow-tinged bubbles and red dust of this infrared image. What shapes and stories can you tell? Leave a note below.

WISE’s telescope sees the Universe in infrared. Humans feel the infrared part of the light spectrum more than we see it. It lies just outside the visible light part of the spectrum. We feel infrared as heat. So WISE shows warm dust allowing astronomers to see deep within star clouds where thick dust blocks visible light. And in the process we might see new stars developing. The green and yellow clouds are dust particles that are slightly warmer than the surrounding space. Areas in red are patches of even warmer dust heated up by the nearby stars.

Zoom into the bright star surrounded by a red glow just to the right of center. This is Jabbah. The name is Arabic and means “forehead of the Scorpion.” But while it appears to be one star, Jabbah actually is a collection of stars. Each of these stars is brighter and more massive than ten Suns. The star cloud near Jabbah, creating the dolphin shape, is called IC 4592. IC 4601 is another nebula to the far left of the image.

Another star of interest in this image also is surrounded by the warm glow of red dust. Zoom into the lower right corner of the image. The warm dust around this star, known as 9 Scorpii, is pushed to one side. 9 Scorpii is another massive star but this one is moving quickly through space. It’s zipping along at about 1,000 kilometers per second, or more than 224,000 miles per hour. The star could travel the distance between the Moon and Earth in just one hour. The red cloud pushed to one side may be a bow shock as the star pushes through the dust like a boat creates waves on the water. Astronomers think that 9 Scorpii may be a runaway star. It possibly could have been part of a star system where a much more massive star exploded. The blast sent 9 Scorpii careening into deep space.

All of the stars found within this cloud probably formed all at about the same time about 5 million years ago. Our Sun may have formed from a similar cloud of gas and dust more than four billion years ago. The stars that formed with the Sun have long since wandered away from their birthplace.

Jabbah, 9 Scorpii and IC 4592 are all found about 440 light-years away toward the constellation Scorpius.

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Nebular “A”

Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Maíz Apellániz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain)

Starting out our starry alphabet is the nebula near Pismis 24. Harsh winds from hot, new stars have hollowed out an “A” in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

The stars of Pismis 24 are massive; some more than 100 times heavier than our Sun. The new stars also unleash a powerful stellar wind that shapes the nebula below. Explore the image and wander from the stars down to the nebula. You’ll encounter tall pillars of dense dust and wispy tendrils of gas. My favorite shape in this cloud is the hand and finger pointing up at Pismis 24. Can you find it? All pillars, or elephant trunks, point back toward the flow of the stellar wind. You can also find a new star near the bottom of the image hollowing out a bubble in the nebula. Can you find other shapes in the nebula, such as tadpoles and worms? These denser pockets of gas may shrink down and ignite on their own as stars.

NGC 6357 glows because of the light of the newly formed stars. Intense ultraviolet radiation coming from the star cluster, excites the gas molecules in the nebula and causes them to glow. Astronomers call this kind of nebula and emission nebula. NGC 6357 and Pismis 24 are found in the constellation Scorpius, the scorpion, about 8,000 light-years from Earth. In our starship, traveling at the speed of light, ten years would pass while moving from the star at the bottom of the nebula to the star cluster at the top.

Baby Blanket

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)

Newborn stars are tucked away in their baby blanket of gas and dust in this image of Rho Ophiuchus from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Zoom into the folds of molecular hydrogen gas glowing red in this image. Explore the bubble-like nebulae surrounding some of the stars. What shapes and stories do you see in this nebula? Leave a note below.

Rho Ophichus, or Rho Oph as it’s known by astronomers, is home to some very young stars. Researchers of have found more than 300 young objects within the central cloud with ages of only about 300,000 years. Their great-granddaddies, the oldest stars in the universe, are more than 12 billion years old. Even our Sun, with an age of more than 4 billion years is a grown-up to these young objects.

Spitzer sees the universe in infrared light. With the aid of the telescope, scientists can peer deep into cold clouds of star dust and see warm objects that might be the beginnings of stars. The colors of this infrared image represent temperatures within the star cloud. The colors also reveal aspects of the nebula surrounding the stars. The youngest stars surrounded by their dusty shrouds are tinged with yellow-green. Older stars in the nebula have already blown away their blankets of dust and show more blue-white.

Rho Oph is only 407 light-years from Earth making it one of the closest star-making regions. It lies toward the constellations Scorpius, the scorpion, and Ophiuchus, the snake charmer.


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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