How could stars form such a spooky and familiar shape as a human skull? First, the complex process of star formation creates nebulas of many shapes and sizes -- it is human perception that identifies the skull shape. Next, the physical reasons for the large nearly empty cavities that resemble the skull's eyes and mouth in nebula DR 6 are the strong stellar winds and energetic light emanating from about ten bright young stars in the nebula's central "nose".
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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 in a recent image taken by the Canada France Hawaii Telescope. apod.nasa.gov/...
The Tarantula Nebula is more than 1,000 light-years across - a giant emission nebula within our neighboring galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud. Inside this cosmic arachnid lies a central young cluster of massive stars, cataloged as R136, whose intense radiation and strong winds have helped energize the nebular glow and shape the spidery filaments. In this impressive color mosaic of images from the Wide-Field Imager camera on ESO's 2.2 meter telescope at La Silla Observatory
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. 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.
How did this nebula get created? The Cocoon Nebula, cataloged as IC 5146, is a strikingly beautiful nebula located about 4,000 light years away toward the constellation of Cygnus. Inside the Cocoon is a newly developing open cluster of stars. Like other stellar nurseries, the Cocoon Nebula is, at the same time, an emission nebula, a reflection nebula, and an absorption nebula. apod.nasa.gov/...
M57: The Ring Nebula This planetary nebula's simple, graceful appearance is thought to be due to perspective -- our view from planet Earth looking straight into what is actually a barrel-shaped cloud of gas shrugged off by a dying central star. Hot blue gas near the energizing central star gives way to progressively cooler green and yellow gas at greater distances with the coolest red gas along the outer boundary. Dark, elongated structures can also be seen near the nebula's edge.
Infrared radiation from the well-studied Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) a mere 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The two light-year diameter shroud of dust and gas around a central white dwarf has long been considered an excellent example of a planetary nebula, representing the final stages in the evolution of a sun-like star. But the Spitzer data show the nebula's central star itself is immersed in a bright infrared glow. Models suggest the glow is produced by a dust debris disk.
The Eagle Nebula, As powerful starlight whittles away these cool cosmic mountains, the statuesque pillars that remain might be imagined as mythical beasts. Pictured above is one of several striking dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula that might be described as a gigantic alien fairy. This fairy, however, is ten light years tall and spews radiation much hotter than common fire. The greater Eagle Nebula, M16, is actually a giant evaporating shell of gas and dust
A photogenic group of nebulae can be found in Chamaeleon, a constellation visible predominantly in skies south of the Earth's equator. Towards Chamaeleon, dark molecular clouds and bright planetary nebula NGC 3195 can be found. Visible near the center of the above photograph is a reflection nebula surrounding a young bright star. On the lower right, a dark molecular cloud blocks the light from stars behind it.
The Cocoon Nebula, cataloged as IC 5146, is a strikingly beautiful nebula located about 4,000 light years away toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus). Inside the Cocoon Nebula is a newly developing open cluster of stars. Like other stellar nurseries, the Cocoon Nebula holds, at the same time, a bright red emission nebula, blue reflection nebulas, and dark absorption nebulas.
NGC 2237 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