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
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.
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/...
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.
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
The Horsehead Nebula, it is embedded in the vast and complex Orion Nebula. The dark molecular cloud, roughly 1,500 light years distant, is cataloged as Barnard 33 and is visible only because its obscuring dust is silhouetted against the bright emission nebula IC 434. The bright blue reflection nebula NGC 2023 is visible on the lower left. The prominent horse head portion of the nebula is really just part of a larger cloud of dust which can be seen extending toward the bottom of the picture.
The Great Nebula in Orion can be found just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. This fuzzy patch contains one of the closest stellar nurseries, lying at a distance of about 1500 light years. In the above picture, the red region on the left consists of nebulae designated M42 and M43 and contains the bright Trapezium open cluster. The blue region on the right is a nebula primarily reflecting the light from internal bright stars.