Sunday, July 09, 2006

Spaced out Sundays

M42, aka the Orion Nebula; the birthplace of stars and maybe the most photographed nebula in the sky. It resides in the Orion constellation (in the “sword” portion) and is easily seen with the naked eye. This is the closest stellar nursery (1500 light years away) we have and has long been a source of fascination for astronomers.

M42 is a cloud of gas and dust forming new stars and protoplanetary disks (potential planetary systems in the making). The galaxy contains tens of thousands of dark nebulae, so-called because the dust and gas obscure the light of stars behind them. Over time clumps of higher density gas form and grow within some of these, their gravitational attraction drawing matter from the surrounding cloud. As a clump grows, the weight of layer upon layer of gas builds up, increasing the pressure and temperature at the clump's core. The pressure continues to rise until hydrogen nuclei are packed so tightly together that they fuse, igniting a thermo-nuclear reaction that signals the birth of a star.

This beautiful picture shows the dark trails of dust, red glowing hydrogen gas and blue-tinted dust.

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