Top 5 Most Beautiful Nebulae in the Universe
Deep space is teeming with innumerable sources of breath-taking beauty, from stars to planets to galaxies—and many more—but one of the most beautiful of all these celestial bodies is undoubtedly the nebula.
At this point, you might be wondering: What are nebulae?
Nebulae are enormous clouds of dust and gas floating around in space. Some nebulae are the result of the explosion of a dying star or a supernova, while others are regions where new stars are just beginning to form. For this reason, some scientists have dubbed nebulae "star nurseries."
There are five different variants of nebulae, and these variants include planetary nebulae, emission nebulae, reflection nebulae, dark nebulae, and supernova remnants.
A planetary nebula possesses a ring-like shape and forms from the expanding shell of gas around aging stars.
An emission nebula shines with its own source of light.
In contrast, a reflection nebula does not create its own light but instead shines by reflecting the light of nearby stars.
Dark nebulae are interstellar clouds containing a very high concentration of dust, which allows them to scatter and absorb all incident optical light. This absorption of light makes dark nebulae completely opaque at visible wavelengths.
A supernova remnant results from the death of a star and its accompanying explosion, which scientists call a supernova. A supernova remnant is comprised of material shot out from the star's explosion and interstellar material swept up along the way.
The stunning beauty of nebulae is why they are known as the gems of the universe. Nebulae have been discovered to come in an astonishing range of shapes, colors, and sizes, and we’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of the top 5 most beautiful nebulae for you, giving you a small taste of the immense beauty of our universe:
5. The Carina Nebula
This wonderful fantasy mountaintop cloaked in wispy clouds is known as the Carina Nebula or the Mystic Mountain. This image, which appears even more dramatic than fiction, captures the chaotic activity of a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust as it is eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. The pillar also faces an internal assault, as infant stars buried inside it emit jets of gas, which can be seen streaming from the nebula's towering peaks.
Scorching radiation and fast winds(streams of charged particles, as there is no air in space) from super-hot newborn stars in the nebula mold the pillar into what you see here and causes new stars to form within it. Streamers of hot ionized gas can be seen flowing off the ridges of the structure, and wispy veils of gas and dust, illuminated by starlight, drift about the nebula.
The three colors portrayed in this image correspond to the glow of oxygen(blue), hydrogen and nitrogen(green), and sulfur(red).
4. The Helix Nebula
This image showcases the details of the Helix Nebula, one of the nearest planetary nebulae to Earth. Something particularly special about the Helix Nebula is the web of filamentary "bicycle-spoke" features embedded in the colorful red and blue gas ring, which almost looks like the details of the human retina.
From Earth, the nebula looks somewhat like a bubble, but, in reality, the Helix Nebula is a cylinder pointed nearly directly toward us. A forest of thousands of comet-like filaments points at the central stellar remnant, a small, super-hot white dwarf.
The tentacles of this nebula formed when a hot "stellar wind" of gas plowed into colder shells of dust and gas, which had been ejected by the doomed star. The radiant colors of this image correspond to glowing oxygen(blue) and hydrogen and nitrogen(red).
3. The Butterfly Nebula
The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth's night sky are often named after flowers or insects. Though its wingspan covers over three light-years, NGC 6302, or the Butterfly Nebula, is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees celsius, the dying central star of this particular planetary nebula has become extraordinarily hot. This star shines brightly in ultraviolet light, but it is hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust.
Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view. The Butterfly Nebula lies about 4,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Scorpius, a fitting constellation for a fellow insect-named celestial body.
2. The Cat's Eye Nebula
This incredible image of the Cat's Eye Nebula, or NGC 6543, shows a bull's eye pattern of eleven or even more concentric rings, or shells. Each 'ring' is actually the edge of a spherical bubble seen projected onto the sky, explaining why they appear bright along the nebula's outer edge.
Observations suggest the star ejected its mass in a series of pulses at 1,500-year intervals. These convulsions created dust shells, each of which contains as much mass as all of the planets in our solar system combined. These concentric shells create a layered, onion-skin structure around the dying star.
The bull's-eye patterns seen around this planetary nebulae came as a surprise to astronomers, as they had no expectation that episodes of mass loss at the end of stellar lives would repeat every 1,500 years.
1. The Lagoon Nebula
At the center of the Lagoon Nebula, an incredibly powerful young star 200,000 times brighter than our Sun blasts powerful ultraviolet radiation and hurricane-like stellar winds, creating a fantasy landscape of ridges, cavities, and mountains of gas and dust.
This mayhem is all happening at the heart of the Lagoon Nebula, a vast stellar nursery located 4,000 light-years away and visible in binoculars simply as a smudge of light with a bright core.
The Lagoon Nebula epitomizes a typical, raucous stellar nursery full of birth and destruction. To us, this nebula's clouds may look majestic and peaceful, but, in reality, they are in a constant state of flux from the star’s torrent of searing radiation and high-speed particles from stellar winds.