Stunning, Colorful New Look at the Lagoon Nebula

by Nancy Atkinson on May 5, 2011

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A portion of the Lagoon nebula imaged by the Gemini South telescope with the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph. Credit: Julia I. Arias and Rodolfo H. Barbá Departamento de Física, Universidad de La Serena (Chile), and ICATE-CONICET (Argentina).

Wow, is this gorgeous or what?! Argentinean astronomers Julia Arias and Rodolfo Barbá used the Gemini South telescope in Chile to obtain this stunning new image, allowing us to dive right into part of the Lagoon Nebula (M8). This region of the Lagoon is sometimes called the “Southern Cliff” because it resembles a sharp drop-off. Beyond the cliff, light from a spattering of young background stars in the upper left of the image shines through the cloudscape.

The Lagoon nebula is located near the constellation Sagittarius in the southern Milky Way. Viewed through large amateur telescopes, it appears as a pale ghostly glow with a touch of pink. In this image, the astronomers used special filters to reveal characteristics of the gas clouds. The reds, blues and greens represent each of three data sets results in a very strong color differentiation. And so, this isn’t what the Lagoon Nebula would actually look like were we to travel there and take a look with our own eyes. Two narrow-band optical filters sensitive to hydrogen (red) and ionized sulfur (green) emission, and another that transmits far red light (blue). And so, for example, light from the far-red end of the spectrum, beyond what the eye can see, appears blue in this image.

Arias and Barbá obtained the imaging data to explore the evolutionary relationship between the newborn stars and what are known as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects. HH objects form when young stars eject large amounts of fast-moving gas as they grow. This gas plows into the surrounding nebula, producing bright shock fronts that glow as the gas is heated by friction and surrounding gas is excited by the high-energy radiation of nearby hot stars. The researchers found a dozen of these HH objects in the image, spanning sizes that range from a few thousand astronomical units (about a trillion kilometers) to 1.4 parsecs (4.6 light-years), i.e. a little greater than the distance from the Sun to its nearest neighbor Proxima Centauri.

For more info and a bigger version of this image, see the Gemini Telescope website.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

gopher65 May 5, 2011 at 10:44 PM

Why are comments closed on the Space Adventures article?

Nancy Atkinson May 6, 2011 at 12:23 AM

Glitch in the system. Available now.

gopher65 May 8, 2011 at 12:23 AM

Cool, thanks:).

gopher65 May 8, 2011 at 12:24 AM

Oh, and that *is* an awesome image. I’m going to crop it down a bit and put it onto my desktop background rotation:).

Aqua May 8, 2011 at 1:00 AM

Always a kick to see new data flowing in from better and better instrumentation! Thanks for the update..

Overt May 21, 2011 at 6:33 PM

So amazingly beautiful I had to pass it along!

Overt May 21, 2011 at 6:33 PM

So amazingly beautiful I had to pass it along!

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