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.