A Cosmic Seagull’s Star-Studded Wings

Bright stars and vast clouds of dust and gas illuminate the “wings” of the Seagull Nebula (ESO)

These glowing red clouds are just a small part of the wings of an enormous bird — the Seagull Nebula, a band of gas and dust 3,400 light-years away that shines from UV light radiating from hot newborn stars.

This image was made from observations with the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory in Chile. See the full wide-field view of the Seagull Nebula below.

Wide-field view of the entire Seagull Nebula (IC 2177)

Wide-field view of the Seagull Nebula. The white box is the area seen at top. North is up in this view. (ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin)

The Seagull Nebula (IC 2177) is a vaguely bird-shaped region of gas and dust clouds located between the constellations Canis Major and Monoceros. The detail image at the top of this article is located along the upper edge of the gull’s lower wing, and is separately cataloged as Sharpless 2-296.

The bright red glow is the result of ionized hydrogen energized by the radiation from the several hot, bright young stars seen in the image. H II regions like the Seagull Nebula are signs of ongoing star formation in a galaxy — in a spiral galaxy like our Milky Way, these dust clouds are scattered throughout the arms. In fact, it was observations of such nebulae in the 1950s by Stewart Sharpless that helped determine the spiral structure of the Galaxy.

The silhouettes of dark, dense clouds closer to Earth block the red hydrogen glow from more distant areas of Sharpless 2-296.

Read more on the ESO site here.


Location of the Seagull Nebula (ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope)

Take a Gander at a Cosmic Gull

The head and “eye” of the Seagull Nebula (ESO)

This colorful new image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory highlights the heart of a shining stellar nursery located between the constellations Monoceros and Canis Major. Officially named Sharpless 2-292, the cloud of gas and dust forms the “head” of the Seagull Nebula (IC 2177) and gets its glow from the energy emitted by the young, bright star within its “eye”.

A wide-angle image of the Seagull Nebula shows the soaring birdlike shape that gives it its nickname. The cloud seen above forms the gull’s head.

A wide-field view of the Seagull Nebula from the ESO’s Digitized Sky Survey 2 (ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin)

The wings of this gull span an impressive 100 light-years from tip to tip. A birthplace for new stars, the nebula is located within our galaxy about 3,700 light-years away.

For an idea of how far that is, if the distance between the Sun and Earth were scaled down to 1 inch (2.5 cm) and you were standing in New York City, the stars in the Seagull Nebula would be in Paris, France (considering the most direct flight route.)

Powerful radiation from young stars causes the surrounding hydrogen gas to glow with a red color. Light from the hot blue-white stars also gets scattered off tiny dust particles in the nebula to create a blue haze.

Read more on the ESO website here.

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organization in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.