Stunning dark nebula looks like a space sentinel watching the stars

(ORDO NEWS) — Look deep enough into the darkness of space, and you will find all sorts of forms that excite the imagination.

Keep looking and you’ll quickly realize that our universe may be a lot stranger and more wonderful than anything the human mind can dream of.

A recent image released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) just captured a small glimpse of this on a cosmic scale: a dark nebula 7 light-years long, like a giant beacon, watching the cold black void of space.

Perhaps this is a cyclopean giant, looking for planets to devour them. Or death itself, roaming the heavens, shrouded in shadow.

Far from being the destroyer of worlds, this darkness is something far more fertile.

New image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope to celebrate the observatory’s 60th anniversary . The eerie object of the image is the Cone Nebula, part of the larger NGC 2264 complex, 2500 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros.

It may not look like most of the other nebulae you are used to. see, glow brightly with a complex set of colors.

This is because not all nebulae are the same. Some reflect light from nearby stars. Some of them, ionized by the stars within them, emit their own light.

And some, like the Cone Nebula, are dark, covered in a thick layer of dust that absorbs visible light. They can only be penetrated by light with wavelengths invisible to the human eye, such as infrared and radio frequency.

Stunning dark nebula looks like a space sentinel watching the stars
Full image of the Cone Nebula taken by ESO’s Very Large Telescope

Opaque nebulae of this type are known as molecular clouds. These include some of the most interesting nebulae to be found: places where young stars are born.

Dust is an efficient source of infrared light that carries away heat energy and causes the cloud to cool. Without the external pressure provided by heat, gravity crushes clumps of dust and gas and pushes them together.

It is these dense lumps that form the seeds of stars; as they rotate, they draw in even more mass from the surrounding cloud, providing the growing protostar with the pressure needed to start fusion in its core.

At a certain mass, a star produces what astronomers call feedback. Plasma jets, accelerated by the force lines of the star’s magnetic field, escape from its poles, and powerful radiation pressure is created by the star’s ultraviolet light. Both contribute to the stellar wind that pushes material away from the young star.

This is what gives the Cone Nebula its iconic form. The newborn stars, glowing blue and hot (although they appear gold in the new image), are at a point in their lives when their feedback crashes into the dusty nebula. Similar processes led to the formation of the famous Pillars of Creation structures in the Eagle Nebula.

Because infrared light can penetrate these dense clouds, instruments that can see the universe in infrared light, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, are invaluable for revealing details of the star formation processes taking place within it.

But visible light images like the VLT show details that disappear at other wavelengths. Only by examining the full spectrum can we get a complete picture of everything that happens in these mysterious, enchanting structures.


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