Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Stellar Powers in the Eagle Nebula

  A spectacular section of the well-known Eagle Nebula was targeted by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.  This collection of dazzling stars is called NGC 6611, an open star cluster that formed about 5.5 million years ago and is found approximately 6,500 light-years from Earth.  It is a very young cluster, containing many hot blue stars, whose strong ultraviolet glow causes the surrounding Eagle Nebula to glow brightly.  The cluster and associated nebula together are also known as Messier 16.
  Astronomers refer to areas like the Eagle Nebula as HII regions.  This is the scientific notation for ionized hydrogen, which the region is largely made of.  Extrapolating into the distant future, this HII region will eventually disperse, aided by shock waves from supernova explosions, as the most massive young stars end their brief but bright lives.
  In this image, dark patches can also be seen, punctuating the starscape.  These areas of nothing apparent are actually very dense regions of gas and dust, which impede the passage of light.  Many of them may be hiding the locations of the early stages of star formation, before the fledgling stars move away from their surroundings and come into view.  Dark nebulae, large and small, are scattered throughout the Universe.  If you look at the Milky Way with the naked eye from a dark and remote location, you can easily spot some huge dark nebulae blocking the light from the background stars.
  This image was created from Hubble Wide Field Channel images from Advanced Camera for Surveys through the unusual combination of two near-infrared filters (F775W, in blue, and F850LP, in red).  The image was also subtly colored using a ground-based image obtained through more conventional filters.  Hubble's exposure times were 2000 s in both cases and the field of view is about 3.2 arcminutes across.
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