(via Ceci *est* une pipe | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine)
Wow! The @ESO folks (#ESO50years) have captured this amazing shot of the “mouth” of the Pipe Nebula from the MPG/ESO 2.2m telescope in the La Silla Observatory in Chile.
Another combination of dark and reflection nebula like the one in Corona Australis posted earlier, this one also shows the effect of seeing the light coming though (instead of being reflected off) a thinner amount of dust. Note the color of the background stars toward the edges of the dark nebula. The light is still being scattered with a blue preference, but that means that the blue reflection light would be seen from a vantage point on the other side of the nebula. Instead, we see the redder light that manages to get through the thin spots in the dust.
As Phil says, this is a huge complex of interstellar gas and dust, and there are stars forming inside of it. In fact, the stars we see lighting up the reflecting parts of the nebula are newly formed stars that just happen to be on “our side” of the complex cloud of dust particles.
As if all that weren’t enough, this is just a zoom on the one part of the Pipe Nebula. Here’s the full thing, which includes catalog members Barnard 59 (the part in the image above), Barnard 65-67, and Barnard 78:
This is, again, from the folks at the European Southern Observatory.
One final cool thing. See the fuzzy stars in the middle of Barnard 59? Those aren’t background stars that are so bright they’re shining through. Those are stars being born right before your eyes! (Or, being born 600-700 years ago, as the nebula is about that many light-years away.)