(via APOD: 2012 August 28 - Colorful Clouds Near Rho Ophiuchi)
Image Credit & Copyright: Tom O’Donoghue
Oooh! A lesson in the forms and varieties of nebulae all in one picture. OK, so there are three main kinds of nebulae:
They’re produced by different processes too, so here’s what’s going on above:
Rho Ophiuchi, the bright blue star in the center of the top blue nebula is emitting regular light that is being scattered off the dust in the nebular clouds. Dust particles tend to scatter blue light more than any other wavelength of light, so the reflected light from the nebula is blue. Hence, reflection nebulae look blue.
To the lower-right, you can see Sigma Scorpii, a bright blue star in the middle of a red nebula. When the ultraviolet radiation from a star hit gas clouds, made mostly from hydrogen, they ionize the gas, stripping the electrons off the atoms. Atoms don’t stay that way forever, though, and they have a tendency to pull an electron back at some point, de-ionizing themselves. When that happens, it releases energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation, usually as red light. We see the light being emitted from the gas as it de-ionizes.
Finally, in all those spots, mostly in the middle of the picture, where you might be worried that the photographer’s camera has some sensing issues, where we’re not seeing any background starlight, or really anything at all, those are areas where there’s too much dust, in the way, making a dark spot in the sky.
Oh, a couple other things:
- Big, bright, red supergiant Antares in the lower middle is so red that even it’s reflected light is yellow-red.
- M4 is the globular cluster just to right of Antares, an ancient relic of the universe, as are all the globular clusters we’ve ever seen. They orbit the Milky Way and are generally around 12-13 billion years old.
Boy do I love this astronomy stuff.