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Monday, May 9, 2011

The Psychedelic Majesty of the Lagoon Nebula Displayed in all its Multi-Coloured Glory - 6th May 2011

Things have come a long way since the late '60s re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey promised a hippy audience 'the ultimate trip'.

Quite what they would have made of an image as psychedelic and, more importantly, as real as this is anyone's guess.

The Lagoon Nebula - aka Messier 8 - is among the most striking examples of a stellar nursery in Earth's region of the Milky Way.

Its fuzzy glow reveals the type of chaotic environment where new stars are born.

And the nebula is so close, it is visible using a small telescope or even a pair of binoculars.

Argentine astronomers Julia Arias and Rodolfo Barbá constructed this dramatic new image of Messier 8 using the Gemini South Telescope in Chile.

It is located 5,000 light-years away. The region is sometimes referred to as the Southern Cliff, because it resembled a sharp drop-off.

Beyond the cliff, light from a spattering of young background stars in the upper-left of the image shines through the cloudscape.

Arias and Barbá obtained the imaging data to explore the evolutionary relationship between the newborn stars and what are known as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects.

HH objects form when young stars eject large amounts of fast-moving gas as they grow.

This gas ploughs into the surrounding nebula, producing bright shock fronts that glow as the gas is heated by friction and surrounding gas is excited by the high-energy radiation of nearby hot stars.

The researchers found a dozen of these HH objects in the image, spanning sizes that range from a few thousand astronomical units - about a trillion kilometres - to 4.6 light-years, a little greater than the distance from the sun to its nearest neighbour Proxima Centauri.

The picture is a composite of individual images obtained with two narrow-band optical filters sensitive to hydrogen (red) and ionised sulphur (green) emission, and another that transmits far red light (blue).

It reveals in dramatic detail a glorious cloudscape of dust and gas surrounding this nursery of intermediate- and low-mass stars. Read More