Cosmic Clouds

As Universe Watch is looking at the Lagoon Nebula today…. well actually yesterday…… I thought it was a good time to talk a little about nebulae themselves.

But first, I always get confused with the spelling… not knowing whether to call it nebula or nebulae. Well actually both are correct depending on how you are referring to the cosmic clouds. If you are talking about one cosmic cloud such as the Lagoon Nebula, then we refer to it as a nebula. However, if we are talking about more than one cosmic cloud , then we use the word nebulae. Therefore the Lagoon Nebula and the Trifid Nebula are both nebulae seen in Sydney’s west tonight.

M8 Lagoon ( Click to Enlarge)Why are cosmic clouds called nebulae anyway? Simply because nebula is the Latin name for clouds.

Nebula are clouds of gas and dust which float around in space giving off  bright lights and color. Every single star, planet and solar system in the Universe was born inside a nebula and this happens when the right conditions occour.

One such condition is with the explosion of a nearby supernova which sends shock waves through the nebula resulting in the swirls and patterns you see in the nebula cloud. Matter inside the nebula begins forming into small clumps which eventually grow in size until they reach critical mass. Nuclear fusion begins next and before you know it…… a star is born. Smaller clumps of matter that don’t form into stars form into planets.

You will hear of nebulae often been called as stellar nurseries due to them being the origins of entire solar systems of stars and planets.

The human eye is not sensitive enough to see the colors in most nebula and you need at minimum a telescope to see the details of these nebulae. There are only a handful of nebula that you can see with the naked eye but with a small telescope you should see quite a number of them.

If you Google the Lagoon Nebula which is featured in Universe Watch, you will see the magnificent clouds and details that are captured by telescopes such as the Hubble telescope which does not have to worry about atmospheric conditions to take a great shot. The Hubble for example is able to see objects of +30 magnitude so when it takes a picture of a +4.59 magnitude object such as the Lagoon Nebula… you are guaranteed a great shot full of color and detail.

~ by sydneystargazers on October 29, 2009.

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