A cosmic rose with many names

September 23, 2015
This image of the rose-coloured star forming region Messier 17 was captured by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. It is one of the sharpest images showing the entire nebula and not only reveals its full size but also retains fine detail throughout the cosmic landscape of gas clouds, dust and newborn stars. Credit: ESO

This new image of the rose-colored star forming region Messier 17 was captured by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. It is one of the sharpest images showing the entire nebula and not only reveals its full size but also retains fine detail throughout the cosmic landscape of gas clouds, dust and newborn stars.

The nebula pictured here may have had more names bestowed upon it over the ages than any other object of its kind. Although officially known as Messier 17, its nicknames include: the Omega Nebula, the Swan Nebula, the Checkmark Nebula, the Horseshoe Nebula and—lest those with more of a more marine bent miss out—the Lobster Nebula.

Messier 17 is located about 5500 light-years from Earth near the plane of the Milky Way and in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer). The object spans a big section of the sky—its gas and dust clouds measure about 15 light-years across. This material is fueling the birth of new stars and the wide field of view of the new picture reveals many stars in front of, in, or behind Messier 17.

The nebula appears as a complex red structure with some graduation to pink. Its colouring is a signature of glowing hydrogen gas. The short-lived blue stars that recently formed in Messier 17 emit enough ultraviolet light to heat up surrounding gas to the extent that it begins to glow brightly. In the central region the colours are lighter, and some parts appear white. This white colour is real—it arises as a result of mixing the light from the hottest gas with the starlight reflected by dust.

The gas in the nebula is estimated to have more than 30 000 times the mass of the Sun. Messier 17 also contains an open star cluster of 35 stars, which is known as NGC 6618. The total number of stars in the nebula, however, is much higher—there are almost 800 in the centre with even more forming in its outer regions.

Throughout this rosy glow, the nebula shows a web of darker regions of dust that obscure the light. This obscuring material is also glowing and—although these areas are dark in this visible-light image—they look bright when observed using infrared cameras.

The nebula owes its official name to the French comet hunter Charles Messier who included the nebula as the seventeenth object in his famous astronomical catalogue in 1764. But even with a name as bland as Messier 17, this flowery still looks dazzling.

This picture comes from the ESO Cosmic Gems programme.

Explore further: The smoky pink core of the Omega Nebula

Related Stories

The smoky pink core of the Omega Nebula

January 4, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new image of the Omega Nebula, captured by ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), is one of the sharpest of this object ever taken from the ground. It shows the dusty, rose-coloured central parts of this famous ...

Hubble image: Stormy seas in Sagittarius

July 30, 2015

Some of the most breathtaking views in the Universe are created by nebulae - hot, glowing clouds of gas. This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the centre of the Lagoon Nebula, an object with a deceptively tranquil ...

Prawn Nebula: Cosmic recycling

September 2, 2015

Dominating this image is part of the nebula Gum 56, illuminated by the hot bright young stars that were born within it. For millions of years stars have been created out of the gas in this nebula, material which is later ...

Sifting through dust near Orion's Belt

May 2, 2012

the surface grime that hides the beauty of an object. But this new image of Messier 78 and surroundings, which reveals the submillimetre-wavelength radiation from dust grains in space, shows that dust can be dazzling. Dust ...

A bubbly cosmic celebration

May 27, 2015

In the brightest region of the nebula RCW 34, gas is heated and expands through the surrounding cooler gas. Once the heated hydrogen reaches the borders of the gas cloud, it bursts outwards into the vacuum like the contents ...

Image: A storm of stars in the Trifid nebula

January 30, 2014

(Phys.org) —A storm of stars is brewing in the Trifid nebula, as seen in this view from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The stellar nursery, where baby stars are bursting into being, is the yellow-and-orange ...

Recommended for you

Webcam on Mars Express surveys high-altitude clouds

October 17, 2017

An unprecedented catalogue of more than 21 000 images taken by a webcam on ESA's Mars Express is proving its worth as a science instrument, providing a global survey of unusual high-altitude cloud features on the Red Planet.

Microbes leave 'fingerprints' on Martian rocks

October 17, 2017

Scientists around Tetyana Milojevic from the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vienna are in search of unique biosignatures, which are left on synthetic extraterrestrial minerals by microbial activity. The biochemist ...

Astronomers identify new asynchronous short period polar

October 16, 2017

(Phys.org)—An international team of astronomers led by Gagik H. Tovmassian of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has uncovered new details into the nature of a cataclysmic variable known as IGR J19552+0044. ...

The remarkable jet of the quasar 4C+19.44

October 16, 2017

Quasars are galaxies with massive black holes at their cores. So much energy is being radiated from near the nucleus of a quasar that it is much brighter than the rest of the entire galaxy. Much of that radiation is at radio ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.