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Informal Science Education Resources
from the home of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

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Light & Shadow in the Carina Nebula

Light & Shadow in the Carina Nebula

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Caption:
Previously unseen details of a mysterious, complex structure within the Carina Nebula (NGC 3372) are revealed by this Hubble image, which is dominated by a large, approximately circular feature that contains both bright filaments of hot, fluorescing gas and dark silhouetted clouds of cold molecules and dust, all of which are in rapid, chaotic motion. The high resolution of the Hubble images reveals the relative three-dimensional locations of many of these features, as well as showing numerous small dark globules that may be in the process of collapsing to form new stars.

A striking large, sharp-edged dust cloud is located near the bottom left edge of the image just, outside the ring. This large dark cloud may eventually evaporate, or if there are sufficiently dense condensations within it, give birth to small star clusters.

Hubble Space Telescope • Wide Field Planetary Camera 2

Photo Credit: NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)

STScI-2000-06

Sagittarius Star Cloud

Sagittarius Star Cloud

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Caption:
Most of our view of our own Milky Way galaxy is obscured by dust. Here Hubble peers into the Sagittarius Star Cloud (SGR-I), a narrow, dust-free region in the direction of the Galactic core. It is a spectacular glimpse of a treasure chest full of stars. Some of these gems are among the oldest inhabitants of our galaxy. By studying the older stars that pack our Milky Way’s hub we can learn more about the evolution of our galaxy.

Many of the brighter stars here show vivid colors. A star’s color reveals its temperature, one of its most “vital statistics.” Knowing a star’s temperature, and the power of the star’s radiation, one can draw conclusions about its age and mass. Most blue stars are young and hot, up to 10 times hotter than our Sun. They consume their fuel much faster and live shorter lives than our Sun.

Red stars come in two flavors: small stars and red giants. Smaller red stars generally have temperatures about half that of our Sun. They consume their fuel slowly and thus live the longest. Red giant stars are near the end of their lives, having exhausted their fuel. Although many red giant stars may once have been ordinary stars like our Sun, they swell up in size as they die, becoming much cooler and much more luminous than they were for most of their stellar lives.

Hubble Space Telescope • Wide Field Planetary Camera 2

Photo Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

STScI-1998-28

Eagle Nebula Pillars

Eagle Nebula Pillars

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Caption:
This striking picture resolves the tips of finger-like features protruding from monstrous pillars of cold gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula (M16). The pillars protrude from the wall of a vast cloud of molecular hydrogen, like stalagmites rising above the floor of a cavern. Inside the gaseous towers, which are light-years long, the interstellar gas is dense enough to collapse under its own weight, forming young stars that continue to grow as they accumulate more and more mass from their surroundings.

Hubble gives a clear look at what happens as a torrent of ultraviolet light from nearby young, hot stars heats the gas along the surface of the pillars, “boiling it away” into interstellar space. The image shows “photoevaporating” gas as ghostly streamers flowing away from the columns. But not all of the gas boils off at the same rate. Denser concentrations of gas and dust are left behind after the gas around them is gone.

Hubble Space Telescope • Wide Field Planetary Camera 2

Photo Credit: Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University), and NASA

STScI-1995-44

Cone Nebula

Cone Nebula

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Caption:
Monstrous pillars of cold gas are common in large regions of star birth. Astronomers believe that these pillars are incubators for developing stars. This Hubble close-up shows the top 2.5 light-years of the Cone Nebula. The entire nebula is 7 light-years long and resides 2,500 light-years away in the constellation Monoceros.

Radiation from hot, young stars (located beyond the top of the image) has slowly eroded the nebula over millions of years. Ultraviolet light heats the edges of the dark cloud, releasing gas into surrounding space. There, more ultraviolet radiation makes the hydrogen gas glow, producing the red halo of light seen around the pillar. Background stars can be seen peeking through the evaporating tendrils of gas, while the turbulent base is pockmarked with stars whose light has been filtered red by dust.

Over time, only the densest regions of the Cone will be left. Inside these regions, stars and planets may form.

Hubble Space Telescope • Advanced Camera for Surveys

Photo Credit: NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (USCS/LO), M. Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA

STScI-2002-11

Stellar Life Cycles in NGC 3603

Stellar Life Cycles in NGC 3603

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Caption:
In a stunning picture of the giant galactic nebula NGC 3603, Hubble’s crisp resolution captures various stages of the life cycle of stars in one single view. This picture illustrates the entire stellar life cycle, starting with Bok globules and giant gaseous pillars (evidence of embryonic stars), followed by circumstellar disks around young stars (embedded protostars), and progressing to aging, massive stars in a young starburst cluster. The blue super-giant with its ring and bipolar outflow (upper right of center) marks the end of the life cycle. Labeled “Doomsday Star,” it is destined to explode in the near future.

Hubble Space Telescope • Wide Field Planetary Camera 2

Photo Credit: Wolfgang Brandner (JPL/IPAC), Eva K. Grebel (Univ. Washington), You-Hua Chu (Univ. Illinois Urbana-Champaign), and NASA

STScI-1999-20

Globular Cluster M80

Globular Cluster M80

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Caption:
This ancient star cluster is one of the oldest known objects in the universe. Its hundreds of thousands of stars, all born simultaneously some 12 to 15 billion years ago, are held together by their mutual gravitational attraction. The prominent reddish members of the cluster are red giant stars approaching the end of their lives.

Hubble Space Telescope • Wide Field Planetary Camera 2

Photo Credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

STScI-1999-26

Star Cluster - Hodge 301

Star Cluster – Hodge 301

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Caption:
In a galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighbor to our own Milky Way galaxy, we find the cluster of brilliant, massive stars seen in the corner of this Hubble image. Some of the stars in this cluster have already lived out their lives and exploded as supernovae. They are blasting material into the surrounding region at speeds of almost 200 miles per second. The material plows into the surrounding Tarantula Nebula, shocking and compressing the nebula’s gas into a multitude of sheets and filaments.

Hubble Space Telescope • Wide Field Planetary Camera 2

Photo Credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

STScI-1999-12

Ring Nebula M57

Ring Nebula M57

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Caption:
The most famous of all planetary nebulae is M57, the Ring Nebula. Hubble has captured the sharpest view yet of this cloud, a “tunnel” of gas cast off by a dying star thousands of years ago. This photo reveals elongated dark clumps of material embedded in the gas at the edge of the nebula, and the dying central star floating in a blue haze of hot gas. The nebula is about a light-year in diameter and is located some 2,000 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Lyra. The colors are approximately true and represent three different chemical elements: helium (blue), oxygen (green), and nitrogen (red).

Hubble Space Telescope • Wide Field Planetary Camera 2

Photo Credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

STScI-1999-01

Omega Nebula M17

Omega Nebula M17

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Caption:
This is the center of a hotbed of newly born stars wrapped in colorful blankets of glowing gas and cradled in an enormous cold, dark hydrogen cloud. The region shown in this Hubble view is about 3,500 times wider than our solar system. The nebula resides 5,500 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.

The nebula is illuminated by ultraviolet radiation from young, massive stars, each about six times hotter and 30 times more massive than the Sun. Powerful radiation from these stars evaporates and erodes the dense cloud of cold gas within which the stars formed. The blistered walls of the hollow cloud shine primarily in the blue, green, and red light emitted by excited atoms of hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur.

As the infant stars evaporate the surrounding cloud, they expose dense pockets of gas that may contain developing stars. One isolated pocket is seen at the center of the brightest region of the nebula and is about 10 times larger than our solar system.

Hubble Space Telescope • Advanced Camera for Surveys

Photo Credit: NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (USCS/LO), M. Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA

STScI-2002-11

Planetary Nebula Mz3

Planetary Nebula Mz3

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Caption:
As solar-mass stars approach the end of their lives they become unstable and eject their outer layers into space, forming expanding shells of gas. This cloud has a striking, symmetrical form. One possible reason is that the central star has a closely orbiting companion that exerts strong gravitational tidal forces, shaping the outflowing gas. Another possibility is that, as the dying star spins, its strong magnetic fields are wound up into complex shapes. Charged winds, flowing out from the star along these twisted field lines, would be made visible by ultraviolet light from the hot central star, or by colliding at high speed with slower-moving gas.

Hubble Space Telescope • Wide Field Planetary Camera 2

Photo Credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgement: R. Sahai (Jet Propulsion Lab) and B. Balick (University of Washington)

STScI-2001-05

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