ESO captured an image of a dark nebula that looks like a mythological pace guard.
Every time we look at the darkness of space, we can awaken our imagination, but the more we look and try to understand it, the more the cognitive structure breaks down in the face of the immensity of the universe that can become stranger and even more wonderful than we can comprehend. Recently an image has been published that has managed to capture a dark nebula 7 light-years long that gives the appearance of a titanic lighthouse guarding the cold, black void of space.
It is here where we could let our imagination run amok, and think that this dark shadow is some space cyclops roaming the skies. The truth is that this shadow is far from being something negative; in fact, it represents something much more fertile.
[Photo: ESO’s Very Large Telescope]
How Dark Nebula Works
We are used to seeing nebulae that shine brightly with a complex range of colors, but the truth is that not all nebulae are the same, some reflect the light of the stars near them, and others are ionized by the stars they contain and emit their own light, and finally, some nebulae are dark and are also covered with dust that absorbs invisible light. The only light at wavelengths visible to the human eye, such as infrared and radio, can enter them.
This type of nebulae is known as molecular clouds, since their dust is an emitter of infrared light that drags the thermal energy and therefore causes the cooling of the cloud, without the external pressure that provides heat, gravity overwhelms the clusters of dust and gas forcing them to join. These dense clumps are the germ of stars, and as they rotate they attract even more mass from the surrounding cloud, giving the growing protostar the pressure needed to initiate fusion in its core.
Above a certain mass, the star produces jets of plasma accelerated by the star’s magnetic field lines streaming from its poles and a powerful radiation pressure generated by the star’s ultraviolet light. Both constitute the formation of a stellar wind that expelled material from the baby star. This is what gives these dark nebulae their iconic shape. The baby stars are in the phase of their lives when their feedback is sweeping away the dusty nebula, processes similar to this one carved the structures of the Pillars of Creation within the Eagle nebula.
Dark Nebula Looks Like a Mythological Creature
Because only infrared light can penetrate these dense clouds, instruments that can see the universe in infrared light are invaluable in revealing the peculiarities of star formation processes, which is why the new image revealed by ESO’s Very Large Telescope is of the Cone Nebula. It is a dark nebula located 2,500 light-years away called NGC 2264 in the constellation Monoceros, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the European Astronomical Observatory.
The images revealed by the Very Large Telescope show details that disappear at other wavelengths, so only by studying the full spectrum can we gain a comprehensive understanding of what is at stake in these enigmatic and fascinating structures in the universe.
“This view is more spectacular than any other obtained before, showing the dark, impenetrable, and murky appearance of the nebula in a way that reminds us of a mythological or monstrous creature,” ESO reported.
ESO telescopes are routinely used for scientific observations and have so far captured the first image of an exoplanet, studied the black hole at the center of our galaxy, and found evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.
Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera