Without a telescope, the Lagoon Nebula is faintly visible with the naked eye as a unremarkable patch of gray in the heart of the Milky Way. Observed up close with the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, it looks slightly more nuanced. Hubble recently captured this close-up of gas and dust painted brightly by intense radiation spouting from young stars forming deep in this stellar nursery five thousand light-years away.
The Lagoon Nebula – Messier 8, on the star charts – resides in the constellation Sagittarius and gets its nickname from the lagoon-shaped dust lane that transits the bright hot gas in the region. That dust lane isn’t visible here – the image is zoomed in on too small an area – but the wispy nature of this particular region of glowing dust conjures beach-like descriptors anyhow.
The gas is lit by huge amounts of radiation pouring forth from young stars being birthed in the nebula. As the gas cloud collapses in to feed the accreting baby stars, it is lit up brightly by the stars’ powerful UV radiation. The whole process is quite intense and violent – but you wouldn’t know it from the tranquil scene pictured above.
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