Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2002 April 9
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The Snake Nebula from CFHT
Credit & Copyright: Jean-Charles Cuillandre (CFHT), Hawaiian Starlight, CFHT

Explanation: What slithers overhead? The dark winding lanes visible in part of the constellation of Ophiuchus belong to the Snake Nebula. Also known as Barnard 72, the Snake Nebula is a series of dark absorption clouds made up of molecular gas and interstellar dust. Interstellar dust grains - composed predominantly of carbon - absorb visible starlight and reradiate much of it in the infrared. This absorption causes stars behind the clouds to be obscured from view, hence the appearance of starless voids on the sky. Molecular clouds like the Snake Nebula are places where new stars are likely to form. The Snake Nebula, pictured above, lies about 650 light-years away and spans the angular width of a full moon.

Tomorrow's picture: Rolling Rock

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
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& Michigan Tech. U.