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.

2008 June 26
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M27: Not A Comet
Credit & Copyright: Nik Szymanek, w/Faulkes Telescope North

Explanation: Born on June 26th in 1730, astronomer Charles Messier scanned 18th century French skies for comets. To avoid confusion and aid his comet hunting, he diligently recorded this object as number 27 on his list of things which are definitely not comets. In fact, 21st century astronomers would classify it as a Planetary Nebula, but it's not a planet either, even though it may appear round and planet-like in a small telescope. Messier 27 (M27) is now known to be an excellent example of a gaseous emission nebula created as a sun-like star runs out of nuclear fuel in its core. The nebula forms as the star's outer layers are expelled into space, with a visible glow generated by atoms excited by the dying star's intense but invisible ultraviolet light. Known by the popular name of the Dumbbell Nebula, the beautifully symmetric interstellar gas cloud is over 2.5 light-years across and about 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula. This impressive color composite highlights subtle jet features in the nebula. It was recorded with a robotic telescope sited in Hawaii using narrow band filters sensitive to emission from oxygen atoms (shown in green) and hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen emission is seen as red (H-alpha) and fainter bluish hues (H-beta).

Tomorrow's picture: simple food

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