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.

2009 February 20
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Snake in the Dark
Credit & Copyright: Stéphane Guisard (Los Cielos de Chile)

Explanation: Dark nebulae snake across a gorgeous expanse of stars in this telescopic view toward the pronounceable constellation Ophiuchus and the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. In fact, the twisting central shape seen here is well known as the Snake Nebula. It is also listed as Barnard 72 (B72), one of 182 dark markings of the sky cataloged in the early 20th century by astronomer E. E. Barnard. Unlike bright emission nebulae and star clusters, Barnard's nebulae are interstellar dark clouds of obscuring gas and dust. Their shapes are visible in cosmic silhouette because they lie in the foreground along the line of sight to rich star fields and glowing stellar nurseries near the plane of our Galaxy. Many of Barnard's dark nebulae are themselves likely sites of future star formation. Barnard 72 is about 650 light years away. With bluish star 44 Ophiuchi at bottom left, the intriguing star field spans nearly 2 degrees or almost 20 light-years at the estimated distance of the Snake Nebula.

Tomorrow's picture: swift comet

< | Archive | Index | Search | Calendar | RSS | Education | About APOD | Discuss | >

Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
NASA Official: Phillip Newman Specific rights apply.
NASA Web Privacy Policy and Important Notices
A service of: ASD at NASA / GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.