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.

2013 January 7
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AE Aurigae and the Flaming Star Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Pugh

Explanation: AE Aurigae is called the flaming star. The surrounding nebula IC 405 is named the Flaming Star Nebula and the region seems to harbor smoke, but there is no fire. Fire, typically defined as the rapid molecular acquisition of oxygen, happens only when sufficient oxygen is present and is not important in such high-energy, low-oxygen environments. The material that appears as smoke is mostly interstellar hydrogen, but does contain smoke-like dark filaments of carbon-rich dust grains. The bright star AE Aurigae, visible near the nebula center, is so hot it is blue, emitting light so energetic it knocks electrons away from atoms in the surrounding gas. When an atom recaptures an electron, light is emitted creating the surrounding emission nebula. In this cosmic portrait, the Flaming Star nebula lies about 1,500 light years distant, spans about 5 light years, and is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Charioteer (Auriga).

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