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 March 21
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NGC 2736: The Pencil Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Pugh

Explanation: Moving left to right near the center of this beautifully detailed color composite, the thin, bright, braided filaments are actually long ripples in a sheet of glowing gas seen almost edge on. The interstellar shock wave plows through space at over 500,000 kilometers per hour. Cataloged as NGC 2736, its elongated appearance suggests its popular name, the Pencil Nebula. The Pencil Nebula is about 5 light-years long and 800 light-years away, but represents only a small part of the Vela supernova remnant. The Vela remnant itself is around 100 light-years in diameter, the expanding debris cloud of a star that was seen to explode about 11,000 years ago. Initially, the shock wave was moving at millions of kilometers per hour but has slowed considerably, sweeping up surrounding interstellar material. In the narrowband, wide field image, red and blue-green colors track the characteristic glow of ionized hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

Tomorrow's picture: comet castle

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