NASA frequently posts photos of the Earth and space that inspire social media users. The space agency uploaded four pictures of nebulae on its official Instagram feed this time. "Stars: they're just like us!" NASA wrote.
Before you start comparing us to celestial bodies, consider that even stars are made up of hydrogen, helium, and carbon. According to NASA, the four nebulae caught in the photographs are the Eagle Nebula, Omega Nebula, Trifid Nebula, and Lagoon Nebula.
NASA explained on Instagram that the nebulae are stunningly beautiful star-forming clouds of gas and dust. Pictured embedded below are four of the most famous known nebulae images captured by the Spitzer Space Telescope.
"The closest known nebula to Earth contains the remnants of a dying star - possibly like our Sun, called the Helix Nebula," the space agency further added.
NASA Says It Would Take People 700 Years to Go to the Nearest Nebula
So, how far away from the nearest nebula are we? NASA said in the same Instagram post that getting there would take several hundred years. Even if you could travel at the speed of light, it would take 700 years to reach there at a distance of 700 light-years, according to the space agency.
NASA said in a statement that astronomers achieved "rough distance estimations to some of the stars in these four nebulae" in the 1950s. Consequently, the team was able to deduce the presence of the Sagittarius Arm, providing some of the first evidence of our galaxy's spiral structure.
The word nebula comes from the Latin word nebula, which means cloud or fog.
Untangling Tarantula Nebula
Meanwhile, Astronomy.com said another French adventurer made a similarly fantastic find in 1751. Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille classified his find as a "Nebula of the First Kind," indicating he couldn't detect any stars in the nebula using his telescope.
Lacaille's discovery, seen via large-aperture scopes, showed the object's spidery tendrils of incandescent gas, which gave the object its popular name: the Tarantula Nebula.
The Tarantula is a huge stellar nursery in generating hundreds of thousands of stars from a large reservoir of mainly hydrogen gas. The largest of these newborn suns are among the most enormous ever discovered, and they burn hot and brilliant, ionizing the surrounding gas and giving it a distinctive reddish hue.
Despite being 160,000 light-years from Earth, Tarantula glows brightly enough to see the naked eye from the Southern Hemisphere. M42, on the other hand, is only 1,500 light-years distant and visible to the human eye.
If the Tarantula is at the same distance as the Orion Nebula, it will meet the same sky as 75 Full Moons placed side by side. It would also be bright enough to produce distinct shadows.
Using the Tarantula as a paradigm for these systems has one further benefit over its Milky Way counterparts. The Tarantula and the surrounding Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) have much less heavy elements than our own galaxy's star-forming regions. The quantity of metals in the LMC is half that of the Milky Way, making it much more analogous to the more pure stuff present in the distant, early universe. It's almost as if astronomers have discovered their own Rosetta Stone with the Tarantula and have begun to use it as a key to unlocking the secrets of star and galaxy creation.
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