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💫Eagle Nebula


The Eagle Nebula, also known as Messier 16 or M16, consists of a star cluster and many emission nebulae and dark nebulae, in the direction of the constellation Serpens, the Serpent, visible at summer time. The nebula contains several active star-forming gas and dust regions, including the "Pillars of Creation", which stretch four light-years out into space. The star cluster, which has approximately 8100 stars, was discovered in 1746 by P.L. de Cheseaux, but he missed the surrounding nebulosity, leaving it to be noticed by Charles Messier some twenty years later. The Eagle Nebula is a 5.5 million-year-old cloud of molecular hydrogen gas and dust stretching approximately 70 light years by 55 light years. This region of active current star formation is about 7000 light-years distant in the inner spiral arm of the Milky Way next to our own, the Sagittarius Arm. Inside the nebula, gravity pulls clouds of gas together to collapse inward. If enough gas is present, nuclear fusion is ignited in the center, and the compact cloud becomes a shining star.

The nebula shines because of the energy provided by the cluster of hot blue and white stars. These stars are about two million years old, which is quite young for a star (our own middle-aged Sun clocks in at over four billion years). However, these O and B stars are considerably heavier than our Sun, since they contain some thirty times as much matter, and this extra weight shortens their lifetime to just a few million years in total. The nebula is viewable with the low-powered telescopes readily available to amateur astronomers, or with a pair of binoculars. With such equipment, observers can see approximately twenty stars clearly, surrounded by gas, dust, and the light of other, dimmer stars. In good conditions, the three pillars may also be seen.

Credit:
Grantecan / Nasmyth-B / OSIRIS


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