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.

2010 August 5
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 the highest resolution version available.

M8: The Lagoon Nebula
Credit & Copyright: Steve Mazlin, Jack Harvey, Rick Gilbert, and Daniel Verschatse
(Star Shadows Remote Observatory, PROMPT, CTIO)

Explanation: This beautiful cosmic cloud is a popular stop on telescopic tours of the constellation Sagittarius. Eighteenth century cosmic tourist Charles Messier catalogued the bright nebula as M8. Modern day astronomers recognize the Lagoon Nebula as an active stellar nursery about 5,000 light-years distant, in the direction of the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy. Remarkable features can be traced through this sharp picture, showing off the Lagoon's filaments of glowing gas and dark dust clouds. Twisting near the centre of the Lagoon, the bright hourglass shape is the turbulent result of extreme stellar winds and intense starlight. The alluring view is a colour composite of both broad and narrow band images captured while M8 was high in dark, Chilean skies. It records the Lagoon with a bluer hue than typically represented in images dominated by the red light of the region's hydrogen emission. At the nebula's estimated distance, the picture spans about 30 light-years.

Tomorrow's picture: miasma of plasma

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