“Just So Science” – The Dusty Eagle

By Elf Eldridge 08/08/2011 1


Part of the eagle nebula, M16, located on the cusp of Scutum and Sagittarius
A towering pillar of dust and gas within the eagle nebula (M16)

For my final (at least for the moment) Sagittarius post, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mention of the best known and loved of all nebula to astronomers all over the world: M16, the Eagle Nebula. This particular nebula can be a little tricky to find however, as it’s not near any of the other bright objects in Sagittarius; rather it is way out on the border of Scutum, the shield constellation, that appears lower and North of the ‘teapot’ within Sagittarius. That said, none of the objects I’ve previously mentioned, here and here, within Sagittarius are immediately obvious from areas suffering from even small amounts of light pollution, so here’s a little ‘map’ to make things easier.

Arrangement of Scutum, Saggitarius and their local nebulae as seen from NZ during Winter
Arrangement of Scutum, Saggitarius and their local nebulae as seen from NZ during Winter

If you’re trying to find the above in the night sky, bear in mind that they will appear as ‘smudges’ of light even in the best viewing conditions and with a pair of binoculars. Also, these ‘smudges’ will be superimposed on a background of hundreds of billion of other stars due to their proximity to the galactic centre. Also(!) the stars marking out Scutum and the adjacent constellation, Serpens Cauda, will be invisible to observers within cities. So if you manage to find M16 perhaps you should make yourself a medal! Thankfully, NASA once again steps in to fill the void left by our limited human eyesight and viewing conditions and provides us with gorgeous, iconic images like the one below – from the ‘Pillars of Creation“, deep in the heart of the Eagle Nebula.

The infamous Pillars of Creation, cloaking star forming regions within the Eagle Nebula
The infamous "Pillars of Creation", cloaking star forming regions within the Eagle Nebula

Apologies for the large image, but I could bear to shrink this one, it’s far too spectacular to minimise and forms one of my earliest memories of being inspired by astronomy! The Eagle nebula is yet another proto-star nursery where immensely hot, young stars are forming from massive clouds of hydrogen gas. Radiation pouring from these young stars pushes away low density material leaving only the densest clouds of matter behind, concealing within then the physical birthplace of new stars. We can peer within these pillars of gas using infrared telescopes and see the proto-stars buried within them, and the stars forming within the Eagle nebula have provided a multitude of data on this process and played a huge part in our understanding of the physics of star formation. Oh, and it’s very pretty which is important too: enjoy!

The full Eagle Nebula in all its glory.
The full Eagle Nebula in all its glory. The Pillars of Creation are the dark patches in the centre and the first image I used in this post is a close-up of the dust cloud on the left.

One Response to ““Just So Science” – The Dusty Eagle”