Galaxy watch

Finding star nurseries in The Serpent's Tail

By Gary Zientara
Posted 7/18/19

The image shown here is of two emission nebulae in the constellation Serpens Cauda (The Serpent's Tail). The larger one, which …

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Galaxy watch

Finding star nurseries in The Serpent's Tail

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The image shown here is of two emission nebulae in the constellation Serpens Cauda (The Serpent's Tail). The larger one, which I call "The Nest," is catalogued as Gum 84. The smaller brighter one, "The Egg," which seems to be lying inside the nest's cavity, is Gum 85. The red color comes from ionized hydrogen, which is energized by radiation from giant to super giant hot young stars in a dense cluster called NGC 6604 near the lower center edge of this image.

The Nest and Egg are appropriate metaphors for these star nurseries where stars are formed or "born" when gas and dust collapse gravitationally from these enormous interstellar clouds. Our Sun was formed in a similar nebula about 4.5 billion years ago. The stars in NGC 6604 are mere infants at "only" 3 to 5 million years old.

The Gum designation is named after Colin Stanley Gum, an Australian astronomer who may have been the first to photograph these nebulae and include them in his catalogue of 85 deep space objects published in 1955. Being from "Down Under," he observed objects visible primarily in the southern sky.

These star-forming regions, however, are close enough to the celestial equator that we can see this area above the southern horizon in our dark summertime New Mexico sky. An added bonus is that these objects are located in the central bulge of the Milky Way where dense star fields abound. That's why you see thousands of stars in this relatively small area. You are literally looking through tens of thousands of light years worth of thick rich collections of stars.

You can easily see most of the stars in this image using a small telescope or even binoculars. But you will not be able to see the colorful nebula unless you take at least a two-minute time exposure photograph through a Hydrogen Alpha (HA) filter.

Gary Zientara watches the galaxies and writes about them from the Mount Sangre Observatory in Angel Fire.

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