Astronomy

Trifid Nebula star nursery in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer

By Gary Zientara
For The Taos News
Posted 9/26/18

The word "trifid" comes from the Latin word "trifidus," which means to split into three parts. That's a fitting name for this gas and dust cloud that's split three ways by dark, dense …

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Astronomy

Trifid Nebula star nursery in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer

Posted

The word "trifid" comes from the Latin word "trifidus," which means to split into three parts.

That's a fitting name for this gas and dust cloud that's split three ways by dark, dense dust lanes within the cloud. Regions like this are sculpted by fierce stellar winds from newborn stars as they cry out to the heavens with a colorful cosmic, "Here I am!"

The Trifid is an example of emission, reflection and dark nebulae. The emission nebula comes from ionized hydrogen heated up by the radiation from hot young stars within it. It emits light mostly in hydrogen alpha and red frequency bands.

I have tinted those areas red even though they look grey-white in a telescope eyepiece. The reflection nebula is almost entirely reflected light off of nearby dust clouds. This reflected light comes from the blue-white surface glow of the baby stars. Since it is only a reflection mirrored over several light years from the source, it is dimmer and more subtle than the fiery red hydrogen emission gas.

You can see most of the blue refection part of the Trifid Nebula by looking to the right of the rosy red glowing gas in this image. The dark nebula is from dust that has concentrated in bands that trisect the glowing nebula blocking the light behind them. The star cluster within the Trifid Nebula consists of 30 protostars that have yet to break out from their dusty-gassy cocoons and 120 baby stars blazing their light out into space.

You can see the Trifid Nebula through the summer and early autumn. Look at the "steam" coming from "spout" of the teapot-shaped star pattern within the constellation Sagittarius above the southern horizon.

The steam is really a dense cloud of thousands of stars residing in the central bulge of our Milky Way galaxy. It is a wonderful region of the night sky that this year also includes the beautiful ringed planet Saturn. Saturn appears as the brightest "star" in the cloud of steam coming from the teapot. For comparison, look at the dazzling bright yellow-orange colored planet Mars about 15 degrees left (east) of Saturn.

The Trifid Nebula is 21 light-years wide and about 5,000 light years from Earth. This image was taken from Mount Sangre Observatory near Angel Fire Aug. 11. It consists of 53 images taken through blue, visual, red, and hydrogen alpha filters and aligned and stacked using the Maxim DL IP 6 imaging program.

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