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A nebula (from Latin: "cloud" [3455]; pl. nebulae or nebulæ, with ligature or nebulas) is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen gas, helium gas and plasma. Originally nebula was a general name for any extended astronomical object, including galaxies beyond the Milky Way (some examples of the older usage survive; for example, the Andromeda Galaxy was referred to as the Andromeda Nebula before galaxies were discovered by Edwin Hubble). Nebulae often form star-forming regions, such as in the Eagle Nebula. This nebula is depicted in one of NASAmarker's most famous images, the "Pillars of Creation". In these regions the formations of gas, dust and other materials "clump" together to form larger masses, which attract further matter, and eventually will become big enough to form stars. The remaining materials are then believed to form planets, and other planetary system objects.

History

Evidence exists to support that the Maya may have known about nebulae before the invention of a telescope. The information that supports this theory comes from a folk tale that deals with the Orion constellation's area of the sky. It mentions that there is a smudge around the glowing fire.

At about 150 A.D., Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy) recorded, in books vii-viii of his Almagest, five stars that appeared nebulous. He also noted a region of nebulosity between the constellations Ursa Major and Leo that was not associated with any star. In his 964 AD work, the Book of Fixed Stars, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi noted the presence of "a little cloud" where the Andromeda Galaxy is located.

For reasons unknown, Al-Sufi failed to note the Orion Nebula, which is at least as prominent as the Andromeda galaxy in the night sky. On November 26, 1610, Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc discovered the Orion Nebula using a telescope. This nebula was also observed by Johann Baptist Cysat in 1618. However, the first detailed study of the Orion Nebula wouldn't be performed until 1659 by Christian Huygens, who likewise believed himself to be the first person to discover this nebulosity.

In 1715, Edmund Halley published a list of six nebulae. This number steadily increased during the century, with Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux compiling a list of 20 (including eight not previously known) in 1746. From 1751–53, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille cataloged a total of 42 nebulae from the Cape of Good Hopemarker, with most of them being previously unknown. Charles Messier then compiled a catalog of 103 nebulae by 1781, although his primary goal in doing so was to avoid the false detection of comets.

The number of nebulae was then greatly expanded by the efforts of William Herschel and his sister Caroline Herschel. Their Catalogue of One Thousand New Nebulae and Clusters of Stars was published in 1786. A second catalog of a thousand was published in 1789 and the third and final catalog of 510 appeared in 1802. During much of their work, William Herschel believed that these nebulae were merely unresolved clusters of stars. In 1790, however, he discovered a star surrounded by nebulosity and concluded that this was a true nebulosity, rather than a more distant cluster.

Beginning in 1864, William Huggins examined the spectra of about 70 nebulae. He found that roughly a third of them had the absorption spectra of a gas. The remainder showed a continuous spectrum and thus were thought to consist of a mass of stars. A third category was added in 1912 when Vesto Slipher showed that the spectrum of the nebula that surrounded the star Merope matched the spectra of the Pleiades open cluster. Thus the nebula radiates by reflected star light.

Slipher and Edwin Hubble continued to collect the spectra from a number of diffuse nebulae, finding 29 that showed emission spectra and 33 had the continuous spectra of star light. In 1922, Hubble announced that nearly all nebulae are associated with stars, and their illumination comes from star light. He also discovered that the emission spectrum nebulae are nearly always associated with stars having spectral classifications of B1 or hotter (including all O-type main sequence stars), while nebulae with continuous spectra appear with cooler stars. Both Hubble and Henry Norris Russell concluded that the nebulae surrounding the hotter stars are transformed in some manner.

Formation



Many nebulae form from the irrational gravitational collapse of gas in the interstellar medium or ISM. As the material collapses under its own weight, massive stars may form in the center, and their ultraviolet radiation ionises the surrounding gas, which creates plasma, making it visible at optical wavelengths. Examples of these types of nebulae are the Rosette Nebula and the Pelican Nebula. The size of these nebulae, known as HII regions, varies depending on the size of the original cloud of gas. These are sites where star formation occurs. The formed stars are sometimes known as a young, loose cluster.

Some nebulae are formed as the result of supernova explosions, the death throes of massive, short-lived stars. The materials thrown off from the supernova explosion are ionized by the energy and the compact object that it can produce. One of the best examples of this is the Crab Nebula, in Taurus. The supernova event was recorded in the year 1054 and is designated as SN 1054. The compact object that was created after the explosion lies in the center of the Crab Nebula and is a neutron star.

Other nebulae may form as planetary nebulae. This is the final stage of a low-mass star's life, like Earth's Sun. Stars with a mass up to 8-10 solar masses evolve into red giants and slowly lose their outer layers during pulsations in their atmospheres. When a star has lost a sufficient amount of material, its temperature increases and the ultraviolet radiation it emits is capable of ionizing the surrounding nebula that it has thrown off. The nebula is 97% Hydrogen and 3% Helium with trace materials. The main goal in this stage is to achieve equilibrium.

Types of nebulae



Classical types

Nebulae are classified in four major groups. In the past galaxies and globular clusters were thought to be other types of nebulae. Spiral nebula were used to explain the spiral structures of galaxies.
  • H II regions, which encompass diffuse nebulae, bright nebulae, and reflection nebulae.
  • Planetary nebulae
  • Supernova remnant
  • Dark nebula
This classification does not encompass all known cloud-like structures. An example is a Herbig–Haro object.

Diffuse nebulae



The diffuse nebulae near the stars are examples of reflection nebula.

Most nebulae can be described as diffuse nebulae, which means that they are extended and contain no well-defined boundaries. In visible light these nebulae may be divided into emission nebulae and reflection nebulae, a categorization that depends on how the light we see is created. Emission nebulae contain ionized gas (mostly ionized hydrogen) that produces spectral line emission. These emission nebulae are often called HII regions; the term "HII" is used in professional astronomy to refer to ionized hydrogen. In contrast to emission nebulae, reflection nebulae do not produce significant amounts of visible light by themselves but instead reflect light from nearby stars.


Dark nebulae are similar to diffuse nebulae, but they are not seen by their emitted or reflected light. Instead, they are seen as dark clouds in front of more distant stars or in front of emission nebulae.

Although these nebulae appear different at optical wavelengths, they all appear to be bright sources of emission at infrared wavelengths. This emission comes primarily from the dust within the nebulae.

Planetary nebulae



Planetary nebulae are nebulae that form from the gaseous shells that are ejected from low-mass asymptotic giant branch stars when they transform into white dwarfs. These nebulae are emission nebulae with spectral emission that is similar to the emission nebulae found in star formation regions. Technically, they are a type of HII region because the majority of hydrogen will be ionized. However, planetary nebulae are denser and more compact than the emission nebulae in star formation regions. Planetary nebulae are so called because the first astronomers who observed these objects thought that the nebulae resembled the disks of planets, although they are not at all related to planets.

Protoplanetary nebula



A protoplanetary nebula (PPN) is an astronomical object which is at the short-lived episode during a star's rapid stellar evolution between the late asymptotic giant branch (LAGB) phase and the subsequent planetary nebula (PN) phase. A PPN emits strong infrared radiation, and is a kind of reflection nebula. The exact point when a PPN becomes a planetary nebula (PN) is defined by the temperature of the central star.

Supernova remnants



A supernova occurs when a high-mass star reaches the end of its life. When nuclear fusion ceases in the core of the star, the star collapses inward on itself. The gas falling inward either rebounds or gets so strongly heated that it expands outwards from the core, thus causing the star to explode. The expanding shell of gas forms a supernova remnant, a special type of diffuse nebula. Although much of the optical and X-ray emission from supernova remnants originates from ionized gas, a substantial amount of the radio emission is a form of non-thermal emission called synchrotron emission. This emission originates from high-velocity electrons oscillating within magnetic fields.

Notable named nebulae



Nebula catalogs


See also



References

  1. Krupp, Edward C. (1999), Igniting the Hearth, Sky & Telescope (February): 94


External links




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