A Dark Cosmic Cloud
10 September 2012

Fig. 1
Credit: ESO

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) recently published an exquisite image (Fig. 1) showing part of a curious cosmic cloud, known as the Pipe Nebula, a huge dark cloud of thick interstellar dust. The image of was obtained by the 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.

The Pipe Nebula is a remarkable example of dark nebulae, dark opaque clouds of cosmic dust that obscure the light from objects beyond them, and can be seen silhouetted against a background of stars or other glowing nebulae.

The Pipe Nebula is silhouetted against the rich star fields near the center of our Galaxy, the Milky Way. It is located some 600–700 light-years from Earth.

The American astronomer Edward Barnard (1857-1923) was the first astronomer to systematically record dark nebulae, applying photography, and recognized their dusty nature. Barnard catalogued a total of 370 dark nebulae. He was an extraordinary observer, who made remarkable contributions to modern astronomy.

Interestingly, the dark twisting clouds in the middle of Fig. 1 somewhat resemble a big spider lurking in a web of stars. The image also shows fuzzy clouds that are illuminated by newly born stars.

Star birth is common within regions that contain thick, molecular clouds, such as in dark nebulae. The dust and gas will coalesce under the influence of gravity, and gradually material will be pulled, until the star is formed.


European Southern Observatory

Aymen Mohamed Ibrahem
Senior Astronomy Specialist
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