These space clouds look like art — but they’re more than their beauty.
For more than 30 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has been our eye on the universe’s stunning nebulae.
Sometimes they appear when a star dies, and other times they are nurseries for new stars.
But in recent years, astronomers have begun to better understand nebulae — from their chemical makeup to how they form into incredible shapes.
These are known as emission nebulae. Radiation from stars inside the cloud energize electrons that emit light energy when combining with atoms.
Aptly named reflection nebulae, light from nearby stars scatters in these clouds to create an often bluish color.
Charged particles and energy from stars and other bodies in the vicinity of a nebula determine what form it takes.
In 5 billion years the Sun will run out of fuel and shed its outer layers, scattering a nebula of gas and energy through the Solar System.
While most require telescopes to spot, formations like the Orion Nebula are bright enough to see in the night sky without assistance.
These are called absorption nebulae, and they block light coming from behind them. They contain more dust than other nebulae.
Their particles are spread thin, at as low as 0.1 atoms per cubic centimeter (cc). Comparatively, the particles in Earth’s air contain about 10 million trillion molecules per cc.