Space is just full of wonderful views. I could (and I do, sometimes) spend hours looking at such pictures, catching a glimpse of what our Universe is made of. Maybe we won’t ever be able to reach other stars or galaxies, but we can least look at them, learn from them, be amazed at them. Here is one of those images, Messier 78 (M78), a reflection nebula in Orion:
The image was captured using the Wide Field Imager camera on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory, Chile. The nebula Messier 78 is at the center, and the stars in the background are illuminating this beautiful sight. It is located 1,600 light-years away from Earth, in the Orion constellation.
M78 is a reflection nebula: the UV radiation coming from the stars that illuminate it is not enough to ionize the gas and make it glow – the dust particles are reflecting the light coming from these stars. In spite of this, M78 is one of the brightest reflection nebula in the sky, and it can be observed easily through a telescope.
In the picture, the pale blue tint is an exact representation of the nebula’s dominant colors. Blue hues are often observed in reflection nebulae, because the tiny dust particles they contain scatter the light coming from the stars: the shorter wavelength of blue light is scattered more easily than the longer wavelength of red light.
Here is a bonus, with this spectacular zoom sequence opening with a wide-field view of the Milky Way:
©ESO/S. Brunier/Chris Johnson, (cuttinedgeobservatory.com) and Igor Chekalin. Music: John Dyson (from the album Moonwind)