New image of M27 via hancock-group
New image of M27 via hancock-group

There are few things in the cosmos that are more amazing than nebulae. These structures form in a few different ways. The first is when interstellar materials clump together, creating large swirling clouds of dust and gas. These formations are so massive that they attract more matter, making the nebula even larger and more massive. This process of accumulation and attraction continues until the nebula becomes massive enough to form new stars, and eventually, new solar systems. After stars are born, the remaining materials are then believed to form planets and other planetary system objects (things like comets, moon, and asteroids).

The second primary mode of formation occurs when shells of gas are thrown out by a star nearing the end of its life. These kinds of formations are known as planetary nebulae; however, have nothing at all to do with planets. Rather, this phrase is used because they look a little like planets when viewed through small telescopes.

In each case, these massive clouds stretch across space, weaving their bright tendrils of dust and gas throughout the sky. One of the most beautiful examples of a nebula is Messier 27, also known as the Dumbbell Nebula. This is a planetary nebula located in the constellation Vulpecula (The Fox) more than 1,200 light-years away from Earth. The central star is a hot blueish dwarf with a temperature of about 85,000 C (153,000 F). This image was captured by Andre van der Hoeven, Fred Herrmann, and Terry Hancock. The trio collected almost 40 hours of data using different telescopes and cameras. The team used narrow band filters and extreme exposures in order to capture the outer hydrogen and oxygen shell of the M27 nebula, which is not normally visible in the images produced by amateur astrophotographers