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Starbreeding Seagull Nebula Shows Youthful Strength of Our Galaxy

First Posted: Feb 06, 2013 02:49 PM EST

A new image of the Seagull Nebula from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) shows a small section of this complex cloud of dust and glowing gas. The name comes from the wispy red clouds that form part of the "wings" of the celestial bird and this picture reveals an intriguing mix of dark and glowing red clouds, weaving between bright young stars.

Running along the border between the constellations of Canis Major (The Great Dog) and Monoceros (The Unicorn) in the southern sky, the Seagull Nebula is a large cloud mostly made of hydrogen gas. It's an example of what astronomers refer to as an HII region. Hot new stars form within these clouds and their intense ultraviolet radiation causes the surrounding gas to glow brightly, in this case a mostly reddish hue, which stems from the ionized hydrogen gas.

Spiral galaxies can generally contain thousands of such HII regions, almost all of which are then concentrated along their spiral arms - and their presence indicates that active star formation is still in progress in a galaxy. The Seagull Nebula is located in one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way.

The image of this cloud, also known as Sharpless 2-296, was captured by the Wide Field Imager (WFI), a large camera mounted on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. It shows only a small section of the nebula, consisting of several clouds that are furiously forming hot stars in their interior. The frame shows the cloud Sharpless 2-296 lit up by several particularly bright young stars - there are many other stars scattered across the region, including one so bright that stands out as the gull's "eye" in pictures of the entire complex.

Wide-field images of this region of the sky show a multitude of interesting astronomical objects. The young bright stars within the nebula are part of the nearby star-forming region of CMa R1 in the constellation of Canis Major, which is filled with bright stars and clusters.

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