I see a dark shape when I zoom into the Orion Nebula image. What is it?

It's something called a protoplanetary disk — likely a solar system just forming around a very young star. It's mostly dust and other material in the shape of a thin disk seen edge-on. It is denser than the surrounding nebula and blocks the light from behind, so the disk appears dark against the glowing gas of the nebula. It's something like what our solar system might have looked like billions of years ago when the Sun was just forming. Many of these objects have been observed by Hubble in the Orion Nebula.

What is the Eagle Nebula?

The Eagle Nebula, a vast cloud of gas and dust where stars are being born, lies some 7,000 light years distant in the direction of the constellation Serpens. Hot, newborn stars illuminate the gas. The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has taken pictures of dramatic "pillars" of dense molecular hydrogen and dust within the nebula. These pillars are slowly "evaporating" under the glare of intense radiation from massive stars that were recently born nearby. Emerging from the eroding tips of the pillars are dense globules of gas and dust. Though tiny in the image, these globules are as wide as our entire solar system. New stars are forming from gas condensing within these stellar cocoons, a process that takes about one hundred million years. The following Internet links will provide additional information.

Find out more from HubbleSite:

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How do pillar-like structures form out of interstellar gas clouds?

Find out more about 30 Doradus from NewsCenter.

The pillar shape forms when a particularly dense area of gas and dust shields the material behind it from the blistering radiation and strong winds released by hot, massive, blue stars in a young star cluster. This protected material becomes the pillars where stars can form and grow. The Hubble telescope first spied these pillars of stellar creation when it captured close-up views of the Eagle Nebula.

Hubble’s more recent image of 30 Doradus shows numerous pillars — each several light-years long — oriented toward the central star cluster. These pillars, which resemble tiny fingers, are similar in size to those in the Eagle Nebula.

What is the Ring Nebula?

The Ring Nebula is the expanding outer layers of a dying star. The star, which would have been between one to eight times the mass of our Sun, ejected its outer layers into space during its late evolutionary phases. The Ring Nebula lies some 2,000 light years distant in the direction of the constellation Lyra.

The Hubble Space Telescope has produced a stunning image of the Ring Nebula, which may be viewed at:

Additional information can be found at the Hubble Heritage Project:

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