La Silla Snaps Detailed Image Of The Pipe Nebula
August 15, 2012

La Silla Captures Curious Pipe Nebula In New Detail

Videos: Zooming in on the Dark Nebula Barnard 59 | Panning Across the Dark Nebula Barnard 59

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A new image of the Pipe Nebula has been taken using the Wide Field Imager at the European Space Observatory's La Silla Observatory.

The Pipe Nebula is a vast dark cloud of interstellar dust, or a dark nebula, which is a type of nebula that consist of stars, but is so thick with dust that it blocks out the light.

The dark nebula is close to the center of the Milky Way galaxy in the constellation of Ophiuchus.  The nebula lies about 600 to 700 light-years away from Earth.

Barnard 59 helps to form the mouthpiece of the Pipe Nebula and is the subject of this new image from ESO.

"At first glance, your attention is most likely drawn to the center of the image where dark twisting clouds look a little like the legs of a vast spider stretched across a web of stars," according to an ESO statement. "However, after a few moments you will begin to notice several finer details. Foggy, smoky shapes in the middle of the darkness are lit up by new stars that are forming."

ESO said that if you look carefully, you can spot more than a dozen tiny blue, green and red strips scattered across the picture.  These are asteroids, chunks of rock and metal that are orbiting the sun.

The majority of these obstructions in the image lie in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.  The Pipe Nebula is about ten million times further away from Earth than these objects.

"And finally, as you take in this richly textured tapestry of celestial objects, consider for a moment that when you look up at this region of sky from Earth you would be able to fit this entire image under your thumb held at arm´s-length despite it being about 6 light-years across at the distance of Barnard 59," according to ESO.

The nebula is named after the American astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard, who was the first to systematically record dark nebulae using long-exposure photography.

Barnard cataloged a total of 370 dark nebulae all over the sky during his time.  He bought his first house with the prize money from discovering several comets.

The entire Pipe Nebula is comprised of Barnard 65, 66, 67 and 78, in addition to Barnard 59.  The nebula can be seen with the naked eye under dark and clear skies, and it is best spotted at southern latitudes.