February 6, 2013
ESO Image Release: Wings Of The Seagull Nebula
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineA new image released by the European Space Observatory (ESO) taken by its Wide Field Imager shows off a section of the Seagull Nebula.
The cloud of dust and glowing gas seen in the image that forms the "wings" of the seagull reveals a mix of dark and glowing red clouds.
The Seagull Nebula, or IC 2177, lies between the constellations of Canis Major and Monoceros in the southern sky. Astronomers refer to it as an HII region, where new stars can form within. The term HII means ionized hydrogen, and HI for atomic hydrogen. A hydrogen atom consists of an electron bound to a proton, but in an ionized gas atoms are split into freely moving electrons and positive ions.
ESO said the reddish hue seen in the picture is a sign of the presence of ionized hydrogen, featuring three large clouds of gas. Sharpless 2-292, the first cloud, helps to shape the head of the celestial bird, while part of Sharpless 2-296 comprises the wings, and Sharpless 2-297 adds in the tip of the right wing. A list of over 300 glowing clouds was compiled by American astronomer Stewart Sharpless in the 1950s.
Sharpless, a graduate student at the Yerkes Observatory near Chicago, published observational work that helped to show that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy with curved arms. This class of galaxies contains thousands of HII regions, almost all of which fall in the spiral arms.
ESO's Wide Field Imager (WFI) helped to capture the image of Sharpless 2-292. WFI is a large camera mounted on the MPG/ESO telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. This cloud only shows up in a small section on the nebula, which is a large cloud that forms hot stars in its interior.
The Sharpless 2-292 image shows several bright young stars, which are scattered across the region, including one so bright it helps to depict the seagull's "eye" in the picture.
Wide field images taken of this part of the sky show off a number of astronomical objects, including the star-forming region of CMa R1 in the constellation Canis Major. This region is filled with bright stars and clusters.
Another nebula which can be found lying next to the Seagull Nebula is Thor's Helmet Nebula, which is an object that was imaged using ESO's Very Large Telescope back on October 5, 2012. This date was actually the 50th anniversary of ESO.