A cosmic cloud of ghostly black smoke

A cosmic cloud of ghostly black smoke

It is often said that there is no smoke without fire - only the “fire” here is a reddish glow from huge clouds of ionized hydrogen, ignited by powerful ultraviolet radiation, flooding nearby hot young stars.

The image above shows only a small part of a huge luminous cloud of hydrogen called Gum 15, located at a distance of 3000 light years from Earth in the southern constellation Sails. The dark areas wriggling along it are not really smoke, but rather bands of opaque interstellar dust, which is a sculptor of the starry sky and looms against the background of bright ionized hydrogen beyond. This photo was taken as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems program using the Very Large Telescope (Rus. Very Large Telescope, abbr. VLT), located at the ESO Paranal Observatory in Chile.

The nebula was discovered in 1951 by a young Australian astronomer named Colin Gum, who included it and many other, now well-known nebulae, in the emission nebula catalog published in 1955. A talented gum died a tragic death at the age of 36 when skiing in Switzerland in 1960.

Today, this and 84 other nebulae bear his name, along with craters on the moon.

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