Saturday, July 4, 2015

Tonight's Sky for July 4: Cosmic Fireworks

It's July 4, which means that, for us in America, tonight is really our only holiday where fireworks are a given. Keeping with the exploding theme, why not look at some cosmic fireworks tonight, or at least the smoky remnants of them?

For the record, the cosmic fireworks are supernovae, high mass stars that explode at the end of their lives as their fuel runs out and all nuclear fusion ceases. As for the smoky remnants, they are supernova nebulae, often irregular, inkblot-like clouds of glowing gasses left over from these stellar deaths. Additionally, as not all the fireworks at July 4 displays are big boomers, the same rings true in the cosmos as low mass stars like our Sun will slowly puff off their outer atmospheres as clouds of glowing interstellar gasses at the end of their lives. The remnants here are called planetary nebulae for the fact that they are often small and have high surface brightness even though they have nothing to do with planets.

So, here we go, a list of summer nebulae with finder charts. . .

Disclaimer: there are far more nebulae out there, but these are the brightest, most famous, and easiest to find. Needless to say, the other seasons are loaded with nebulae, too. . .

Lagoon (M8)

Trifid (M20)

Swan/Omega (M17)

Eagle (M16)

Ring (M57)

Dumbbell (M27)

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