Stunning Cosmic Fireworks
Everybody loves fireworks, but what many don’t realize is the Universe is putting on its own show nightly. It’s free and far surpasses Disney in splendor.
The show is performed by dozens of nebulae. For some of them it’s bittersweet because they were created by dying stars along with whatever attendant planets they had. We can spot a few of them with the naked eye as faint smudges, like the famous one in Orion’s sword. With even a small backyard telescope they come alive in swirling, streaming colors and myriad shapes. With more powerful scopes they’re breathtaking. I was fortunate to view several through a large scope on an astronomy trip to the dry Atacama Desert in Chile a few years back, sights I will not forget. Hubble has shot spectacular images of many you can view online. Enlarged prints make excellent abstract art to decorate a home or office.
Some resemble creatures, like the stunning Butterfly Nebula, the Horsehead, the Oyster, the Lion, the Owl, the Turtle, the Tarantula, the Robin’s Egg, the Pelican, and the Cat’s Eye. Others evoke whimsy, like the Bow Tie, the Little Gem, the Dumbbell, the Little Dumbbell, the Double Bubble, and the Blue Snowball. Some have names drawn from legend or myth, like Cleopatra’s Eye, the Medusa, the Crystal Ball, and the Ghost of Jupiter. There’s even one called the North America Nebula that resembles our continent remarkably well.
One of my favorites is the beautiful Veil Nebula, appropriately in graceful Cygnus, the Swan constellation. It’s the 50-light-years-long (that's 300 trillion miles long) remnant of a great supernova—the explosion of a giant star 20 times the mass of our Sun. It looks as though it’s drifting on a soft evening breeze.
There’s a primeval hopeful aspect to a few of these grand displays because they’re vast molecular clouds of dust and gas that are nurseries where new stars and their planets are being born—whole new solar systems like ours, some that may ultimately harbor life.
The nebulae are brilliant reminders that we, ourselves, are children of some long-ago cataclysm that forged many of the molecules needed to build the dazzling blue planet we call Home.
We’re all made of star stuff from the perpetual fireworks display that illuminates the cosmic night.
The thriller novel series Guns, Diamondback, Kllrs, and Deathsman, set in the Great Smokies and endorsed by top gun bestselling authors Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts can be yours in print or Kindle from Amazon. (Easy buy link on my website.)