Like fireworks that linger for millennia, nebulae are some of the most photogenic objects in the universe. These vast clouds of dust and gas represent both the birth and death of stars, and their swirling forms lend themselves well to creative names based on whatever shapes observers happen to see in them. New Atlas has collected some of the most breathtaking nebula images ever taken.
Originally, the term "nebula" referred to any murky, diffuse celestial object, up to and including galaxies like Andromeda. But as our technology improved so did our understanding of nebulae, bringing their true nature into sharper focus.
Nebulae fall into a few categories. H II regions are huge clouds of ionized hydrogen, which over time have begun to collapse in on themselves in pockets to form new stars. One of the most famous of these stellar nurseries is the Eagle Nebula, home to the gorgeous Pillars of Creation.
But nebulae bookend the life of a star. Supernova remnants and planetary nebulae are the clouds of material ejected in the death throes of stars, and are relatively short-lived in the grand scheme of things. They fade away after just tens of thousands of years, having spread their heavier elements through the cosmos. One of the most well-known of these is the Crab Nebula, still visible almost 1,000 years after a supernova lit up the night sky in the year 1054.
Hit the gallery for a trip through our galaxy and beyond as we marvel at some of the most mesmerizing nebula ever photographed.
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