The Eagle spreads its starry wings

By Gary Zientara
Mount Sangre Observatory
Posted 10/25/18

The Eagle Nebula gets its name because it looks somewhat like the outstretched wings of an eagle in flight.

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The Eagle spreads its starry wings


The Eagle Nebula gets its name because it looks somewhat like the outstretched wings of an eagle in flight.

It is really a star-forming region in the constellation Serpens, The Snake. You may recognize the finger-like structures in the middle of this star cloud. This inner region dubbed, “The Pillars of Creation,” was photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope on April Fools Day 1995. It is one of the most spectacular images ever taken by NASA’s famous orbiting telescope.

What causes all these weird shapes? Star-forming regions are vast clouds of mostly hydrogen gas and a fair amount of dust that collapse by gravity and angular momentum to form baby stars. The young stars give off fierce radiation in the form of stellar winds, which blast through the nebula reshaping it as well as blowing holes through it.

The characteristic columns of gas and dust are common artifacts sculpted from these infant balls of glowing gas powered by nuclear fusion in their cores. You may think that the Eagle Nebula’s largest column to the lower right in this image looks like a horse head. But this is not the Horse Head Nebula, which is found near Orion’s belt. I prefer to call this, “The Humming Bird On A Flower Nebula,” although it already has an official name, “The Stellar Spire.”

The Eagle Nebula is about 7,000 light-years or 42,000 trillion miles from Earth (light travels 6 trillion miles through space in one year). You can pretty much know for sure that we aren’t going to visit this place unless we find out how to travel through a wormhole or invent a starship with at least warp factor nine speed capability.

Meanwhile, we can explore this stellar nursery through instruments, such as the imaging system at Mount Sangre Observatory near Angel Fire. This image was taken on the night of July 9. It consists of 51 minutes of stacked images through red, blue, visual and hydrogen-alpha filters. The Eagle Nebula is cataloged as M 16, which is the sixteenth object on Charles Messier’s famous list.

If you want to explore more, please visit where I publish monthly information about astronomical events, binocular viewing, telescopic highlights and an image gallery. Here’s wishing you clear dark skies in the Land of Enchantment.


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