This nebula looks like a lookout looking at the stars.

A new image from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) shows a dark nebula that looks like a cosmic lighthouse amid stars.

It is the Cone Nebula (also known as NGC 2264), located in the constellation Monoceros, about 2,500 light-years from Earth.

a dark nebula

This nebula is dark and filled with dust that absorbs visible light. But there is light invisible to our eyes, such as infrared and radio light, which can pass through dust. Thanks to this light, we can ‘see’ it.

Unlike dark nebulae, there are bright nebulae that reflect light from nearby stars. Others, ionized by the stars inside, emit their own light.

Opaque nebulae, on the other hand, are known as molecular clouds and are places where new stars are born. The dust in these clouds is very good at emitting infrared light, which makes the cloud cool.

When the cloud cools, gravity causes the bits of dust and gas to stick together and form a new star.

When a star has enough mass, it does something astronomers call feedback. Jets of plasma accelerated by the star’s magnetic field lines exit its poles and strong radiation pressure generated by ultraviolet light from the star. Both help create a stellar wind that blows material away from the baby star.

The Cone Nebula is shaped that way because of new stars forming within it. The stars are hot and bright, giving the nebula a golden color as seen in the image.

Teamwork

Since infrared light can penetrate dark nebulae, instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope are invaluable for revealing detail.

But visible-light images, such as those from the VLT (a 4-telescope array in Chile) show more detail, which in combination makes this interesting nebula better understood.

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