The 5 Most Beautiful Nebulae
tl;dr: check out our 5 Beautiful Nebulae Infographic.
When you look at the sky, there’s a gazillion things that will take your breath away. And that beauty stretches well beyond the sky we’re able to observe with the naked eye, or even an everyday telescope..
There are so many more things our eyes can’t see which would simply blow us away if we could catch even a glimpse of them. The most beautiful of these are clouds of gas (mostly hydrogen along with other trace gases present in smaller amounts) and dust particles which form in interstellar space.
These gorgeous clouds range in size from hundreds of light years to even millions of light years across. They’re so elegantly named Nebula (Latin for “cloud”, plural: Nebulae, also occasionally Nebulas) and have dazzled amateur and professional Astronomers for hundreds of years. These clouds make for some of the most spectacular sights ever observed in astronomy, which leads you to think about what the next big discovery will be with advances in technology.
Despite these gaseous clouds being many light years from Earth, they’re so large that some nebulae can even be seen in the night’s sky with the naked eye. Also, did you know in about 5 billion years, our Sun will turn into a planetary nebula? I don’t want to be around for that event!
Known as the gems of the universe, these Nebulae have been discovered to come in an astonishing range of beautiful shapes, vibrant colors and extraordinary sizes.
We’ve put together the starter’s guide everyone needs to know about the 5 most beautiful Nebulae that have been revealed by our ever-so advancing technology:
#5 Most Beautiful Nebulae: The Cat’s Eye Nebula
Distance from Earth: 3,262 Light Years, 19,176,075,967,324,928 Miles
Location: Draco Constellation
Diameter: ~4.5 Light Years, 26,453,814,179,326 Miles
What makes the Cat’s Eye Nebula unique on its own is the fact that it was one of the first planetary nebulae to be discovered. The Cat’s Eye Nebula is also one of the most complex planetary nebulae and most difficult to study.
Discovered by William Hershel on February 15, 1786, the Cat’s Eye is one of the brightest shining planetary nebulae in the sky. Additionally, The Cat’s Eye was the very first planetary nebula to have its spectrum studied, by William Huggins in 1864. How exciting is that? Because it was one of the first planetary nebula spectrum to be studied, we’ve given it the fifth position of our list of the 5 Most Beautiful Nebulae.
This beautiful nebula is a planetary nebula that contains jets, knots, bubbles and complex arcs that give it the wonderful shape in which it has.
Lastly, the Cat’s Eye shines exceptionally bright – about 10,000 times as luminous as our Solar System’s Sun. The enchanting structure of this complex planetary nebula makes it stand out; with eleven rings (or shells) of gas that make up the Cat’s Eye Nebula.
#4 Most Beautiful Nebulae: The Butterfly Nebula
Distance from Earth: ~4,000 Light Years, 23,514,501,492,734,430 Miles
Location: Scorpius Constellation
Diameter: ~3 Light Years, 17,635,876,119,550 Miles
Named for its resemblance to a butterfly, also otherwise called the Bug Nebula, this planetary nebula was discovered in 1947 by Rudolph Minkowski. Its wings are made of gas and plasma ejected from a dying star that was once about five times the mass of our Solar System’s Sun! That’s huge and such a wonderful way to burn out!
The white dwarf presently at its center is exceptionally hot; almost 34 times as hot as one of the most popular stars known to exist; the Sun. This dying central star has a surface temperature of only approximately 400,000 degrees Fahrenheit, while being hidden in the view by dust clouds. These clouds are shining radiantly in ultraviolet wavelengths, just one of the many things that makes this nebula one of the most unusual nebulae, which helped it secure the fourth position on our list of the 5 Most Beautiful Nebulae.
The beautiful orange color at the edge of the butterfly wings is a result of light emitted by nitrogen, whereas the white areas are from light radiated by sulfur. Just magnificent.
#3 Most Beautiful Nebulae: The Hourglass Nebula
Distance from Earth: 8,154 Light Years, 47,934,311,292,939,137 Miles
Location: Musca Constellation
Diameter: ~1 light year, 5,878,625,373,183 Miles
Discovered by Raghvendra Sahai and John Trauger on January 18, 1996, this nebula has an unusual appearance that has earned it the third position on our starter’s guide list to the 5 Most Beautiful Nebulae.
There are two large outer rings and a small central one, which forms a shape of an eye, thus naming the object the Eye of God. This striking feature makes this nebula a one of a kind and one of the easiest nebulae to identify. Given its name and shape, it’s also one of the most popular nebulae – even people with simply a general interest in astronomy are able to identify it and even reference it by name, which is wonderful!
The intricate, unique shape of the Hourglass Nebula’s inner ‘eye’ has not yet been fully understood. Another peculiar feature of the Nebula is the fact that the central white dwarf that illuminates the nebula lies off-center; this is not normal for a planetary nebula, since ancestor stars are likely to lie at the center of symmetry.
There have also been a magnitude of pop culture references to the utterly magnificent Hourglass Nebula. These include the game Final Doom, Pearl Jam’s album Binaural (2000), the animated series Space Pirate Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey, the film Angels & Demons (2009), and the video games Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. Due to the wide-spread popularity of the Hourglass Nebulae and its endless references in pop culture and everyday conversation, the Hourglass Nebula has earned the third spot on our list of the 5 Most Beautiful Nebulae.
#2 Most Beautiful Nebulae: The Crab Nebula
Distance from Earth: 6,523 Light Years, 38,346,273,309,276,673 Miles
Location: Taurus Constellation
Diameter: ~11 Light Years, 64,664,879,105,019 Miles
The Crab Nebula was the first astronomical object identified from a historical supernova explosion, partially responsible for its mesmerizing shape and intricacies. This beautiful nebula is filled with mysterious filaments that are, besides being extremely complex, lighter than the elements expelled in the original supernova and at a higher speed than expected from an explosion of this caliber.
The terrifically active cloud of electrons are driven by a fast rotating neutron star, also containing a pulsar at its core.
The Crab Nebula is of particular importance; its Gamma ray and X-ray energies are exceeding 30 keV, this nebula is by far the strongest persistent source in the sky, with measured flux extending to beyond 10 TeV.
The Crab’s radiation has aided the thorough studying of celestial bodies that occult it. For instance, in the years 1950s and 1960s, the Sun’s corona was mapped from observations of the nebula’s radio waves passing through it. In 2003, the thickness of the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan was measured as it blocked out X-rays from the nebula. For these unique astronomical anomalies, the Crab Nebula has scored the second spot on our list of the 5 Most Beautiful Nebulae.
#1 Most Beautiful Nebulae: The Eagle Nebula
Distance from Earth: ~7,000 Light Years, 41,150,377,612,285,254 Miles
Location: Serpens Constellation
Diameter: ~110 Light Years, 646,648,791,050,196 Miles
Also known as the Star Queen Nebula, it gets the name the Eagle Nebula from its resemblance to the bird. Discovered by Jean Philippe de Cheseaux in the year 1945, this emission nebula contains several active star forming gas and dusts areas, including the much talked about “Pillars of Creation”, which is essentially a large region of star formation.
What gives the Eagle Nebula the top spot on our list of the 5 Most Beautiful Nebulae is the countless and intriguing star-forming regions within it. Inside the Eagle Nebula, clouds of gas are attracted together due to gravity, only to collapse in. In case there’s enough gas present, nuclear fusion ignites in the center and the compact cloud becomes a shining star.
Nebulae are one of the most astounding creations in the Universe and have been studied by curious minds since the first nebulae was discovered. Each of them appears to be different and that’s just what makes these objects magnificently beautiful. Beauty isn’t just what nebulae are all about, there is more to them than a pretty face. These collections of gas and dust are a source of material and settings from which stars are born, as indicated above, forming the basis from which entire planetary systems can take shape, just like our own Solar System.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the 5 Most Beautiful Nebulae, please feel free to leave comments below and share it with your friends!