‹‹ Looking Up

Feature of the Black Lagoon

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2min 00sec
lagoon center
Credit Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA - Processing & Licence: Judy Schmidt
lagoon center

This is “Looking UP! in southern Colorado,” from the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. I’m Hal Bidlack, and there are lots of reasons to look up!

Ever want to take a tropical vacation? Well there is one waiting for you in the night sky right now – the Lagoon nebula. 

This vast glowing cloud of gas might be just visible with the naked eye if you are away from city lights. It covers an area of the sky equivalent to three full moons across, and it is beautiful to see through a telescope.

If you remember when we discussed the constellation Sagittarius a few weeks ago (and if you don’t, you can always listen again online at KRCC.org), within Sagittarius is an asterism, or grouping of stars, that looks like a teapot. The Lagoon nebula is located in the steam rising out of the spout of the teapot.

This faint glowing patch of light was first documented in 1654, though it seems likely that Galileo himself likely saw it in his first telescope. So what is it? Located about 5000 light years away, this vast cloud of mostly hydrogen is about 130 ly across. Gilligan and the skipper would have a hard time sailing across this Lagoon.

And aside from being beautiful to look at, the Lagoon nebula is a remarkable place because of what’s happening inside it – stars are being born! It is in these immense clouds of gas that gravity, slowly pulling on untold quadrillion’s of hydrogen atoms, little by little collapses the gas into denser and denser objects. Once enough hydrogen has been gathered into a vast sphere of hot gas, the enormous weight crushes the core under such immense pressures that the hydrogen begins to fuse and a star is born.

The very reason we can see this glowing cloud of gas is because some of the youngest stars in the universe have just been born and are illuminating the left over gas from the inside out. There’s a lot going on in that Lagoon. So make a radio out of a coconut and come to a star party and look at the Lagoon in the sky

If you’d like to take a closer look at the Lagoon Nebula or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit KRCC.org or CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!