With the holidays approaching and winter closing in in the northern hemisphere, the Hubble Space Telescope is getting into a festive mood with this week’s image of the Snowman Nebula.
This nebula, located in the constellation of Puppis, is around 6,000 light-years away from Earth. It is a type called an emission nebula, which is a shape formed from ionized gas. As stars are born within the nebula, they give off energy in the form of radiation. This radiation interacts with the gas around them, ionizing it and making it glow. It is this ionization that gives nebulae their beautiful colors and shapes.
If you’re wondering why this nebula is named the Snowman when it doesn’t look very recognizable in this image, it’s because this particular picture only captures a fraction of the nebula’s total shape. To see this image in its larger context of the nebula, the Hubble scientists also shared the bonus image below:
The smaller image on the left shows the nebula in its entirety. It has a dual-lobe shape, with one round lobe being considerably larger than the other. It is this configuration that gave the nebula its name, with the appearance of a snowman on its side.
“From a telescope on Earth, the Snowman looks a bit like a dual-lobed ball of gas, but this Hubble Space Telescope image captures the details of sweeping curves of bright gas and dark knots of dust in a small section of the nebula,” the Hubble scientists write. “The Snowman is also known as Sharpless 2-302, one of the objects in a catalog of mostly emission nebulae that was compiled by astronomer Stewart Sharpless as he sought to identify areas of interstellar ionized hydrogen, or HII regions.”
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