Messier 78: Young stars carve cavities in the clouds -

Messier 78: Young stars carve cavities in the clouds

Today’s Image of the Day from the European Space Agency features Messier 78 (M78), a reflection nebula located in the constellation Orion about 1,350 light-years away from Earth. 

Euclid space mission 

This image has been released as part of the initial series of observations from ESA’s Euclid space mission

All data collected during these early observations, including a series of groundbreaking new views of the nearby universe, is available to the public. 

Image of Messier 78

Featured here is a high-resolution, detailed segment of a larger image showcasing Messier 78, a dynamic region of star formation obscured by cosmic dust. 

This specific view highlights how young stars generate winds of charged particles, carving out “cavities” in the molecular clouds around them. 

The blue hues in the image represent ionized atomic hydrogen, which is a primary component of the cloud, while the red indicates the absorption and scattering of light by dust particles.

The image captures hundreds of stars varying in brightness, illuminating their nebulous, purple surroundings. A dark, arch-like structure stretches from the upper left to the bottom right of the frame, merging into the densest, darkest clouds at the image’s base.

Active site of star formation 

Messier 78 is not just a single nebula but part of a larger complex of stars and nebulous regions in Orion, which includes various other objects like dark nebulae that are visible as patches blocking light from behind.

This region is an active site of star formation, featuring many young stars and protostars, which are stars in the early stages of formation. 

Viewing Messier 78

M78 is easily observable with small telescopes, and it appears as a hazy patch of light with two prominent stars near its center, which illuminate the surrounding dust. 

The nebula is also a favorite among amateur astronomers for its beauty and relatively bright appearance.

Subject of scientific interest 

Messier 78 is fascinating not only for its visual beauty but also for its scientific interest, particularly in the study of star formation and interstellar matter. 

The nebula consists of dense, cold gas and dust, which are essential ingredients for the birth of new stars. 

The intense blue light that characterizes M78 is due to the reflection of starlight off these dust particles, a process known as scattering.

Region surrounding Messier 78 

The region surrounding M78 includes several other interesting features. For instance, there are Herbig-Haro objects within it, which are small patches of nebulosity associated with newly born stars

These objects are formed when gas ejected by young stars collides with clouds of gas and dust at high speeds, creating shock waves that glow brightly.

Earliest stages of star development 

Additionally, infrared observations of M78 have revealed much about the dust and colder objects in the area, which are not visible in optical light. 

These observations have helped astronomers identify numerous young stars and brown dwarfs (objects that are too large to be planets and too small to be stars) within the nebula. 

This makes M78 a critical area for studying the earliest stages of star development and the properties of the interstellar medium.

Euclid space mission 

The Euclid space mission is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission designed to study the dark universe, particularly focusing on dark energy and dark matter, which are fundamental components that are believed to drive the accelerating expansion of the universe and shape its large-scale structure. 

The mission aims to map the geometry of the dark universe and better understand the physics of the cosmos.

Observing billions of galaxies 

Euclid uses two primary scientific instruments: a visible light camera (VIS) and a near-infrared spectrometer and photometer (NISP). 

These instruments will allow Euclid to measure the shapes and redshifts of galaxies at distances of up to 10 billion light-years. By surveying more than a third of the sky, the mission is expected to observe several billion galaxies.

Studying the dark universe 

The data collected will help astronomers in studying the effects of dark matter and dark energy in depth, testing cosmological models, and exploring new theories about the nature of the universe. 

The mission, named after the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid, seeks to address key questions related to the structure of the universe and the fundamental laws of physics governing its evolution and expansion.

Image Credit: European Space Agency 


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