Cosmic Debris-fing

Jul 18, 2016

Saturn Nebula / Cosmic Debris-fling
Credit B. Balick (U. Washington) et al., WFPC2, HST, NASA

This week Hal sheds light on the Saturn Nebula.  

How many Saturn’s do you see in the night sky? Well, right now, the answer could be two!

We talked recently about the beautiful and awe-inspiring planet Saturn, now high in southern Colorado skies. In many people’s eyes, it’s the most beautiful of all the planets, Saturn’s gorgeous system of rings make it appear oblong in binoculars or small telescopes.

But there’s another object bearing the name Saturn in our skies right now too – the beautiful and mysterious Saturn Nebula. The word nebula, when applied to astronomy, generally refers to clouds of gas and/or dust in space. They can be vast clouds within which stars are being formed, such as the famous Orion Nebula, or they can be clouds of debris blasted off from stars as they die.  For the Saturn Nebula, is most definitely the latter.

It wasn’t until 1850 that telescopes improved enough for the unusual shape and colors of the Saturn Nebula to be discovered.

And when I say unusual shape and colors, I mean unusual. The Saturn Nebula is the result of a relatively low – mass star, in its death throes, casting off vast clouds of gas into space, and illuminating the gas from within. And something very strange is going on out there. Many of this type of nebula are spheres, as stars blastoff debris in all directions. The Saturn Nebula, however, has halos, shells, and jets of gas, which added together end up looking like a beautiful blue – green elongation on each side of the star. And the star is no slouch either, burning at a temperature of nearly 100,000°F, roughly 10 times hotter than our own Sun. It’s a beautiful object, and one of the few places in the sky you will see the color green.

If you’d like to take a closer look at the Saturn Nebula, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit 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!