A nebula (from Latin: "cloud"; pl. nebulae or nebulæ, with ligature or nebulas) is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen gas, helium gas and other ionized gases. Originally, nebula was a general name for any extended astronomical object, including galaxies beyond the Milky Way (some examples of the older usage survive; for example, the Andromeda Galaxy was referred to as the Andromeda Nebula before galaxies were discovered by Edwin Hubble). Nebulae often form star-forming regions, such as in the Eagle Nebula. This nebula is depicted in one of NASA's most famous images, the "Pillars of Creation". In these regions the formations of gas, dust, and other materials "clump" together to form larger masses, which attract further matter, and eventually will become big enough to form stars. The remaining materials are then believed to form planets, and other planetary system objects.
Evidence exists that the Maya knew about nebulae before the invention of a telescope. Support for this theory comes from a folk tale that deals with the area of the sky around the Orion constellation. The tale mentions there is a smudge around the glowing fire.
Around A.D. 150, Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy) recorded, in books VII-VIII of his Almagest, five stars that appeared nebulous. He also noted a region of nebulosity between the constellations Ursa Major and Leo that was not associated with any star. The first true nebula, as distinct from a star cluster, was mentioned by the Persian astronomer, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi, in his Book of Fixed Stars (964). He noted "a little cloud" where the Andromeda Galaxy is located. He also cataloged the Omicron Velorum star cluster as a "nebulous star" and other nebulous objects, such as Brocchi's Cluster. The supernova that created the Crab Nebula, the SN 1054, was observed by Arabic and Chinese astronomers in 1054.
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