Dramatic Image of the Cone Nebula
This dramatic image of the Cone Nebula was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on April 2, 2002. The Cone Nebula, also known as NGC 2264, is an H II region that can be found in the constellation Monoceros. Its about 2,600 light years away from the Earth.
The Cone Nebula gets it’s name because it looks like a cone when viewed with a telescope. Just to put this thing in perspective, the cone or pillar of dust and gas you can see in the above image is about seven light years long! It is HUGE.
The bright red region of the nebula is caused by hydrogen being ionized by the region’s principle star – S Monocerotis. S Monocerotis is part of a group of hot young stars that are blasting the dark cloud with ultraviolet light that heats it up and releases the bright gas into the region around the cloud. If you look closely at the image, you can see the gas streaming away into the background.
What intrigues me about this nebula is the way that the stars near the top of the cloud have blasted a hole in the dust and gas creating a hollowed-out region. Look at the bright colored edges around the stars.
These type of regions – pillars of dense dust and gas – are thought to be star producing regions. Another similar region is M 16 which is also known as the Eagle Nebula or Pillars of Creation.
Image Credit: NASA, Holland Ford (JHU), the ACS Science Team and ESA