Space for the Earthbound - A Journey Through the Universe

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The Lagoon Nebula (Home of Bok Globules)

Located in the constellation Sagittarius is a vast interstellar cloud known as the Lagoon Nebula (M8 or NGC 6523). Being relatively close to Earth, at approximately 5,700 light years away, the Lagoon Nebula is a favorite among amateur astrophotographers. This rich region in the sky contains numerous objects that can be easily seen with home telescopes. The Trifid Nebula (M20) is found only half a degree north of the Lagoon. With a high-powered telescope, you may be able to discern the remote globular cluster NGC 6544 one degree southeast of the Lagoon.

Photo Credit: Hunter Wilson

French astronomer Guillaume Joseph Hyacinthe Jean-Baptiste Le Gentil de la Galaisière is credited with discovering the Lagoon in 1747; however, it appears that John Flamsteed noted the nebula as early as 1680, as did Philippe Loys de Chéseaux in 1746.

As with many other nebulae, the Lagoon appears pink in time exposure color photos but is gray when viewed with the naked eye or binoculars and smaller powered telescopes. This is due to our human eyes not being able to process colors very well at low light levels. A nebula or light-pollution filter is needed to bring out the full complexity of this star-forming nebula.

Here are some outstanding photos of the Lagoon taken by amateur astrophotographers, including information on the equipment used for the majority of the pictures. Why these are considered amateur is beyond me, several of these shots rival those taken by professionals.

Located within the Lagoon are several Bok globules, dark clouds comprised of dense dust and gas where star formations sometimes begin. Discovered by Dutch-American astronomer Bart Jan Bok in the 1940's, these clouds have been described as "similar to insects' cocoons", giving birth to new stars and star clusters. While still somewhat of a mystery, Bok globules continue to be studied intensely.

The Lagoon Nebula is home to a rather massive structure resembling a pair of funnels or tornadoes, caused by heated and ionized gases emitted from O Herschel 36, the hot star pouring out ultraviolet light seen in the lower right corner of the picture below.  

Photo Credit: A. Caulet (ST-ECF, ESA) and NASA

For Help Locating This Object in the Sky: Use the Interactive Messier Map in the upper right hand corner. Objects are listed numerically. Click on the object you wish to locate (ex. The Crab Nebula is M1) and a map will be displayed showing that object's location.

Author Resource: Written by Starr Hendon


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