Peer Into The Soul Nebula With This Stirring Photo From NASA

NASA/Mark Hanson

More than 20 years ago, NASA launched the Astronomy Picture of the Day — an exciting website that helps the public discover the beauty of the cosmos by featuring a new remarkable photo every day.

One of the website’s latest entries has caught the eye of the International Space Fellowship, which shared it on its news network. The splendid photo was released on November 28 and offers a close-up view of the Soul Nebula, a hazy cloud of interstellar gas and dust floating some 6,500 light-years from Earth in the Cassiopeia constellation.

This gorgeous nebula spans about 100 light-years and is an active star-forming region brimming with newborn stars.

“The Soul Nebula houses several open clusters of stars, a large radio source known as W5, and huge evacuated bubbles formed by the winds of young massive stars,” NASA detailed in August, when the space agency unveiled another stunning photo of this rich stellar nursery. Other memorable images of the Soul Nebula can be found here and here.

Also known as IC 1848, the nebula sits in exquisite company and is usually imaged together with its stunning neighbor, the Heart Nebula (or IC 1805), so named due to its resemblance to a human heart. Together they form the Heart and Soul nebulae, a vast star-forming complex nestled within the Perseus spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy.

According to NASA, this latest photo portrays only a portion of the Soul Nebula, stretching just 25 light-years across. The image displays two of the most notable features of this enchanting nebula; dazzling formations of bright-rimmed globules collectively known as IC 1871 and SFO 12.

Image of the Soul Nebula, released by NASA on November 28 on the Astronomy Picture of the Day website.
Close-up view of the Soul Nebula, showcasing the IC 1871 and SFO 12 bubble formations.Featured image credit: NASA/Mark Hanson

Visible on the left side of the snapshot, IC 1871 is made up of dark-toned dust streaks “outlined by bright ridges of glowing gas.” Meanwhile, the bright SFO 12 sits to the right, forming a spectacular contrast with IC 1871’s “dark and brooding dust clouds.”

“Their gaseous forms are sculpted by the UV radiation and stellar winds from many hot young stars in the star cluster associated with the Soul Nebula,” notes Hanson Astronomy.

As NASA explains, these two regions are perfect examples of a phenomenon known as triggered star formation, in which winds and radiation coming from massive stars carve out large cavities within the nebula, blowing glistening bubbles into the surrounding dust.

“According to the theory of triggered star-formation, the carving out of these cavities pushes gas together, causing it to ignite into successive generations of new stars.”

The same phenomenon occurs in the Heart Nebula as well, turning the pair into “massive star-making factories,” states NASA.

The photo below, captured by the space agency’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) in 2010, showcases the Heart and Soul nebulae side by side, imaged in infrared light.

Infrared mosaic of the Heart and Soul nebulae, shown on the right and the left side, respectively.
Infrared mosaic of the Heart and Soul nebulae, shown on the right and the left side, respectively. Featured image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

The colors in the WISE photo are only representational. Blue and cyan represent near-infrared light created by the shining stars, whereas green and red show mid-infrared light exuded from warm dust.