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What is a Nebula? Different Kinds of Nebulae

Updated on January 31, 2015
Orion Nebula
Orion Nebula | Source

A Cloud of Interstellar Gases and Dust


What is a nebula? A nebula is a conglomeration of gases (hydrogen, helium and other ionized gases) and dust in outer space - a cloud. It is sometimes the remains of dead stars. It is also the location of many stellar nurseries, such as the Eagle Nebula and its “Pillars of Creation” where stars are constantly being formed. In these nebulae, components clump together to form stars.

Note: Nebula can be pluralized as nebulae or nebulas. It is acceptable either way.


Classifications of Nebula:

Different groups of people group or classify nebulae into different categories. Here we will look at the different classifications that are used.

Nebulae come in various shapes and sizes. The word “nebula” is derived from the Latin word meaning "cloud". Depending upon their characteristics, astronomers divide nebula into various different classifications:


The Horsehead Nebula is an example of an absorption nebula.
The Horsehead Nebula is an example of an absorption nebula. | Source

Absorption Nebula, Dark Nebulae




Absorption nebulae, also referred to as dark nebulae, are clouds of dusts and gases that are so thick that the totally block light from the areas of space behind it. Light is not able to pass through an absorption nebula. These nebulae are hard too spot in a dark area of space because these dark clouds can only be seen when silhouetted by much brighter areas of space.




CTIO Image of Carina Nebula
CTIO Image of Carina Nebula | Source

Diffuse Nebula





Diffuse nebula are nebula which have no defining shape or boundary. Examples of a Diffuse Nebula is the Trifid Nebula, Carina Nebula and Tarantula Nebula.

The North American Nebula is an example of an emission nebula.
The North American Nebula is an example of an emission nebula. | Source

Emission Nebula





An emission nebula is a cloud of hot glowing dusts and gases. These nebulas cannot produce their own light and rely upon nearby stars from which they absorb heat. These nebulae reach extremely high temperatures which causing them to glow. These nebulae are generally located near newly forming stars.

Helix Nebula is an example of a Planetary Nebula.
Helix Nebula is an example of a Planetary Nebula. | Source

Planetary Nebula

A planetary nebula is produced when a dead or dying star ejects its outside layers when it has burned-out. These ejected layers of gas move out into space and form a spherical-shaped nebula. The remains of the star from which the nebula was formed can usually be seen glowing in the center of the nebula. Examples of planetary nebulae are the Helix Nebula, the Egg Nebula, or the Butterfly Nebula.

Planetary Nebula are created as a final phase of a low-mass star’s existence. The Earth’s sun is an example of a low-mass star. When the low-mass star has lost enough material, its temperature rises causing ultraviolet radiation, which ionizes the materials it has thrown off.


Video About planetary Nebula

Egg Nebula
Egg Nebula | Source

Protoplanetary Nebula


A Protoplanetary nebula is formed from the rapid creation of a star via stellar evolution. An example of a protoplanetary nebula is the Egg Nebula.


Pleiades Cluster Nebula is an example of a Reflection Nebula.
Pleiades Cluster Nebula is an example of a Reflection Nebula. | Source

Reflection Nebula


A reflection nebula does not have the ability to create its own light, but relies on the light of nearby stars to reflect off of its cloud of dusts and gases. Reflection nebulas are the brightest where new stars are being born (stellar nurseries). Sometimes the gas and dust is so thick that the new stars are invisible.


Center of the Rosette Nebula
Center of the Rosette Nebula | Source

H II Region Nebula


H II region nebulae, such as the Pelican Nebula and the Rosette Nebula, are created when stars collapse upon themselves. H II region nebulae include reflection nebula, bright nebula, and diffuse nebula. The amount of gas available in the original cloud determines the size of the nebula. Stellar nurseries, where new stars are formed, are found in these nebula.

Combined X-Ray and Optical Images of the Crab Nebula
Combined X-Ray and Optical Images of the Crab Nebula | Source

Supernova Remnant Nebula



Supernova remnant nebulas, such as the Crab Nebula, are created by the explosion of a supernova. The explosion ejects material which is then ionized by the energy while a mass of compressed material remains.

Pillar Detail of Eagle Nebula
Pillar Detail of Eagle Nebula | Source

Dark Nebula


Dark nebula, also referred to as absorption nebula, are thick clouds of dust and gas that have the ability to totally block light from passing through it. The Eagle Nebula and the Carina Nebula are examples of a dark nebula.

Hubble picture of NGC 2818
Hubble picture of NGC 2818 | Source
Cluster of stars and nebula NGC 1929 - a giant bubble carved into a gas cloud by the combined winds of a huge cluster of massive stars born inside it.
Cluster of stars and nebula NGC 1929 - a giant bubble carved into a gas cloud by the combined winds of a huge cluster of massive stars born inside it. | Source
Carina Nebula
Carina Nebula | Source
Flame Nebula towards the top of the picture. The Horsehead Nebula can be seen in the lower right.
Flame Nebula towards the top of the picture. The Horsehead Nebula can be seen in the lower right. | Source
Pillar and Jet in the Carina Nebula
Pillar and Jet in the Carina Nebula | Source

The videos below have been provided for your enjoyment.

This completes the overview of all nebulae. To view individual nebula and learn more about them, click on the alphabetical groupings below, or choose from the individual listings above.

To continue reading in the series, What is a Nebula? Common Names for Nebulae A-C and Their Information.




For a comprehensive slide show of nebulae photos taken by Hubble, click here.


More URL's to check out:

Comments: "What is a Nebula? Part 1, Different Kinds of Nebulae"

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    • Beth Pipe profile image

      Beth Pipe 5 years ago from Cumbria, UK

      Wow - what stunning pictures and fascinating information. I love learning more about space - I have NASA and Planets apps on my phone and follow lots of really interesting people on Twitter. Thanks for the hub, I love it!

    • Chasing Riley profile image

      Chasing Riley 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      This is very interesting. My 12 year old had a constellation project recently which included this very subject. Your pictures are beautiful. The dark nebula looks so ominous. Great #1!

    • learntolive profile image

      learntolive 5 years ago

      It was easy to understand, informative, and the pictures were amazing!

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      Beth Pipe - I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have always been fascinated by space and its beauty.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      Chasing Riley - I'm glad you enjoyed it. What a fun subject for you 12 year old to be able to work on. I think these pictures are beautiful also, but some of my favorites are in some of the hubs to follow.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Very interestding indeed! Once upon a time, when I was a very young girl, I thought I wanted to be an astronomer. I read and re-read the child's version biography, "Maria Mitchell, Girl Atronomer."

      However, as kids do, my career goals shifted a hundred and one times. In the end, I found I had neither the aptitude for nor interest in mathematics required by this field.

      My general interest in the topic has remained, adding to my long list of eclectic interests.

      Oh, and I must be reading while hungry, as the photo you supplied of the Carina Nebula looks to me not "unformed" at all..but very much like a slice of freshly-baked brownie being lifted from the pan--complete with a bit of walnut on top! ;-)

      Cheers...voted up all around. Looking forward to the next in the series.

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      learntolive - I'm pleased that you enjoyed the article. I'm glad that I got to write it and had the opportunity to go through so many different photos of nebula while looking for just the right one!

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      DzyMsLizzy - I hadn't really thought about astronomy needing lots of math, but I guess it would. That could certainly stop me.

      I too have many eclectic interests so you are not alone. You can probably tell though because of all the things that I write about.

      My grandmother used to call me the jack of all trades and the master of none. It probably still applies.

      How funny about the Carina looking like a brownie. Now I want one. It certainly has a squared off feature there.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Loi-Renee profile image

      Loi-Renee 5 years ago from Jamaica

      Amazing! I didn't know these even existed. I've learnt something today. Thank you.

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      Loi-Renee - Well, I am so glad that I was able to introduce you to these amazing and beautiful parts of the universe.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      I knew nothing at all about Nebulas, so I have learnt something today, well written and interesting, thank you, best wishes MM

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      Movie Master - I am pleased to be able to introduce you to some of the wonders of our universe. I think they are so gorgeous. Thanks for stopping by!

    • DonnaCosmato profile image

      Donna Cosmato 5 years ago from USA

      Hi Homesteadbound, we couldn't find the last part of the series so we went back to part one. Zach liked the video of the Helix nebula best, but he also enjoyed the image gallery. (We had to look at it twice, lol!) Excellent research job on these and I hope they bring you lots of traffic and money.

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      DonnaCosmato - Because the entries are so similar, I have difficulties getting them past the duplicate filter. Waiting on the last one. It will be coming. I glad your little man enjoyed them. Thanks for the wishes and for stopping by and commenting. I really enjoyed the videos also.

    • DonnaCosmato profile image

      Donna Cosmato 5 years ago from USA

      Thanks for letting us know, homesteadbound. I'll keep an eye on my notifications so I can let him know as soon as it publishes. We ran out of time last night because of bedtime, but we'll try to get part 2 in tonight. Great series and very inventive in your presentation. We voted this up, by the way :)

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      hello again, Donna! It still has not been released from jail yet, but I will share it as soon as it is published. If I haven't heard anything by the end of tomorrow, I will have to send another email to the nebula keepers! LOL

      I am glad that you are able to share this time with your son. It warms my heart!

      I just published a hub today on macrophotography that I bet he would enjoy also.

      Thanks for the comments and for the votes. i hope y'all enjoy the rest of them!

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago

      Simply Brilliant.

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      molometer - I'm pleased you enjoyed it! Thanks!

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I enjoy M42, Orion's Nebula. I believe it is the closest nebula to earth but I am not sure. I enjoy looking at it through a small yet powerful telescope on the top of my local college's roof. I first experienced it as a student. I can not see M42 without binoculars. The School has 2 great telescopes and I have enjoyed the experience twice. Dr. David Owen was the Professor. The best viewing in my region is after the Winter Solstice. Sometime between the end of December and the Beginning of February.

      I love stargazing but I suffer from a lot of Light Pollution where I live. I live in a small city with many lights. I can't wait to be free again to watch the stars! Thanks homesteadbound for doing what you do. You are the best at what you do. No one can be you. You have a gift!

      JSMatthew~

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      J.S.Matthews - That sounds neat - having access to a telescope to be able to view a nebula.

      Too many times those of us close to cities, especially the big cities like Dallas, find ourselves surrounded by light pollution.

      Thanks for the encouragement and the compliments. I appreciate it more than you will ever know.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      It's my pleasure homesteadbound! I am so happy to watch a Hubber like yourself from the very beginning and look at you now! You are a star! Keep up the great work and success!

      JSMatthew~

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      J.S.Matthew - I am touched by your words. Thanks you so much.

    • jodiejay71 profile image

      jodiejay71 5 years ago

      Interesting, Cindy! Your hubs are truly interesting..you know your 'stuff'.

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      jodiejay71 - I am pleased that you found this series to be interesting. There are so many great pictures of nebulas out there that it is hard to pick just one for each nebula. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    • chamilj profile image

      chamilj 5 years ago from Sri Lanka

      Interesting I always like to see new things in the space. Thanks for the amazing images. Voted up!

    • homesteadbound profile image
      Author

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      chamilj - I hope you had a chance to look at the others in this series. Each of them have spectacular pictures and some have videos. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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