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The Prawn Nebula

Located around 6000 light years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion), the nebula formally known as IC 4628 is a huge region filled with gas and clumps of dark dust. These gas clouds are star forming regions, producing brilliant hot young stars. In visible light, these stars appear as a blue white colour, but they also emit intense radiation in other parts of the spectrum, most notably in the ultraviolet. It is this ultraviolet light from the stars that causes the gas clouds to glow. This radiation strips electrons from hydrogen atoms, which then later recombine and release energy in the form of light. Each chemical element emits light at characteristic colours when this process occurs, and for hydrogen the predominant colour is red. IC 4628 is an example of an HII region.

The Prawn Nebula is around 250 light years across, covering an area of sky equivalent to four times that of the full Moon. Despite this huge size it has been often overlooked by observers due to its faintness and because most of its light is emitted at wavelengths where the human eye is not sensitive. The nebula is also known as Gum 56, after the Australian astronomer Colin Gum, who published a catalogue of HII regions in 1955.

Over the last few million years this region of sky has formed many stars, both individually and in clusters. There is a large scattered star cluster named Collinder 316 which extends over most of this image. This cluster is a part of a much larger gathering of very hot and luminous stars. Also visible are many dark structures or cavities, where interstellar matter has been blown away by the powerful winds generated by the nearby hot stars.

ESO. Acknowledgement: Martin Pugh

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