NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 1 March 2023: Flaming Nebula, Tadpole Nebula and Comet ZTF
Stars, which illuminate our Universe, are formed in a giant cloud of dust and gas in space, known as a Nebula. Although many nebulae are located extremely far away, NASA has been able to observe them using advanced technology such as the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope. One such Nebula discovered with such amazing technology is the Flaming Star Nebula. No, this nebula isn’t on fire, but it has been named the Flaming Star Nebula because the star at the center of the Nebula, called AE Aurigae, seems to harbor smoke.
NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day is a stellar picture of the Flaming Star Nebula and the Tadpole Nebula crossing paths with the Comet ZTF. IC405, otherwise known as the Flaming Star Nebula, lies about 1,500 light-years away toward the constellation of Auriga and spans about 5 light-years across. According to NASA, AE Aurigae, a luminous star located at the center of the nebula, has a blue colour due to its high temperature. It radiates such intense light that it causes the displacement of electrons from atoms present in the surrounding gas.
The picture was captured by Thomas Roell, who is a Boeing 737 pilot by day, and an astrophotographer by night.
Is star AE Aurigae on fire? No. Even though AE Aurigae is named the Flaming Star and the surrounding nebula IC 405 is named the Flaming Star Nebula, and even though the nebula appears to some like a swirling flame, there is no fire. Fire, typically defined as the rapid molecular acquisition of oxygen, happens only when sufficient oxygen is present and is not important in such high-energy, low-oxygen environments such as stars. The bright star AE Aurigae occurs near the center of the Flaming Star Nebula and is so hot it glows blue, emitting light so energetic it knocks electrons away from surrounding gas.
When a proton recaptures an electron, light is emitted, as seen in the surrounding emission nebula. Captured here three weeks ago, the Flaming Star Nebula is visible near the composite image’s center, between the red Tadpole Nebula on the left and blue-tailed Comet ZTF on the right. The Flaming Star Nebula lies about 1,500 light years distant, spans about 5 light years, and is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Charioteer (Auriga).