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Question Video: Identifying Astronomical Objects Science

What type of astronomical object is shown in the picture?


Video Transcript

What type of astronomical object is shown in the picture below? (A) A nebula, (B) a supernova, or (C) a galactic halo.

Let’s begin by briefly reviewing some information about each of the possible answer choices.

Option (A), a nebula is a large cloud of gas and dust in space. It’s a loose collection of floating particles. And under the right conditions, a nebula can contract due to gravity and eventually form a solar system.

Next, option (B) says a supernova. A supernova occurs when a star violently explodes, sending lots of its mass and energy into the surrounding space. The actual explosion of a supernova only lasts for a minute or so. But interestingly, a nebula can be formed from the remnants of a supernova, which may go on to eventually become a solar system.

Moving on, option (C), a galactic halo is the region of space surrounding a galaxy. Now, looking back at the photo, we don’t see a galaxy. A galaxy is a collection of billions of stars and will typically have a more defined shape than what we see in this photo. Thus, we can reason that the picture doesn’t show a galactic halo. So let’s eliminate option (C).

This photo also does not show a supernova. If it did, we would see a very bright spot, the explosion, that would far outshine everything else in the photo. Let’s eliminate (B) as well.

Rather, the picture shows a loosely shaped cloud with a few brighter areas of likely star formation. This description fits that of a nebula, and indeed a nebula is the correct answer. This is a photo of the Orion Nebula, and it’s actually visible in the night sky from most places on Earth. To the naked eye, it looks like a blurry star, and it makes up part of Orion’s sword in the Orion constellation. Scientists consider this nebula to be an example of a stellar nursery, since hundreds of new stars are being formed out of this cloud of gas and dust that measures over 20 light-years wide.

Thus, answer choice (A) is correct. We know that the type of astronomical object shown in the picture is a nebula.

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