Ghostly Reflections in the Pleiades

Ghostly Reflections in the Pleiades
From the Hubble Space Telescope
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has caught the eerie, wispy tendrils of a dark interstellar cloud being destroyed by the passage of one of the brightest stars in the Pleiades star cluster. The star is reflecting light off the surface of pitch black clouds of cold gas laced with dust. or reflection nebulae. This famous cluster is easily visible in the evening sky during the winter as a small grouping of bright blue stars, named after the "Seven Sisters" of Greek mythology. Resembling a small dipper, this star cluster lies in the constellation Taurus at a distance of about 380 light-years from Earth. The unaided eye can discern about a dozen bright stars in the cluster, but a small telescope will reveal that the Pleiades contains many hundreds of fainter stars.
In many cases, the nebulae surrounding star clusters represent material from which the stars have formed recently. However the Pleiades nebulosity is actually an independent cloud, drifting through the cluster at a relative speed of about 6.8 miles/second (11 kilometers/second). This exceptionally bright nebulosity IC 349 is adjacent to the bright Pleiades star Merope and is so bright because it lies extremely close to Merope--only about 3,500 times the separation of the Earth from the Sun, or about 0.06 light-year--and thus is strongly illuminated by the star's light.
In this image, Merope itself is just outside the frame on the upper right. The colorful rays of light at the upper right, pointing back to the star, are an optical phenomenon produced within the telescope, and are not real. However, the remarkable parallel wisps extending from lower left to upper right are real features, revealed for the first time.
Image Title: Ghostly Reflections in the Pleiades
based on press release for PHOTO NO.: STScI-PR00-36
Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgement: George Herbig and Theodore Simon (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii)

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 Last Modified On: Thursday, February 22, 2001