The Orion Nebula is often thought of as the quintessential stellar nursery of our Galaxy. NGC 281, also known as the "Pacman Nebula", is a remarkable star forming complex in it's own right. It similarly includes a strong ionization front, an adjacent molecular cloud, and proto-stars in various stages of pre-main-sequence formation. It is a very strong HII region that is being fueled by the OB star complex, IC 1590. This complex is not unlike the trapezium of the Orion Nebula. These young hot stars are ionizing the adjacent cloud, which in turn releases red photons as it recaptures the excited electrons. This complex can be seen in the constellation Cassiopeia and is located in the Perseus arm of our galaxy. The visible structure spans close to 60 light years and is about 10,000 light years distant.
Conspicuous in the image are several compact dark globules known as Bok Globules. These curious structures were first described in the 1940ís by astronomer Bart Bok. They are small clouds of gas and dust that are typically found in HII regions. They usually have a mass of approximately 10-40 solar masses and have a typical diameter of about 1 light year. Bok felt strongly that these dark clouds represented cocoons of star birth. His hypothesis was confirmed in the 1990ís when infrared imaging uncovered proto-stars hidden within many of the Bok Globules.
The radiating pillars on the lower left are reminiscent of the pillars of creation imaged in the Eagle Nebula. Here new stars hidden within, are radiating through the outer layers of this molecular cloud.
Image acquisition info:
Location: Starlodge Observatory
Date: October 2010
Telescope: Planewave CDK 12.5
Camera: SBIG STL 11000