The Pipe Nebula is a dark nebula in the Ophiuchus constellation (The Serpent Bearer) and a part of the Dark Horse Nebula, lying about 600–700 light-years away from Earth. It is a large but readily apparent pipe shaped dust lane that obscures the Milky Way star clouds behind it. Originally, astronomers believed these were areas in space where there were no stars. But it was later discovered that dark nebulae actually consist of clouds of interstellar dust so thick it can block out the light from the stars beyond. The nebula has two main parts: the Pipe Stem with an opacity of 6 which is composed of Barnard 59, 65, 66, and 67 and the Bowl of the Pipe with an opacity of 5 which is composed of Barnard 78.
The Pipe Nebula appears silhouetted against the rich star clouds close to the centre of the Milky Way. Barnard 59 forms the mouthpiece of the Pipe Nebula and is the subject of this new image from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope. The nebula is named after the American astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard (1857 – 1923), one of the great American observational astronomers, the first to systematically record dark nebulae using long-exposure photography and one of those who recognised their dusty nature.
Foggy, smoky shapes in the middle of the darkness are lit up by new stars that are forming. Star formation is common within regions that contain dense, molecular clouds, such as in dark nebulae. The dust and gas will clump together under the influence of gravity and more and more material will be attracted until the star is formed. However, compared to similar regions, the Barnard 59 region is undergoing relatively little star formation and still has a great deal of dust. If you look carefully you may also be able to spot more than a dozen tiny blue, green and red strips scattered across the picture. These are asteroids, chunks of rock and metal a few kilometres across.
Credits: NASA, Wikipedia.