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What is a Nebula / Different Kinds of Nebula / List of Nebula

Cindy has a strong interest in the world around her. Her interest and research lead to the creation of this article

What is a Nebula?

A nebula is a cloud of dusts and gases (hydrogen, helium and other ionized gases) in outer space. Sometimes, a nebula contains the remains of dead stars. They may also be the location of many stellar nurseries, such as the Eagle Nebula and its “Pillars of Creation” where stars are constantly being formed. In these nebulae, components clump together to form stars.

Note: Nebula can be pluralized as nebulae or nebulas. It is acceptable either way.

Video Explanation of Nebula

In the following video, you will find a comprehensive instructional overview of nebulae. The video includes instruction and a PowerPoint presentation.

Classifications of Nebula:

The word “nebula” is derived from the Latin word meaning "cloud". Nebulae come in various shapes and sizes. Depending upon their characteristics, astronomers divide nebula into various classifications. Continue reading to learn more, or you may click on a link to skip to that classification.

This detail of the Pillars in Trifid Nebula looks very much like a unicorn.

This detail of the Pillars in Trifid Nebula looks very much like a unicorn.

The Horsehead Nebula is an example of an absorption nebula.

The Horsehead Nebula is an example of an absorption nebula.

Absorption Nebula, Dark Nebula

Absorption nebulae, also referred to as dark nebulae, are clouds of dust and gases that are so thick they totally block light from the areas of space behind them. Light is not able to pass through an absorption nebula. They are difficult to spot in a dark area of space because the dark clouds can only be seen when silhouetted by much brighter areas of space.

The Carina Nebula is an example of a diffuse nebula.

The Carina Nebula is an example of a diffuse nebula.

Diffuse Nebula

Diffuse nebulae are nebulae which have no defining shape or boundary. Examples of diffuse nebulae are the Trifid Nebula, Carina Nebula and Tarantula Nebula.

Emission Nebula

Emission nebulae are clouds of hot glowing dust and gases. These nebulae cannot produce their own light and rely upon nearby stars from which they absorb heat. They reach extremely high temperatures which cause them to glow. They are typically located near newly forming stars.

The Helix Nebula is an example of a Planetary Nebula.

The Helix Nebula is an example of a Planetary Nebula.

Planetary Nebula

Planetary nebulae are produced when dead or dying stars eject their outer layers after they have burned-out. These ejected layers of gas move out into space and form a spherical-shaped nebula. The remains of the star from which the nebula was formed can usually be seen glowing in the center of the original nebula. Examples of planetary nebulae are the Helix Nebula, the Egg Nebula, or the Butterfly Nebula.

A planetary Nebula is created as a final phase of a low-mass star’s existence. The Earth’s sun is an example of a low-mass star. When the low-mass star has lost enough material, its temperature rises causing ultraviolet radiation, which ionizes the materials it has thrown off.

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The following video contains an amazing discussion of Planetary Nebulae.

While also discussing the Eskimo Nebula, the following video provides a great explanation about how planetary nebulae are formed.

The Egg Nebula is an example of a Protoplanetary Nebula.

The Egg Nebula is an example of a Protoplanetary Nebula.

Protoplanetary Nebula

A Protoplanetary nebula is formed by the rapid creation of a star via stellar evolution. An example of a protoplanetary nebula is the Egg Nebula.

Pleiades Cluster Nebula is an example of a Reflection Nebula.

Pleiades Cluster Nebula is an example of a Reflection Nebula.

Reflection Nebula

A reflection nebula does not have the ability to create its own light. Instead, it relies on the light of nearby stars to reflect off of its cloud of dusts and gases. Reflection nebulae are the brightest when their light (reflection) is generated from new stars being born (stellar nurseries). Sometimes the gas and dust are so thick the new stars are invisible.

Center of the Rosette Nebula

Center of the Rosette Nebula

H II Region Nebula

H II region nebula, such as the Pelican Nebula and the Rosette Nebula, are created when stars collapse upon themselves. H II region nebula include reflection nebula, bright nebula, and diffuse nebula. The amount of gas available in the original cloud determines the size of the nebula. Stellar nurseries, where new stars are formed, are found in these nebulae.

Combined X-Ray and Optical Images of the Crab Nebula

Combined X-Ray and Optical Images of the Crab Nebula

Supernova Remnant Nebula

Supernova remnant nebula, such as the Crab Nebula, are created by the explosion of a supernova. The explosion ejects material, which is then ionized by the energy, while a mass of compressed material remains.

Pillar Detail of Eagle Nebula

Pillar Detail of Eagle Nebula

Nebula Listing

To see a photograph of and to learn more about each nebula listed in alphabetical order below, click on the related hyperlink.

Ant Nebula

Name: Ant Nebula

Also known as Mz3 (Menzel 3)

Type of nebula: young bipolar planetary nebula

In Constellation: Norma

Distance from the earth: located between 3,000 and 6,000 light-years

This nebula received its name because it resembles the head and thorax of an ant.

For more information:

Ant Nebula

Ant Nebula

Watch the following video to see how the Ant Nebula was formed.

Barnard's Loop Nebula

Name: Barnard’s Loop Nebula

Also known as Orion Loop Nebula, Sharpless 276 and SH2-276

Type of nebula: diffuse nebula or supernova remnant

In Constellation: Norma

Distance from the earth: 1600 light-years

Size: approximately 300 light-years across

For more information:

Barnard's Loop Nebula

Barnard's Loop Nebula

Boomerang Nebula

Name: Boomerang Nebula

Also known as the Bow Tie Nebula

Type of nebula: young planetary nebula

In Constellation: Centaurus

Distance from the earth: 5000 light-years

Size: spans approximately 1 light-year

For more information:

The Boomerang Nebula is the coldest known nebula in the Universe.

The Boomerang Nebula, a young planetary nebula, is the coldest object in the Universe.

The Boomerang Nebula, a young planetary nebula, is the coldest object in the Universe.

Bubble Nebula

Name: Bubble Nebula

Also known as NGC 7635, Sharpless 162 and Caldwell 11

Type of nebula: H II region emission nebula

In Constellation: Cassiopeia

Distance from the earth:

Size: ten light-years in diameter

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The "bubble" effect is created by wind that is generated by an enormous young star called SAO 20575.

Butterfly Nebula

Name: Butterfly Nebula

Also known as Bug Nebula, M 2-9, Caldwell 69 and NGC 6302

Type of nebula: Planetary Nebula

In Constellation: Scorpius

Distance from the earth: between 2,100 to 3,500 light-years

Size: 3 light-years across

The extremely hot star, centrally located at the center of this nebula, has an estimated temperature above 200,000 Kelvin or 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

For more information visit:

For more images, click here.

Butterfly Nebula

Butterfly Nebula

Carina Nebula

Name: Carina Nebula

Also known as: the Great Nebula in Carina, the Eta Carina Nebula, or NGC 3372

Type of Nebula: diffuse nebula

Distance from Earth: between 6,500 and 10,000 light-years

In Constellation: Carina

Notes: Two of the biggest and brightest stars in our galaxy, HD 93129A and Eta Carinae, are located inside this nebula. Brighter and four times larger than the Orion Nebula.

For more information: click here

This annotated map of the Carina Nebula points out various parts of the nebula.

This annotated map of the Carina Nebula points out various parts of the nebula.

An infrared image of the Carina Nebula.

An infrared image of the Carina Nebula.

A close-up of the central part of the Carina Nebula.

A close-up of the central part of the Carina Nebula.

Carina Nebula

Carina Nebula

The video (below) was created to demonstrate how the Carina Nebula would appear in space if you passed within a few light-years of it. It is a very stunning depiction!

Here is a picture of the Eta Carina nebula surrounded by the Homunculus Nebula. The Eta Carinae is part of the Carina Nebula.

Here is a picture of the Eta Carina nebula surrounded by the Homunculus Nebula. The Eta Carinae is part of the Carina Nebula.

The Mystic Mountain is another part of the Carina Nebula.

The Mystic Mountain is another part of the Carina Nebula.

"The Caterpillar" is part of the Carina Nebula.

"The Caterpillar" is part of the Carina Nebula.

Cat’s Eye Nebula

Name: Cat’s Eye Nebula

Also known as: NGC 6543

Type of Nebula: planetary nebula

For more information: click here

This is a composite image using optical images from the Hubble Space Telescope and X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory in 1995.

This is a composite image using optical images from the Hubble Space Telescope and X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory in 1995.

The video below is a simulation of the evolution of the Cat's Eye Planetary Nebula.

Cat's Paw Nebula

Name: Cat's Paw Nebula

Also known as: NGC 6334

Distance from Earth: approximately 5500 light years

Size: 50 light years across (a bit larger than a full moon)

Notes: Located close to the heart of the Milky Way galaxy.

For more information: click here

Cat's Paw Nebula

Cat's Paw Nebula

Cave Nebula

Name: Cave Nebula, Sh2-155, Caldwell 9

Also known as: Sh2-155, Caldwell 9

Type of Nebula: part of a larger group of nebulae containing, emission, reflection, and dark nebulae

In Constellation: Cepheus

For more information: click here

Cave Nebula

Cave Nebula

Christmas Tree Cluster Nebula

Name: Christmas Tree Cluster Nebula

Also known as: NGC2264

Type of Nebula: diffuse nebula

Distance from Earth: 2,500 light-years

In Constellation: Monoceros

Notes: Encompasses the Cone Nebula and the Fox Fur Nebula, stellar nursery

For more information: click here

Christmas Tree Cluster Nebula, NGC 2264

Christmas Tree Cluster Nebula, NGC 2264

Cocoon Nebula

Name: Cocoon Nebula

Also Known as: Sh 2-125, Caldwell 19, IC 5146

Type of Nebula: reflection/emission nebula

Distance from Earth: 4,000 light-years

In Constellation: Cygnus

Size: 15 light-years across

For more information: click here

Cocoon Nebula

Cocoon Nebula

Cone Nebula

Name: Cone Nebula

Also known as: NGC 2264

Notes: stellar nursery

For more information: click here

Crab Nebula

Name: Crab Nebula

Type of Nebula: supernova remnant

Notes: remains after a stellar explosion (supernova in 1054)

For more information: click here


Crab Nebula

Crab Nebula

Crescent Nebula

Name: Crescent Nebula

Also known as: Caldwell 27, NGC 6888

Type of Nebula: emission nebula

Distance from Earth: approximately 5000 light years

In Constellation: Cygnus

For more information: click here

Dumbbell Nebula

Name: Dumbbell Nebula

Also known as: NGC 6853, Messier 27, M 27 or Apple Core Nebula

Type of Nebula: planetary nebula

Distance from Earth: approximately 1,360 light-years

In Constellation: Vulpecula

Notes: first planetary nebula to ever be discovered

For more information: click here

Dumbbell Nebula

Dumbbell Nebula

Eagle Nebula

Name: Eagle Nebula

Also known as: NGC 6611 or Messier 16

Notes: young nebula, stellar nursery

For more information: click here

The video below of the Eagle Nebula was captured by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys. This video exhibits just how enormous the cloud of gas and dust that makes up the nebula really is.

The Pillars of Creation, elephant-looking trunks of interstellar gas and dust, are part of the Eagle Nebula.

The Pillars of Creation, elephant-looking trunks of interstellar gas and dust, are part of the Eagle Nebula.

The Pillars of Creation is part of the Eagle Nebula. The Pillars of Creation is the birthplace of many stars. The audio that accompanies the video below is from the radio program, Stardate.

Egg Nebula

Name: Egg Nebula

Also known as: Rotten Egg Nebula, RAGL 2688 or CRL 2688

Type of Nebula: bipolar protoplanetary nebula

Distance from Earth: approximately 3,000 light-years

Size: approximately .6 light-years across

Notes: was discovered early in 1996 by NASA scientists

For more information: click here

Egg Nebula

Egg Nebula

A different view of the Egg Nebula showing the circles or arcs of shed material that this nebula is famous for.

A different view of the Egg Nebula showing the circles or arcs of shed material that this nebula is famous for.

Elephant's Trunk Nebula

Name: Elephant's Trunk Nebula

Distance from Earth: approximately 2,400 light-years

In Constellation: Cepheus

Notes: The Elephant's Trunk nebula is a stellar nursery.

For more information: click here

Elephant's Trunk Nebula

Elephant's Trunk Nebula

Elephant's Trunk Nebula

Elephant's Trunk Nebula

Eskimo Nebula

Name: Eskimo Nebula

Also known as: NGC 2392

Type of Nebula: planetary nebula

Notes: a very complex structure that is not fully understood by scientists, named after its resemblance of a person's head surrounded by a furry parka hood

For more information: click here