Science of the Stars: Nebula

This is the first in a regular feature by our new Science writer, Johnny Dietz, in which he explores the science of our galaxy.


When I joined the Pilot’s Federation  I became a miner. I enjoyed the ringed vistas I worked in and the pay was decent. One day I was browsing the GalMap for systems when I came across an odd cloud-like feature. I thought the map was glitching out, so I reloaded my game and looked back at the cloud I had found. This time I saw that this object had a name. The words ‘Pleiades Nebula’ were cast onto the cloud. It was from that point on that I heard the unexplored regions call my name.


Dreamlike visages

When early people first looked up to the stars, they also noticed these cloud-like structures. They named them ‘Nebulae’ which is the Latin term for cloud. This cloud description isn’t inaccurate as Nebula are essentially large areas with high concentrations of particulate matter. The main difference between Nebula clouds and their rain-bearing cousins is that nebulae are made mostly of light ionized gases such as Hydrogen and Helium.


Blue dots in a red sky

Nebula are often thought of as some of the first large objects in the Universe. These massive proto-Nebulae gave rise to the first galaxies and stars, when small disturbances in their gas distributions caused gravitational eddies to form. This lead parts of these nebulae to collapse into more complex forms of objects.

The nebulae we have today aren’t nearly as large or massive, but are much more dense than their ancestors. These Nebulae are scattered across our galaxy and are often the inspiration for Commanders to venture out from the bubble and explore the farm reaches of our galaxy.


A clash of color

Not all Nebulae are created equal, they can vary in shape, color, matter, origin. These distinctions have lead to the creation of four different categories of Nebula. These categories are as follows; Dark Nebulae, HII Nebulae, Supernova remnant Nebulae, and Diffuse Nebulae, which can be further divided into Emission and Reflection Nebulae.


Nebulae can be all colors of the rainbow

Dark Nebulae are clouds of gas and dust that have no light coming from them or reflecting off them. These Nebulae look like black smoke from an extinguished cosmic fire.  Some  notable examples of this are the Coalsack and Chamaeleon nebulae located 600 light years Northwest of Sol.


Talk about red skies at night

HII Nebulae are made of predominantly ionized hydrogen and come in every shape, size, and color imaginable. These Nebulae can be smaller than a light year to larger than several thousand light years. HII Nebulae are very common, with the Orion Nebula and the Horsehead Nebula being some notable examples. Unlike other nebulae HII nebulae are intensely hot with an average temperature of 10,000K! Essentially no matter where you go in the nebula, your ship would feel like it was next to a class A star.


Akin to a bonfire in the distance

Supernova remnant Nebulae–or, as they are more commonly known Planetary Nebulae–are small nebulae that generate after a star dies in a spectacular explosion known as a Supernova Event. These nebulae are generally quite small, only spanning a few dozen light years at their largest.

The reason these nebulae are known as planetary nebulae is that, before the progenitor star explodes, it goes through a giant phase where it can swallow its neighboring planets. When these planets are inside the star they can warp the flow of gases in the star and cause irregularities in matter distribution inside the star. These changes cause Planetary nebulae to have unique shapes from one another, being the cosmic equivalent of a snowflake.


A nice accent for a planet rise

Reflection Nebulae are generally made up mostly of reflective dust. This dust reflects the light from nearby stars making Reflection Nebulae the Universe’s cosmic mirrors. One of the most well known nebula–the Pleiades–is a reflection nebula. The Pleiades’ light comes from the seven massive B stars that are sprinkled within it. It is testament to how bright these stars are that it only takes seven of them to light up an entire nebula.


Like a shimmering pool in space

The Colonia Nebula that we have all come to know is an Emission Nebula. This means that the Nebula produces most of its own light from the clouds of matter inside it as they are ionized by titanic stellar giants. There is no doubt that the Colonia Nebula is a beauty and is an absolute joy to behold, but we literally have a galaxy full of all kinds of different Nebulae. So go out there and find your own!



Like a celestial fire



All images are taken in-game, courtesy of CyborgPirate


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