Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
February 9, 1998
Explanation: Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble ... Maybe Macbeth should have consulted the Witch Head Nebula. This suggestively shaped reflection nebula is associated with the bright star Rigel in the constellation Orion. More formally known as IC 2118, the Witch Head Nebula glows primarily by light reflected from Rigel. Rigel is located about one photo-width off the image to the right. Fine dust in the nebula reflects the light. The blue colour is caused not only by Rigel's blue colour but because the dust grains reflect blue light more efficiently than red. The same physical process causes Earth's daytime sky to appear blue, although the scatterers here are molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. The nebula lies about 1000 light-years away.
Authors & editors:
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.