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Lose yourself in a celestial lagoon

Most folks think of outer space as a vast emptiness, but if you look at the right place in the right light, you'll find beautiful clouds of glory. The Lagoon Nebula in the constellation Sagittarius, also known as M8, is such a place. This region of the nebula, 5,000 light-years from Earth, is known as the "Southern Cliff" because of the sharp dropoff that can be seen in the clouds of glowing gas and dust.

The view captured by the Gemini South telescope in Chile does not reflect what the human eye would see. If you looked at the Lagoon through a good-sized amateur telescope, you'd see a pale ghostly glow with a touch of pink. But this picture was created using filters that are sensitive to emissions from hydrogen (red) and ionized sulfur (green), plus far-infrared light (shown here in blue). That explains the psychedelic color scheme.

As detailed in today's image advisory from the Gemini Observatory, Argentinean astronomers Julia Arias and Rodolfo Barba of the Universidad de La Serena acquired the data for this image to explore the evolutionary relationship between newborn stars and the shock waves created by Herbig-Haro objects — that is, nebulous regions that are formed when the gas ejected from young stars collides with the clouds of gas and dust. About a dozen Herbig-Haro objects of varying size are visible here. But you don't have to know the ins and outs of stellar formation to appreciate the vast abundance of the Lagoon.

Check out this Hubble view of the Lagoon Nebula, and get to know these other nebulae as well:

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