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New Picture: Glowing Green Ring Nebula

Today’s nebula news is brought to you by the letter “O.”

—Picture courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

In a new infrared picture from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, a nebula known as RCW 120 makes a brilliant green “O” against a starry patch of sky.

It may look like a portal to Hell ripped through the fabric of spacetime, but this nebula is actually a bubble of gas and dust that’s formed around an “O” type star, the most massive stellar giants known to exist.

O stars appear blue in visible light and are very hot: Surface temperatures can be higher than 73,340 degrees Fahrenheit (40,727 degrees Celsius).

Because they are so bulky, O stars live fast and die young. Their intense radiation lights up their stellar nurseries shortly after they’re born, and they blow themselves apart as supernovae just a few million years later.

Bubbles like this one are found encircling O stars across the galaxy. In fact, the smaller objects near the bottom right of this frame may be similar rings deeper in space.

RCW 120 has been known and photographed before. But the nebula, about 4,300 light-years away near the constellation Scorpius, can take on different features depending of the wavelengths of light captured to make an image.

In 2008 the European Southern Observatory used a combination of visible and submillimeter light to take this snap of RCW 120:

—Picture courtesy ESO/APEX/DSS2/ SuperCosmos/ Deharveng(LAM)/ Zavagno(LAM)

The image shows the bright O star glowing with all its might near the center of the ring.

The powerful star is emitting huge amounts of ultraviolet radiation, which is very visibly pushing surrounding material so violently that it’s stripping the electrons from hydrogen atoms.

The freshly charged—or ionized—hydrogen gas glows deep red inside the bubble, as seen by ESO’s LABOCA camera in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

As the gas expands, it creates a shock wave that’s sweeping up interstellar gas and dust. This colder material, seen in hazy blue, is collapsing into dense clumps that are in turn becoming the seeds for new stars.

Since the youngest of these cloud clumps are relatively cold, around -418 degrees Fahrenheit (-250 degrees Celsius), it takes ESO’s submillimeter vision to make them out.

More recently, in May 2010 the European Space Agency used its Herschel infrared space observatory to examine RCW 120.

Nestled in the star-forming shock wave, Herschel found an embryonic star that’s shaping up to be one of the biggest and brightest in our galaxy.

—Picture courtesy ESA/PACS/SPIRE/HOBYS Consortia

Seen as a brighter patch near the base of the blue ring, this stellar monster is already eight to ten times as massive as our sun—and it’s still growing.

The big baby star is surrounded by an additional 2,000 solar masses of material, which means it has enough “food” to eventually get as big as stars can be: 150 solar masses.

As with the Herschel image, the new Spitzer view is in infrared, albeit in slightly different parts of the infrared spectrum. That means the blue-colored O star doesn’t shine as bright, but the surrounding ring of material shows up like a green beacon.

Because of this effect, rings like this are pretty common in Spitzer observations—so common that NASA scientists haven’t been able to catalog them all.

If you want to help them out in this task, head over to “The Milky Way Project” in the Zooniverse, a portal for citizen-science astronomy projects.

Victoria Jaggard is the space editor for National Geographic News. Email blog tips to vjaggard@ngs.org, and follow Victoria on Twitter @vmjaggard99.


  1. Surrounding » Blog Archive » Pictures ring
    September 22, 2011, 5:07 pm

    […] New Picture: Glowing Green Ring Nebula – News Watch Jun 15, 2011 … New Picture: Glowing Green Ring Nebula. Posted by Victoria Jaggard of National Geographic News June … […]

  2. john vibrating
    July 24, 2011, 11:16 pm

    Great stories, maintain them coming 🙂 This is the first time i have commented, b¨´t i have been lurking for a while.

  3. J.R
    June 23, 2011, 7:29 am

    This reminds me of Shakespeare’s quote
    Come, gentle night, — come, loving black brow’d night,
    Give me my Romeo; and when he shall die,
    Take him and cut him out in little stars,
    And he will make the face of Heaven so fine
    That all the world will be in love with night,
    And pay no worship to the garish sun.

  4. margaret jennings
    Pensacola, Fla
    June 21, 2011, 11:44 am

    thanks to a great teacher, I can understand just a little. I am in awe

  5. joi
    June 21, 2011, 9:55 am


  6. Nancy K Hahn
    June 21, 2011, 8:23 am

    Wow! There is so much AMAZING and glorious to see,learn, and wonder about. How can anyone ever feel finished with learning and discovering. I’m with Dizzy Bob – Let’s go!

    June 21, 2011, 4:21 am

    this is really great work
    awsome guys

  8. Bishop Karugia
    June 21, 2011, 2:22 am

    John 14:1
    Do not let your hearts be troubled.Trust in God and also in me.In my fathers house there many rooms.if it where not so.I would have told you.I’m going there to prepare a place for you.

    June 20, 2011, 10:18 pm


  10. Doug Johnson
    Lake Worth,Florida
    June 20, 2011, 1:33 pm

    The ‘BIG G’ can’t do anything wrong, HE “don’t make junk!!!!!!!

  11. antonio filosa
    June 20, 2011, 10:54 am

    it’s wonderful!!!!

  12. Rajesh Edakkandiyil
    June 20, 2011, 5:22 am

    there is no beyond thinking….thinking ends here….

  13. ddd
    June 20, 2011, 4:38 am


  14. zombie
    June 19, 2011, 8:53 pm

    We are all Stardust

  15. Eric
    June 19, 2011, 5:39 pm

    How naive can people be to think GOD is responsible for this type of phenomenon. This is National Geographic – it explores nature and SCIENCE, not religion. Religion has no science background, no proof of anything. Science can however prove where the earth actually came from. Damn tea party fools.

  16. mark reydemto
    June 19, 2011, 10:12 am

    wow it owsome.

  17. Samengage
    June 18, 2011, 5:00 am

    Magnifique, il y a des instants comme celui-ci où on prend conscience que nous sommes des êtres vivants, entourés d’une infinie beauté ! Merci pour ces splendides photos !

    Alicante, Spain
    June 18, 2011, 4:58 am

    Amazing how masive the universe is…… Amaizing how stupid and mindless most human beings are…. Amazing how, here on earth we distroy everything for money and other hidden interests….Amazing how energy in the universe creates and distroys for noones pleasure!!

  19. Brie
    June 17, 2011, 8:35 pm

    I can’t help but notice that it looks like a 4D ultrasound image of a 12 – 15 week fetus. Being an OB nurse, it just jumps out at me. Anyone else see it? The images are truly beautiful.

  20. RYAN
    June 17, 2011, 2:57 pm

    This will be my home one day.

  21. dariel
    June 17, 2011, 2:51 pm


  22. Bob
    June 17, 2011, 8:40 am


  23. Mitch
    never you mind.
    June 16, 2011, 11:14 pm

    anyone else notice how this article (especially the first pic) coincides with the Green Lantern movie craze?

  24. Estel
    Los Angeles
    June 16, 2011, 3:49 pm

    “Some celestial event. No – no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should’ve sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful… I had no idea.”

  25. Eman
    los angeles
    June 16, 2011, 12:08 pm

    are the circles around the stars in the 2nd picture digital artifacts or is there some sort of light bending distortion causing that faint ring to form?

  26. John
    Puerto Rico
    June 16, 2011, 9:19 am

    oh yeah,its great to see that all the bubles ive drawn in the milky way project are working,i love it!!!

  27. Sam
    United States
    June 16, 2011, 9:16 am

    Magnificent.. every time I read about discoveries in space (new galaxies, stars, nebulae etc), it makes my head spin knowing how infinitely small we are and how much surrounds us.. ‘out there’…

  28. John
    Puerto Rico
    June 16, 2011, 9:15 am

    Thats great!!! i’ve drawn a lot of bubles in the milky way project,its good to see its working just fine…o yeah i love it…

  29. brrr
    June 16, 2011, 6:12 am


  30. ALOK
    June 16, 2011, 6:05 am

    awesome !

  31. Brian
    June 16, 2011, 5:13 am

    Sedikit menakutkan, tapi gambar yang menakjubkan.
    (Little scarie, but amazing picture)

  32. aradhana chauhan
    June 16, 2011, 3:59 am

    Excellent work……love the pic…..

  33. yogan
    June 15, 2011, 11:00 pm

    buddhaful ~ Inlakech Namaste
    brought to you by NASA (never a straight answer)

  34. Lindsay
    June 15, 2011, 10:23 pm

    wow makes you realise just how insignificant we actually are doesn’t it! if only every1 realised wot wonders was going on out there maybe they’d value each other,themselves & the world we live on more??……

  35. Dizzy Bob
    June 15, 2011, 7:59 pm

    Oh for God’s sake invent warp drive and start exploring the galaxy!!!

  36. MC Shinji
    Melbourne VIC
    June 15, 2011, 7:11 pm

    The ever expanding universe reminds me of the insignificance of all the problems of the world. It gives me hope that one day man will venture out to wonder space unified by the fact that we are so rare, precious, fragile and insignificant in the inconceivable scale of the universe.

  37. Mike
    June 15, 2011, 6:57 pm

    We love to put limits on things—150 solar masses –as big as it gets—I don’t think so!

    Someone is soon going to come up with a limit on the number of stars in the Universe, probably an exact number!

  38. Alex Darmalaksana
    June 15, 2011, 6:30 pm

    whether this state now or billions of years ago

  39. Hasan Al Bejoy
    June 15, 2011, 6:19 pm

    I saw The Today’s lunar eclipse. This is a very horrible .

  40. sfds
    June 15, 2011, 5:47 pm


  41. Linda
    United States
    June 15, 2011, 5:11 pm

    Good job God!
    (my first comment ever)

  42. linda
    United States
    June 15, 2011, 5:08 pm

    Good job God!

  43. Bob
    June 15, 2011, 4:32 pm

    That’s just awesome.

  44. Nolan
    Pennsylvania, U.S.
    June 15, 2011, 4:29 pm

    thats awesome

  45. SHVAN
    June 15, 2011, 2:35 pm

    wow so wonderful amazing pictures ilike it..wow