Star Formation: Lagoon Nebula

Dive into the dusty depths
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Lagoon Nebula Interactive

Dust and scattered stars surround a bright center Dust and scattered stars surround a bright center
Crowded field of stars with dark gas clumps
Dark clouds surround a gas-filled area. Few stars visible
Scattered bright points which occasionally overlap
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Massive stars form from the nebula and then sculpt it, blasting out winds that create cavities and unique shapes.

Light wavelengths just beyond visible red pass through curtains of dust, revealing many more stars.

Intense radiation from young stars illuminate the Lagoon Nebula and shape its dust clouds.

Protostars still in the process of forming shine X-ray light through the nebula’s dust.


A Story Of Star Formation: Lagoon Nebula

Young stars shape their parent nebulas.

Star formation is not truly a beginning but a phase in an ongoing recycling process, in which gravity shapes new stars from the gas and dust expelled by old stars. Once formed, massive young stars shape the dusty nursery from which they were born, blowing gas and dust out of some areas while compressing it in others. In visible light, forming stars are hidden inside thick cocoons of dust, but they emit light at other wavelengths that passes through the dust clouds and can be detected by telescopes.

The portion of Lagoon Nebula shown here is dominated by the young triple-star system, named Hershel 36, at the center of the image. Near-infrared light emitted by newly formed stars shines through curtains of dust, revealing many previously hidden stars within and beyond the nebula. Longer infrared wavelengths highlight warm, glowing dust that has been sculpted by winds flowing from the energetic young stars. NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes show us this brilliant universe beyond visible red light. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory provides a view of still-forming protostars deep inside the dust, shedding light on another phase of the stellar lifecycle.

Quick Facts: Lagoon Nebula

Also known as: Messier 8 (M8)

Type of object: Star-forming nebula

Distance from Earth: 4,000 light-years

Size: 4 light-years across

Location in the sky: Sagittarius Constellation

Did you know: The larger Lagoon Nebula is faintly visible to the naked eye, and can be resolved clearly with binoculars or a backyard telescope.

Explore More About Star Formation

Find out more with these additional resources from NASA’s Universe of Learning

Credits: Lagoon Nebula

Infrared light image from the Spitzer Space Telescope: NASA

Near-infrared light image from the Hubble Space Telescope: NASA, ESA

Visible light image from the Hubble Space Telescope: NASA, ESA

X-ray light image from the Chandra X-ray Observatory: NASA, CXC

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach