Boomerang NebulaHubble's Variable Nebula
Images from Steve Bowers

There is a common saying: "a nebula only looks good from a distance". And I'd usually it is true. When you look at one through a telescope or when doing a spacewalk on a nightside they are gorgeous. But when you get closer, they fade and become transparent, and when you are in the middle of one it just looks like the stars are a bit more reddish than usual. Even the blackbody nebula out in the Perseus Arm loses its drama when you get close to it. I should know- I flew straight through it.
But there is one region of space where the saying isn't true, and that is the Orion federation. Those nebulas still look magnificent close up- draperies of red and blue, streaks as dark as the galactic nadir. And bright young stars everywhere, lighting up the gas and blowing it into piles, streamers, or bubbles. The sky at Enremdea- on one side the Orion Nebula, on the other the Cone Nebula and the Christmas Tree- is one of the most magnificent sights anywhere.

From "the passenger"
A huge, diffuse cloud of gas and dust in interstellar space. The gas is mostly hydrogen (H2).

Bright nebulae glow with light emitted by the gas of which they are composed (the emission nebulae) or by reflected starlight (the reflection nebulae) or both.

Dark nebulae consist of clouds of gas and dust that are not illuminated.

Protoplanetary nebulae are condensations of gas and dust in the process of forming a star and solar system

The archaic term Planetary nebulae refers to shells of gas ejected by exploding stars. Spiral nebulae was an Old Earth term for galaxies.

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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev
Initially published on 09 December 2001.

Additional Information
a Nebula is featured in The Passenger by Anders Sandberg, available in After tranquility, tales from Orion's arm II