Messier Monday: The Omega Nebula, M17 (Synopsis)

“For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.” -John F. Kennedy

If you went back in time to the birth of the Sun and the Solar System, what would you see? You wouldn't simply have a protostar with a gas-and-dust filled nebula around it, with the seeds of what would become our planets. Sure, they would be there, but they'd be immersed in a giant molecular gas cloud with hundreds-to-thousands of stars just like ours, as well as some that were far more massive than anything we find in our neighborhood today!

Image credit: Andrea Tamanti, via http://www.tamanti.it/Nebulae/M17_sfull.htm. Image credit: Andrea Tamanti, via http://www.tamanti.it/Nebulae/M17_sfull.htm.

Star formation is a relatively rare thing in our galaxy today, as most of the Milky Way's stars were formed long ago. Nevertheless, there are always "bursts" of it happening, including in seven of the 110 objects in the Messier catalogue. One of the most spectacular ones can be found in the southwest skies shortly after sunset tonight, and provides not only a treat for skywatchers everywhere, but a lesson about our own place in the cosmos, and where our successors will come from.

Image credit: VLT’s Survey Telescope, ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgement: OmegaCen/Astro-WISE/Kapteyn Institute. Image credit: VLT’s Survey Telescope, ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgement: OmegaCen/Astro-WISE/Kapteyn Institute.

Take a look inside the Omega Nebula, Messier 17, on this spectacular Messier Monday!

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