Wednesday, January 20, 2016

To The Lagoon

I always keep a short list of deep sky objects I intend to visit in the near future. The Lagoon Nebula has always been on it and I was really looking forward to travelling there after my visit to both the Bug and Red Spider Nebulae.

Approaching the Lagoon Nebula from the galactic south, there are some objects that are worth visiting, namely the Open Clusters of NGC 6531 (aka Messier 21) and NGC 6530. Both clusters are relatively young and dense but still undergo expansion and the surroundings still have enough interstellar medium to continue star formation for quite some time. In fact, the not so distant Bug and Spider bear witness of how active the region still is. One red giant collapse here, one supernova there and you’ll have enough shockwaves ploughing through the interstellar medium and igniting hot dust cloud cores for the next generation of stars.

Speaking of stars: Of the brighter stars in those clusters there is one that has acted as a veritable beacon system in the past, a cornerstone of coreward expeditions and a magnet to cosmic explorers, tourists and – lately – pirates: The bright supergiant of Thor’s Eye. It has been labelled ‘Eye of the Beholder’, ‘Lagoon’s Jewel’ and also the ‘Maw of the Abyss’. Melodramatic for sure and everybody who has visited this system sure has different feelings about it!

I am somewhat biased towards the Eye. It is a type O star of more than 16 solar radii alright, but it does not have any celestials except a gas giant and a black hole. Yes, okay, a black hole but with FSD technology and ultra-resolution imaging systems it’s not that these are elusive stellar rarities anymore. Maybe I am a bit callous here but I can’t understand the hype about the system. However, word spread fast that the members of the Distant Worlds Expedition would pay this system both homage and a visit.

It was here that a wing of several pirates from god-knows-where waylaid unsuspecting explorers of the Distant Worlds Expedition not long ago. Casualties were light but rumours of these attacks spread faster than the speed of light in the scientific community, leading to an increase in the local travel advisory rating (which is generally a bad thing for unarmed exploration vessels).

However, there is another star system I would like to point out and that is LKHA 115. It is also embedded in the NGC 6530 cluster, but it has a total of three black holes, two of which are in close orbit around each other. The total mass of those three is a bit lower than that of the single one of Thor's Eye, granted, but the system is much more dynamical. If you have a graviton suite hooked up with your discovery scanner you might be able to pick up some gravitational waves from the two orbiting black holes. Good luck!

Now, the Lagoon Nebula, also known as Messier 8, is a very interesting region, because it is embedded in a much larger cloud of gas and dust in which, until recently, star formation took place. The result of this star formation is the Open Cluster NGC 6530, which lies directly at the Lagoon’s doorstep. It may have worked like this: Parts of the original bigger dust cloud must have collapsed, forming the young NGC 6530 cluster with its bright, hot stars. 

The solar winds of these new-born stars ‘burned away’ the remnants of the surrounding dust cloud of the complex. What is left is the star cluster on one side and the nebula we see today as the Lagoon Nebula on the other side. So the nebula is basically that part of the original cloud that did not collapse and commence star formation. That is why the Lagoon and NGC 6530 lie so close together: They are made of the same matter from the same cosmic cloud and thus the ‘Lagoon Complex’ bears great similarity to older star forming regions like the Orion Complex or the Carina Complex. The ‘Lagoon’ is just younger, an astronomical infant, so to say.


Leaving the Lagoon behind, the Distant Worlds flotilla soon set course for the next important waypoint, the Omega Nebula. As it happens, the Omega Nebula is also on my short list of 'things to visit' so I can't await arriving there and have a decent meet-up with some of my exploration pals.

Time to move on...

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