Giant Celestial Hot Gas Cloud Looks Like a Manatee
- The cloud is the remnant of a star that exploded in the constellation Aquila, about 18,000 light years away, and is impossible to spot with a common telescope; you need a radio telescope like the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array that can detect the low-energy radio wave light radiated by the nebula’s gases. Manatees can be hard to see in murky shallow waters. Spotters detect their presence by air bubbles and wakes.
- The nebula bears arc-like scars carved into it by particles blasted from the jets of the exploded star’s remnant, a black hole, at its center. The scars bring to mind the scars many manatees bear from boat propellers that have gotten too close.
- The nebula took more than 10,000 years to assume its manatee-like shape. Manatees also have a long gestation and infancy period – well, at least compared to other earthly creatures. Gestation lasts 12 to 14 months; infancy, two to five years.
Sierra Club Outings sponsors regular "Manatees and Mermaids" kayak trips. You could get on the waitlist for this year's trip, or watch the Outings listings for future opportunities. Or, you could turn your telescope to the constellation Aquila . . .
W50 supernova remnant in radio (green) against the infrared background of stars and dust (red). Credits: NRAO/AUI/NSF, K. Golap, M. Goss; NASA’s Wide Field Survey Explorer (WISE). A Florida Manatee rests underwater in Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida. Image used with permission from Tracy Colson.