Behold: IC 405, aka the Flaming Star Nebula – an apparently fiery region surrounding star AE Aurigae. But what looks like fire is not fire. To wit:

Fire, typically defined as the rapid molecular acquisition of oxygen, happens only when sufficient oxygen is present and is not important in such high-energy, low-oxygen environments such as stars. The material that appears assmoke is mostly interstellar hydrogen, but does contain smoke-like dark filaments of carbon-rich dust grains. The bright star AE Aurigae, visible just to the lower right of the image center, is so hot it glows blue, emitting light so energetic it knocks electrons away from surrounding gas. When a proton recaptures an electron, light is emitted, as seen in the surrounding emission nebulaFeatured here, the Flaming Star nebula lies about 1,500 light yearsdistant, spans about 5 light years, and is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Charioteer (Auriga).

(Image: Amir Abolfath (TWAN))


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