It is difficult to look at this newly-released Hubble Space Telescope image of the nebula NGC 2467 without thinking about what it would be like to fly through it.
It is easy to imagine floating through a beautiful softly glowing mist, something like the Mutara Nebula, scene of Kirk and Spock's finest hour. Alas the truth is unlikely to be as dramatic. The (mainly hydrogen) gas and dust in this star-forming region is thin. In each cubic centimetre of the nebula there are only a thousand or so particles (the corresponding value in the solar System would be about 1 particle per cubic centimetre). Also the light emitted would be faint and colourless to the naked eye. It appears so spectacular in this image because it is made with a lengthy exposure of more than half an hour.
This nebula is located about 13 000 light years from Earth in the southern constellation of Puppis (the Ship's Stern or sometimes the Poop-deck). Most of the energy stimulating the nebula's glow comes in the form of harsh ultra-violet radiation from the bright star in the upper centre of the image.
Another beautiful and thought-provoking image from the HST!
Image credit: NASA, ESA and Orsola De Marco (Macquarie University)