Rho Ophiuchi colors. Astronomical digital images

Rho Ophiuchi colors. Astronomical digital images

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The spectacular variety in the colors of the Rho Ophiuchi clouds, shown in this image, reflects the processes that take place inside.

The blue clouds shine because of the light they reflect. The blue light of the Rho Ophiuchi stars and their neighbors is reflected more efficiently, in this portion of the nebula, than the red light. For the same reason, on Earth the daytime sky looks blue.

The red and yellow regions owe their brightness to the emission of atomic and molecular gas from the nebula. The light of nearby stars, particularly that of the supergiant Antares, excites the electrons of the gas that, when recombined, emit light.

Dark regions are due to dust grains, formed in the atmospheres of young stars, that block the light emitted behind.

In this photograph the stellar clouds of Rho Ophiuchi are seen next to the globular cluster M4 and are much more colorful than humans can see. Clouds emit light throughout the spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays.

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Album: Photos of the Universe Gallery: Digital astronomical images