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What Is A Nebula?


Nifty Nebula completed poster

You can make your own Nebula infographic like this one

above but with your own captures of different nebulae

that you choose to collect using Slooh's online telescope.



There are four types of nebulae that you can explore and collect for yourself using Slooh’s Online Telescope and integrated NGSS-aligned Quest learning activities. This is one of 60+ curriculum-aligned STEM Quest learning activities on Slooh for students from 4th grade to college.


Slooh’s Online Telescope:

For Everyone For Educators


 

What is a Nebula?


A nebula is a large cloud made up of gas and dust in space. Until a hundred years ago, many objects observed by astronomers were classed as nebulae. Other than the stars and planets, most astronomical objects appeared as faint, fuzzy, misty clouds through their telescopes. It comes as no surprise that the word nebula is Latin for cloud or fog. There are four main types of nebulae.


Emission Nebulae are huge clouds of ionized gas that emit their own light in the same way that a neon sign glows. The nebula's gas cloud is energized by hot, young stars emitting high-energy ultraviolet radiation – invisible to your eyes.


The ultraviolet light from the hot, young, massive stars ionizes the gas clouds to create emission nebulae. However, the stars also emit lower-energy light in the visual, infrared, and radio spectra. Remember that the visual spectrum is the range of light that your eyes can detect. This visible light reflects off the dust in these enormous gas and dust clouds, and this is what we see as a Reflection Nebula.


Dark Nebulae are dense clouds of gas and dust – so dense that they obscure, or block, the starlight beyond them. There are no foreground stars close enough to energize or illuminate the side facing Earth to turn them into emission or reflection nebulae.


Planetary Nebulae are small clouds of gas surrounding a hot, old star called a white dwarf that emits its own light. The hazy vaporous sphere of gas is composed of the old stellar layers of a once young star, and it glows because of the ultraviolet energy from its central white dwarf star – the old stellar core – in the last stages of its life.


 

More About Slooh’s Nifty Nebula Quest

In this Quest, you’ll learn about and build a stunning collection of each type of nebula. You’ll start by capturing the vast, colorful clouds of dust and gas making up Emission and Reflection Nebulae before hunting down mysterious Dark Nebulae. You’ll end your exploration by capturing a star in a spectacular Planetary Nebula at the end of its life.


What Students Are Expected to Learn

Your students are expected to learn about the four main types of nebulae found in the Universe and use Slooh's Online Telescope to capture an example of each. Students use graphical models to learn how starlight is reflected, absorbed, and transmitted through interstellar clouds. They understand that energy can be transferred from place to place by light and electric currents and uses a model to explain how light energy makes its way from space to their eyes, allowing them to see their captured image. There are fun mini-lessons on each step on spiral nebulae, astronomer Edward Barnard, planetary nebula history, and supernovae.


Vocabulary Word Definitions

  1. Nebula/Nebulae – Nebula is Latin for "cloud" or "fog." The plural of the nebula is nebulae.

  2. Energy – Energy is the ability to do work, which means to move matter or cause it to change form. There are two basic types of energy, kinetic and potential.

  3. Light – Light is electromagnetic waves or radiation. The entire spectrum of light is the electromagnetic spectrum, and the human eye can only see a portion of that spectrum called the visual spectrum. High School and College classes may refer to light as small packets of energy called photons, which come from Quantum physics. Emission Nebula – Emission Nebulae are huge clouds of ionized gas that emit their own light in the same way that a neon sign glows.

  4. Ionized – A highly energized state of gas. For High School and College classes, ionization is a highly energized state of gas where an electron has been ejected. The Quest mainly discusses hydrogen atoms, which only contain a single proton and electron. To ionize hydrogen is to break it into a proton and electron.

  5. Reflection Nebula – Reflection nebulae are dense clouds where starlight from nearby stars reflects off the cloud's dust.

  6. Scattering – Scattering is a term used in physics to describe a wide range of physical processes where moving particles or radiation of some form, such as light or sound, are forced to deviate from a straight-line trajectory by the medium through which they pass. In this case, starlight is scattered by dust grains in the cloud.

  7. Dark Nebula – Dark nebulae are dense clouds of gas and dust that obscure (block) the starlight beyond them.

  8. Planetary Nebula – Planetary Nebulae are small clouds of gas that emit their own light surrounding a white dwarf.

  9. White Dwarf – White dwarfs are the hot, old stellar core of a star once eight times the Sun's mass and lighter. It is composed mainly of carbon atoms and is denser than any material found on Earth.


NGSS Curriculum Alignment

Unit Title

Topic/Theme/Nature of Investigation

Waves and Electromagnetic Radiation

NGSS Performance Expectation

Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials.

​NGSS Dimension One (Scientific and Engineering Practices)

Developing and Using Models – students will use Slooh's Online Telescope to capture images of four types of nebulae and learn to interpret what they are seeing using graphical models and written descriptions.

​NGSS Dimension Two (Disciplinary Core Ideas)

PS4.B Electromagnetic Radiation

—When light shines on an object, it is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the object, depending on the object’s material and the wavelength/color of the light.

—The path that light travels can be traced as straight lines, except at surfaces between different transparent materials where the light path bends.


​NGSS Dimension Three (Crosscutting Concepts)

​Scale, Proportion, and Quantity – By taking into account the properties of different materials, their shape, and their geometrical configuration, various structures can be illuminated in space.


Unit Title

Energy Transfer (4-PS3-2)

Topic/Theme/Nature of Investigation

Energy

NGSS Performance Expectation

​Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents. This Quest covers light and mentions sound, heat, and electric energy (currents).

​NGSS Dimension One (Scientific and Engineering Practices)

Developing and Using Models – students will use Slooh's Online Telescope to capture images of four types of nebulae and learn to interpret what they are seeing using graphical models and written descriptions.

NGSS Dimension Two (Disciplinary Core Ideas)

PS3.A Definitions of Energy

—Energy can be moved from place to place by moving objects or through sound, light, or electric currents.

PS3.B Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer

—Light transfers energy from place to place.


NGSS Dimension Three (Crosscutting Concepts)

Energy and Matter – Energy can be transferred in various ways and between objects.


Unit Title

Light and Vision (4-PS4-2)​

Topic/Theme/Nature of Investigation

Structure, Function, and Information Processing

NGSS Performance Expectation​

Develop a model to describe that light reflecting from objects and entering the eye allows objects to be seen.

NGSS Dimension One (Scientific and Engineering Practices)

Developing and Using Models – students analyze a graphical model describing how light goes from the nebula to their eye.

NGSS Dimension Two (Disciplinary Core Ideas)

PS4.B Electromagnetic Radiation

—An object can be seen when light reflected from its surface enters the eyes.


NGSS Dimension Three (Crosscutting Concepts)

Cause and Effect – Cause and effect relationships are used to identify how an illuminated nebula's appearance would change.



More About Slooh’s Astronomy NGSS Aligned Learning Activities


Slooh’s Online Telescope is a learning platform designed to support any educator in teaching astronomy to meet NGSS requirements by collecting and analyzing real-world phenomena. No previous experience with telescopes is necessary to quickly learn how to use Slooh to explore space with your students.


You can join today to access Slooh’s Online Telescope and all 60+ Quest learning activities if you are able to make astronomy a core subject of study for the semester or year.


If you only have a few weeks to study astronomy, starting this fall we will sell Quests in individual units and small bundles designed to fit within your busy academic schedule and budgetary limitations. To be notified of the launch and of amazing celestial phenomena occurring in the night sky that will surely delight and inspire your students, please subscribe to our email list.