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Messier 16 - an open star cluster embedded in the H-II region IC 4703 in detail in the constellation Serpens

Object description:

Messier 16 (NGC 6611) is the catalogue number of the open star cluster in the constellation Serpent (Serpens), even though M 16 is commonly called the Eagle Nebula. A brighter nebular part - southwest of M 16 - bears the catalogue number IC 4703. Altogether and together with the open star cluster NGC 6604, north of M 16, the Eagle Nebula belongs to an enormously large H-II star-forming region LBN 70. We show a large mosaic of the entire region here.

The star cluster is assigned to concentration class II 3 m n according to Trumpler. The age of the stars is estimated at about 5.5 million years.

This active star-forming region is located at a distance of about 7000 light years from the solar system. The true extent of the nebular part depicted here is about 140 light-years; in the sky, the region covers an area almost 2 lunar diameters across. In addition to the central cluster of young, hot stars, the central part of the nebula also contains dark gas and dust columns, the famous "Pillars of Creation". The pillars contain a multitude of newborn stars still hidden in the surrounding gas and have been imaged in the highest resolution in this fascinating image taken with the Hubble Telescope.

Messier 16 was discovered by Swiss astronomer Jean-Philippe de Chéseaux during his mapping of 21 nebulae in 1745 and 1746. The Eagle Nebula is number 4 on his list and was probably observed as early as 1745. In a letter to his father, which contains his list of 21 nebulae, he described the object as follows: "A cluster of stars between the constellations of Serpens, Sagittarius and Eagle". It was not until 18 years later that Messier included the star cluster in his catalogue as number 16 on 3 June 1764.

An illustrated description of the ESO region can be found here.

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