Sharpless 2-106, a bipolar emission nebula and HII region

Sharpless 2-106, a bipolar emission nebula and HII region

Sharpless 2-106 (Sh2-106 or S106 for short) is a bipolar emission nebula and HII region. It measures about 2 light-years long by 0.5 light-year across and is located about 2,000 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, in a relatively isolated region of the Milky Way.

Despite its appearance, Sh2-106 is not a planetary nebula, but a giant molecular cloud and star-forming region. Twin lobes of super-hot hydrogen gas (glowing blue) stretch outward from the central star, what creates the “wings”. This image also reveals ripples and ridges in the gas as it interacts with the cooler interstellar medium.

The massive, only 100,000 years old central star (S106 IR), which could be up to 15 times the mass of our Sun, is still shrouded in dust and gas at the centre of the nebula. It is responsible for the surrounding gas cloud’s hourglass-like shape and the turbulence visible within. Eventually its light will break free of the enveloping cloud as it begins the relatively short life of a massive star.

Dusky red veins surround the blue emission from the nebula. The faint light emanating from the central star reflects off of tiny dust particles. This illuminates the environment around the star, showing darker filaments of dust winding beneath the blue lobes.

Detailed studies of the nebula have also uncovered more than 600 hundred brown dwarfs which may someday create a small cluster. These “failed” stars weigh less than a tenth of our Sun. Because of their low mass, they cannot produce sustained energy through nuclear fusion like our Sun does.

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