The North American and Pelican Nebulae (NGC 7000 and IC 5070)

Distance: 1800 light years

Right Ascension: 20 : 50.8 (hours : minutes)
Declination: +44 : 21 (degrees : minutes)


These two nebulae are among the great nebulae of the summer sky. The geographic shapes suggest the popular names given to these nebulae. In visible light the two nebulae appear as two distinct objects separated by a thick dust cloud known as Lynds1630. Surveys at radio wavelengths have added to our understanding of the underlying gaseous structure of the nebula complex. The two glowing clouds and its central dust lane are elements of a more expansive but optically invisible molecular cloud which span two full degrees of summer sky. The dust component of the cloud hides the massive star(s) which illuminate the nebula and cause it to fluoresce in the familiar red light of hydrogen alpha.

A search for candidate stars responsible for ionizing the two nebulae was recently conducted, focusing on the region of the massive bisecting dust cloud L1630. The search has eliminated all but a single possible star designated 2MASS J205551.25+435224.6. This star is hidden from our optical view behind the thick obscuring foreground dust of the region. Fortunately, infrared telescopes have the ability to detect stars concealed behind clouds of dust. Infrared studies of this star have demonstrated properties consistent with a giant class O-type star at the same distance of the nebula and satisfying the criteria as the sole ionizing star of the famous summer nebula complex.



IC 5067

IC 5067 is a fascinating region representing the "neck" of the Pelican Nebula. A prodigious flood of ultraviolet radiation is being released from massive stars hidden behind the thick dust permeating the region. The intense radiation is wrecking having on the local environment. The radiation ionizes parts of the molecular cloud while eroding and evaporating other areas within the cloud. Portions of the molecular cloud consisting of higher density matter resist ionization and survive as long pillars of dust and gas seen in the close up image of IC 5067. Jets of hot gas ejected from the heads of some prominent pillars are also apparent in the image. They represent outflows of hot gas and are indicators of newly forming stars within the interiors of the remaining globules of dust. Much of the star formation in the region continues in the opaque interior of the massive cloud hidden from view of optical telescopes but apparent at infrared wavelengths.