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Stellar Nebula Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Have you ever looked into the sky and wondered how stars were formed? In this lesson, you'll learn about stellar nebulae and what they have to do with creating new stars!

Clouds of Dust

Astronomers, scientists who study the stars, planets, and other things in our night sky, have spent a lot of time looking at huge clouds of dust. You might not think these would be very important, but they are! Actually, the clouds are more than just dust. They're also made of the gases hydrogen and helium, along with plasma.

You might know the most common three states of matter we have on Earth - liquids, solids, and gases. There is also a fourth state of matter called plasma. It's formed from gases when they get very hot. Almost everything out in the universe is made of plasma.

What are these strange clouds of dust, gas, and plasma? They're called nebulae, pronounced 'NEB-yuh-luh.' The word 'nebulae' comes from the Latin word that means 'cloud' or 'mist.' The word 'nebulae' is plural; adding the letter 'e' on the end of 'nebula' makes it mean more than one nebula.

The Crab Nebula
crab

Let's find out more about these amazing space clouds!

Types of Nebulae

There are actually several different types of nebulae. Basically, any cloudy area in space is a nebula. But there are different kinds of nebulae.

  • When huge stars (much larger than our Sun) explode, they're called supernovas. The clouds of dust and gases that are left over after these explosions are nebulae that are called supernova remnants.
  • Emission nebulae are clouds of dust that give off light. They usually look red.
  • Reflection nebulae reflect light given off from nearby stars; they don't give off their own light.
  • Dark nebulae don't give off light OR reflect it.

All of these nebulae have one thing in common; they're clouds of gas, dust, and plasma. In some special nebulae, though, amazing things are happening.

Stellar Nebulae

Stellar nebulae are so interesting to astronomers because they are where stars are made! Inside of these huge clouds, the dust, gases, and plasma swirls around. Even though they might look like they're standing still in photographs, nebulae are actually moving all the time. It's almost like they're a huge blender!

The Rosette Nebula
rosette

As the space dust, hydrogen, helium, and plasma swirls around inside the nebulae, they begin to stick together and form into large blobs. When these blobs get too big, they collapse and the stuff inside begins to heat up. The dust and other particles inside the cloud are pulled into the hot center. This can happen over and over again. The hot center eventually becomes a star!

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