Galaxies, Nebulae and Star Clusters

Coalsack Nebula

The Coalsack Nebula is a dark nebula that obscures a section of the Milky Way in the southeast quadrant of the Southern Cross.

The Coalsack is an interstellar cloud about 600 light-years away. Its thick dust prevents most of the background starlight from passing through.

In the southern hemisphere, the nebula has been known since ancient times. The first European to report it was Spanish explorer Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, the captain of the Niña during Columbus' first voyage.

Pinzón observed the Coalsack during a voyage to South America in 1499.

The nebula was called il Canopo fosco (the dark Canopus) by Amerigo Vespucci. Other early names were Magellan's Spot and Black Magellanic Cloud.

The first formal description of the nebula was given by Italian-born historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera between 1511 and 1521. According to ABC TV Australia the name Coalsack was coined by William Herschel.

The Coalsack Nebula is listed as C99 in the Caldwell Catalogue, a 1995 complement to the Messier catalogue.

Sources: Wikipedia, European Southern Observatory,, Constellation Guide, ABC TV Australia
Coalsack Nebula; Wikipedia

In several Australian and South American cultures, the Coalsack Nebula was seen as a bird or the head of a bird. It has also been interpreted as a beehive or simply as a bag.

Click here for myths about this nebula.

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