Rho Ophiuchi: A Colorful Cosmic Cloud in Photos

The Rho Ophiuchi Nebular Complex

Warren Keller/Jim Misti/Steve Mazlin

The Rho Ophiuchi nebular complex is a beautiful, gigantic cloud of colorful cosmic dust and gas located 460 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus. It's one of the closest stellar nurseries to the solar system and one of the most-photographed objects in the night sky. Astrophotographers Warren Keller, Jim Misti and Steve Mazlin teamed up to create this stunning 4-panel mosaic of the nebula, "I think its dusky and mysterious aura as compared to the generally brighter, super-saturated ones, is what's alluring," Keller told Space.com.

The Turbulent Heart of the Scorpion

© Rolf Wahl Olsen

Rolf Wahl Olsen of New Zealand created this display of the rarely imaged core of the multiple star system also named Rho Ophiuchi, or ρ Ophiuchi. A deep exposure brings out the delicate whirling clouds in an area which the human eye would find difficult to discern.

Rho Ophiuchi Mosaic

Terry Hancock

Astrophotographer Terry Hancock created this 4-panel mosaic of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex from the Grand Mesa Observatory in western Colorado. He spent three nights imaging the nebula using a QHY367C One Shot Color CMOS Camera with a Takahashi FSQ-130ED astrograph.

IC 4604 & IC 4605

Terry Hancock

Panel 1 of Hancock's mosaic features the two main clouds that make up the Rho Ophiuchi nebular complex. The brighter of the two nebulas is named IC 4604 (left), and the fainter nebula IC 4605 lies nearby (bottom right).

Globular Clusters M4 and NGC6144

Terry Hancock

Panel 2 of Hancock's mosaic features the globular star clusters Messier 4, also known as NGC 6121 (bottom), and NGC 6144 (top right). At the upper edge of the image is the bright star Antares.

IC 4605 and Dark Nebulas

Terry Hancock

In panel 3 of Hancock's mosaic, the reflection nebula IC 4605 is surrounded by dark nebulas. These clouds are so dense that they block light from passing through.

IC 4605 and Antares

Terry Hancock

Panel 4 of Hancock's mosaic offers another view of the star Antares and the reflection nebula IC 4605.

Wide-Field View

ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin

This wide-field view shows the star-forming region Rho Ophiuchi in the constellation of Ophiuchus (The Serpent Bearer), as seen in visible light. This view was created from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2.

Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex and Saturn

Navaneeth Unnikrishnan

Astrophotographer Navaneeth Unnikrishnan sent in a photo of Saturn shining against the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. This image was taken on Feb. 15, 2015.

Brown Dwarf ISO-Oph 102

ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin

This image shows the brown dwarf ISO-Oph 102, or Rho-Oph 102, in the Rho Ophiuchi star-forming region. Its position is marked by the crosshairs. This visible-light view was created from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. Image released Nov. 30, 2012.

Rho Ophiuchi

NASA, JPL-Caltech, WISE Team

WISE, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, took this picture of one of the closest star forming regions, a part of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. It lies some 400 light-years from Earth. Dust clouds and embedded newborn stars glow at infrared wavelengths in the false-color composition.

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Hanneke Weitering
Contributing expert

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at FutureFlight.aero and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at Space.com. As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.