Given the propensity for nebulae to be named after well-known objects and shapes (see the California Nebula, the Cat’s Paw Nebula and the Pacman Nebula, among others), you might be forgiven for expecting the Trifid Nebula to bear a likeness to the marauding alien plants found in John Wyndham’s classic post-apocalyptic novel Day of the Triffids.
The reason for the nebula‘s informal nickname, however, is a little less pop-culture, and instead refers to the term ‘trifid’ meaning ‘split into three segments or lobes’.
M20, or NGC 6514, to give the Trifid Nebula its formal astronomical names, is a stellar nursery in our home galaxy the Milky Way, located about 9,000 lightyears from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius.
It is often paired in astrophotos with the Lagoon Nebula, also in Sagittarius, given the two objects’ apparent proximity in the sky.
Trifid and Lagoon Nebulae by Gábor Szendrñi, Kendig-peak, Hungary. Equipment: GPU 100/635 apochromatic refractor + Riccardi 0.75x reducer/flattener, modified Canon EOS 700D, ISO 800, 30 x 240 s exposure
The Trifid Nebula was discovered by Charles Messier in 1764 and became the 20th entry in his now-famous list of deep-sky objects, the Messier Catalogue.
Pictures of the Trifid Nebula reveal the three lobes of glowing gas separated by dark dust lanes that give the nebula its nickname.
At the centre of the nebula can be seen a group of newly-born, massive bright stars that are releasing streams of intense radiation and sculpting the surrounding cosmic cloud.
The gas and dust essential for new waves of star formation to occur are also being blasted away by this stellar wind, diminishing the chances for new stars to be born in future.
Below is a selection of images of the Trifid Nebula captured by readers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine and astrophotographers from around the world.
For more on astro-imaging, read our astrophotography guides or discover our pick of the best cameras for astrophotography.
And for help finding the Trifid Nebula, read our guide to the best deep-sky objects to see in Sagittarius.
If you do manage to capture an image of the Trifid Nebula, be sure to send us your images or share them with us via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
M20 Trifid Nebula Steven Mohr, Carrapooee, Victoria, Australia, 1 August 2017. Equipment: SBIG STXL-11000 camera, PlaneWave CDK 12.5 telescope, Astro Physics 900 mount. (IIAPY 2018 category: Stars & Nebulae)
The Trifid Nebula Colin Cooper, remotely via ICAstronomy, Spain, May–June 2020. Equipment: Moravian G3-11000 camera, Officina Stellare RiDK 305, Paramount MEII mount
M20 Triffid by Dee Amos, Taken at Kitt Peak. Equipment: Kitt Peak’s visitor centre’s 16″ sct and my Canon EOS350D.
The Triffid Nebula by Mark Casto, Halesworth, Suffolk, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 200p, Eq5 mount with dual axis motors, Canon 350D
Trifid Nebula by Mark Casto, Halesworth, Suffolk, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 200p, EQ5 mount with dual axis motors for tracking, Canon 350D modded camera
M20 Trifid with a touch of Lagoon by David Trotter, Sydney, Australia. Equipment: SW ED100 refractor, Canon D60a DSLR, Ha filter.
Trifid Nebula by Anna Morris, Etoile-Saint-Cyrice, France. Equipment: Orion EON80ED, Atik 314L+, Astronomik L,Ha,R,G,B.
M8 / M20 in the Milky Way by Andre van der Hoeven, Siding Springs, Australia. Equipment: FSQ106, SBIG STL11000 ccd
Trifid Nebula by Chris Price, Cedartown, GA, USA. Equipment: SkyWatcher Pro 100ed APO, Celestron CG-5 Advanced GT mount, Canon T3i
M20 – Trifid Nebula by Álvaro Ibáñez Pérez, Las Inviernas, Guadalajara, Spain. Equipment: TS115 Triplet APO refractor, Atik 460EX Mono, Baader LRGB + IDAS LPS, NEQ6 Pro II tuning belts + EQMOD, Lunático EZG-60 + SXLodestar, RoboFocus + FocusMax
The Beauty of Four by Chan Chee Guan, Mersing, Malaysia. Equipment: Orion EON 80mm ED refractor, QHYCCD QHY22 mono CCD camera, iOptron ZEQ25 mount.
M20 by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG STF-8300M, Astro-Tech AT12RCT at f/8 2432mm.
Trifid Nebula by Ron Brecher, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Equipment: SBIG STL-11000M camera, Baader R, G and B filters, 10″ f/6.8 ASA astrograph, Paramount MX. Guided with QHY5 guide camera and 80 mm f/6 Stellar-Vue refractor. Acquisition, guiding and mount control with TheSkyX. Focusing with FocusMax.
The Trifid Nebula by Rafael Compassi, Presidente Lucena, Brazil. Equipment: SW 8″ F/5, ASI1600mm-cool, ZWO EFW, Optolong 1.25″, LRGB filters.
M20 Triffid Nebula by Tom Bishton, Gold Coast Hinterland, Australia. Equipment: Black Diamond ED120 Refractor, AZEQ6 Mount, ST80 Guidescope, Synguider, Canon 600D camera
M20 by Ronald Piacenti Junior, Observatorio Norma, Brasilia-DF, Brazil. Equipment: Celestron C6 Schmidt-Cassegrain, HEQ5 Pro mount, ZWO ASI174MC camera, focal reducer 0.63, optilong CLS filter
The Trifid Nebula by Rafael Compassi, Presidente Lucena, Brazil. Equipment: SW 8″ F/5, QHY9m.
M20 – The Triffid Nebula by Chris Platkiw, Nottingham, UK. Equipment: Telescope T13 SSO, Takahashi Sky90 refractor, SBIG st2000 XCM one shot colour camera.