My New Shoes

Today was a gloomy autumn day and I quite enjoyed it!

photo_1I was so excited to come home to a package from Modcloth after laser shows late last night. These shoes definitely caught my eye and I just had to have them. A colleague and I spent the morning discussing the origins of the image printed on them.

photoThe image appears to be a nebula, possibly a starburst region. It seems similar to the Tarantula nebula. Nebulae (the plural form of nebula pronounced nebu-lee) are star forming regions, or stellar nurseries, if you will (I will!). Gas and dust collects in these regions, eventually coalescing and condensing into stars! You can see hundreds of stars on each of these shoes, indicating a high level of star formation in this nebula. Ever since I set eyes on these shoes, I have been itching to know what nebula they depict. I can tell that the colors of the nebula were altered from the original image, making it hard to find a match by scouring data bases on the internet. Since I don’t know of any bright pink nebulae with electric blue wisps, I think comparing this nebula to what we know of others can give us an understanding of it.

Since nebulae are made up of gas (and some dust), we should discuss what types of gases could be present. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the entire universe, accounting for 74% of all ordinary matter*. Helium,which makes up about 24% of ordinary matter, is the second most common element, while all other elements compose only the remaining 2%. This information, combined with the fact that stars are created when hydrogen fusion ignites, tells us it is more than likely that most of the gas in this nebula is comprised of hydrogen and helium.

But how do we know what elements are in a nebula for sure if we can’t physically go to one? Astronomers use false-color imaging to understand what objects in space are composed of. Here is a nice diagram of how this imaging works. Images of an object are taken in different wavelengths (accomplished using various filters) and are then composited, or layered. We can assign certain “false colors” to each filter so that when the images are stacked, we can see where different elements are in the object, telling us more about its structure.

Hydrogen is often assigned a red color and, since red is fairly close to pink, I am inclined to think the pink represents hydrogen gas. This is most likely correct, because there is an abundance of pink in the shoes, which would correlate to the abundance of hydrogen in the universe and nebulae in general. It’s also possible that the orange blobs are little pockets of helium gas! The blue is most likely made up of heavier elements since you can see more of a filamentary structure, versus the diffuse (spread out) structure of the hydrogen and helium gas.

NebulaeShoesSince I do not have access to the original image used, all of this is speculation based on what I know of nebulae. I highly doubt the pink represents any other element than hydrogen. I sent an email to the company that produced these shoes asking what image they used, so maybe someday I will know for sure!

But what I do know is that these shoes are incredibly comfortable, they have the perfect size heel and they even came with extra bottoms to the heels in case I wear them out. And you can bet that I will!


*Ordinary Matter, or Baryonic matter, is matter composed of baryons (protons and neutrons are baryons). It does not include neutrinos or dark matter. Electrons are also non-baryonic matter, but this is an issue I will try to address in the future!