For millennia people have wondered about the fuzzy patches in the night sky, which became called "nebulas" - clouds - and the advent of the telescope merely increased the number we could see without adding to our knowledge of what they are. The true nature of these enigmatic "fuzzy blobs" has only been known for a century or so, and they reveal a tremendous amount of information about the life and death of stars, the structure of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and the nature of the Universe itself.
Steve Tonkin FRAS has been an amateur astronomer since childhood. He has taught astronomy to adults and children for more than 40 years and has authored many articles and several books on practical aspects of astronomy. He writes equipment reviews and a monthly Binocular Tour for BBC Sky at Night magazine. Steve is the Dark Skies Advisor to the Cranborne Chase AONB International Dark Sky Reserve.