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Nebula vs. Galaxy: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Published on January 11, 2024
Nebula is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium, and other ionized gases. Galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound system consisting of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and dark matter.
Nebula vs. Galaxy

Key Differences

A nebula is a vast cloud of gas and dust in space, often serving as a nursery for new stars. In contrast, a galaxy is a much larger assembly of billions of stars, along with gas, dust, and dark matter, bound together by gravity.
Shumaila Saeed
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Jan 11, 2024
While nebulae are components within galaxies, known for their beautiful colors and structures, galaxies themselves are the overarching structures that organize much of the visible universe.
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The size of a nebula can vary, but it is significantly smaller than a galaxy, which can span thousands to hundreds of thousands of light-years across.
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Nebulae often mark the regions where star formation is actively taking place, whereas galaxies encompass a wider variety of astronomical phenomena, including black holes, star clusters, and nebulae.
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In terms of composition, a nebula primarily contains hydrogen and helium gas, while a galaxy includes not only these gases but also stars, planets, and other celestial bodies.
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Comparison Chart

Size

Smaller, localized clouds
Massive systems, spanning light-years
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Composition

Gas and dust
Stars, gas, dust, dark matter
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Structure

Often amorphous or filamentous
Diverse, including spiral, elliptical
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Role in Universe

Star formation areas
Fundamental building blocks
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Visibility

Visible with telescopes, often colorful
Visible with naked eye (some galaxies)
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Nebula and Galaxy Definitions

Nebula

A cloud of gas and dust in space.
The Orion Nebula is one of the brightest nebulae visible to the naked eye.
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Galaxy

A large system of stars, planets, and other celestial bodies bound by gravity.
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our solar system.
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Nebula

An interstellar region of ionized gases.
The Hubble Space Telescope captured stunning images of the Horsehead Nebula.
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Galaxy

A cosmic structure with a distinct shape, such as spiral or elliptical.
The Whirlpool Galaxy is known for its classic spiral shape.
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Nebula

A remnant of a supernova explosion.
The Crab Nebula is the result of a supernova observed in 1054.
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Galaxy

An assembly of stars, dust, and dark matter.
The Andromeda Galaxy is on a collision course with the Milky Way.
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Nebula

A diffuse astronomical object observable in the night sky.
Through my telescope, I glimpsed the Lagoon Nebula last night.
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Galaxy

Any of numerous large-scale aggregates of stars, gas, and dust that constitute the universe, containing an average of 100 billion (1011) solar masses and ranging in diameter from 1,500 to 300,000 light-years.
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Nebula

A diffuse cloud of interstellar dust or gas or both, visible as luminous patches or areas of darkness depending on the way the mass absorbs or reflects incident light or emits its own light.
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Galaxy

Often Galaxy The Milky Way.
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Nebula

A galaxy. No longer in technical use.
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Galaxy

An assembly of brilliant, glamorous, or distinguished persons or things
A galaxy of theatrical performers.
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Nebula

A cloudy spot on the cornea.
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Galaxy

The Milky Way; the apparent band of concentrated stars which appears in the night sky over earth.
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Nebula

A liquid preparation for use in a nebulizer.
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Galaxy

(galaxy) Any of the collections of many millions or billions of stars, galactic dust, black holes, etc. existing as independent and coherent systems, of which there are billions in the known universe.
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Nebula

(astronomy) A cloud in outer space consisting of gas or dust (e.g. a cloud formed after a star explodes).
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Galaxy

(figuratively) An assemblage of things or people seen as luminous or brilliant.
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Nebula

A white spot or slight opacity of the cornea.
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Galaxy

Any print or pattern reminiscent of a galaxy, generally consisting of blending, semiopaque patches of vibrant color on a dark background.
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Nebula

A cloudy appearance in the urine.
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Galaxy

To furnish with galaxies.
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Nebula

A faint, cloudlike, self-luminous mass of matter situated beyond the solar system among the stars. The term was originally applied to any diffuse luminous region. Now, technically, it is applied to interstellar clouds of dust and gases (diffuse nebula). However distant galaxies and very distant star clusters often appear like them in the telescope, such as the spiral nebula in Andromeda, known now to be a distant galaxy.
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Galaxy

(archaic) To gather together into a luminous whole.
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Nebula

A white spot or a slight opacity of the cornea.
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Galaxy

The Milky Way, that luminous tract, or belt, which is seen at night stretching across the heavens, and which is composed of innumerable stars, so distant and blended as to be distinguishable only with the telescope.
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Nebula

A medicinal liquid preparation intended for use in an atomizer
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Galaxy

A very large collection of stars comparable in size to the Milky Way system, held together by gravitational force and separated from other such star systems by large distances of mostly empty space. Galaxies vary widely in shape and size, the most common nearby galaxies being over 70,000 light years in diameter and separated from each other by even larger distances. The number of stars in one galaxy varies, and may extend into the hundreds of billions.
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Nebula

Cloudiness of the urine
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Galaxy

A splendid or impressive assemblage of persons or things; as, a galaxy of movie stars.
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Nebula

An immense cloud of gas (mainly hydrogen) and dust in interstellar space
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Galaxy

A splendid assemblage (especially of famous people)
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Nebula

(pathology) a faint cloudy spot on the cornea
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Galaxy

Tufted evergreen perennial herb having spikes of tiny white flowers and glossy green round to heart-shaped leaves that become coppery to maroon or purplish in fall
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Nebula

A region in space where new stars are born.
Astronomers study the Eagle Nebula to understand star formation.
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Galaxy

(astronomy) a collection of star systems; any of the billions of systems each having many stars and nebulae and dust;
`extragalactic nebula' is a former name for `galaxy'
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Galaxy

A vast collection of star systems and interstellar space.
Scientists estimate there are billions of galaxies in the observable universe.
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Galaxy

A gravitationally bound system visible as a distinct patch in the night sky.
Last night, I was able to spot the Triangulum Galaxy with my telescope.
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

What is a Galaxy?

A galaxy is a massive system of stars, interstellar gas, and dust, all held together by gravity.
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How big are Galaxies?

Galaxies range in size from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of light-years in diameter.
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How big are Nebulae?

Nebulae vary in size but are much smaller than galaxies, typically spanning a few light-years across.
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Are all galaxies composed of stars?

Galaxies contain stars, but they also consist of other components like gas, dust, and dark matter.
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Are galaxies constantly in motion?

Yes, galaxies are in motion due to the gravitational forces among their components and interactions with neighboring galaxies.
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What is a Nebula?

A nebula is a cloud of gas and dust in space, often where new stars form.
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What is a spiral galaxy?

Spiral galaxies have a spiral arm structure and often contain both young and old stars.
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Are Nebulae part of Galaxies?

Yes, nebulae are often found within galaxies.
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Can nebulae be seen with the naked eye from Earth?

Some nebulae, like the Orion Nebula, are visible to the naked eye, while others require telescopes to be observed.
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Do nebulae have a specific shape or structure?

Nebulae come in various shapes, including irregular, spherical, and filamentary, depending on their formation and surrounding conditions.
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Are nebulae related to star formation?

Yes, many nebulae are regions where new stars are formed, known as stellar nurseries.
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Can we see Galaxies with the naked eye?

Some galaxies, like the Andromeda Galaxy, are visible to the naked eye in dark skies.
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Can galaxies collide with each other?

Yes, galaxies can collide and merge, leading to the formation of new galaxies and the redistribution of stars.
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What is an elliptical galaxy?

Elliptical galaxies are characterized by their oval or spherical shape and contain mainly older stars.
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What is the most famous nebula visible from Earth?

The Orion Nebula (M42) is one of the most famous and easily observable nebulae from Earth.
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Can planets be found within nebulae?

Planets are typically not found within nebulae; they are more commonly associated with stars.
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Do galaxies have supermassive black holes at their centers?

Many galaxies are believed to have supermassive black holes at their centers, including the Milky Way.
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Do nebulae emit their own light?

Nebulae often appear to emit light, but they do so by reflecting or being illuminated by nearby stars.
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Are nebulae only found in our galaxy?

Nebulae can be found both within and outside our Milky Way galaxy.
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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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