early 15c., nebule "a cloud, mist," from Latin nebula "mist, vapor, fog, smoke, exhalation," figuratively "darkness, obscurity," from PIE *nebh- "cloud" (cf. Sanskrit nabhas- "vapor, cloud, mists, fog, sky;" Greek nephele, nephos "cloud;" German nebel "fog;" Old English nifol "dark, gloomy;" Welsh niwl "cloud, fog;" Slavic nebo).
Re-borrowed from Latin 1660s in sense of "cataracts in the eye;" astronomical meaning "cloud-like patch in the night sky" first recorded c.1730. As early as Hershel (1802) astronomers realized that some nebulae were star clusters, but certain distinction of relatively nearby cosmic gas clouds from distant galaxies was not made until 1920s, using the new 100-inch Mt. Wilson telescope.
nebula neb·u·la (něb'yə-lə)
n. pl. neb·u·las or neb·u·lae (-lē')
A faint, foglike opacity of the cornea.
A class of oily preparations for use in a nebulizer.
Plural nebulae (něb'yə-lē') or nebulas
A visible, thinly spread cloud of interstellar gas and dust. Some nebulae are the remnants of a supernova explosion, others are gravity-induced condensations of the gases in the interstellar medium which in certain cases may become a site for the formation of new stars. The term was formerly used of any hazy, seemingly cloudlike object, including what are now recognized as other galaxies beyond the Milky Way; it is restricted now to actual clouds of gas and dust within our own galaxy. ◇ Nebulae are generally classified as bright or dark. Among the bright nebulae are cold clouds that reflect light from nearby stars (reflection nebulae) and hot, ionized clouds that glow with their own light (emission nebulae). Dark nebulae—cold clouds that absorb the passing light from background stars—are called absorption nebulae. See more at star.