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I'm working on a graphic novel that deals with this particular topic but I'm unsure if something like this can happen. Some Nebulae have a luminosity 1000s of times brighter than our sun while dark nebulae are very dense and completely hide or distort the light from nearby stars....in light of this(pun intended) could there be solar systems hiding out near nebulae?documented or undocumented. Any contribution is greatly appreciated!

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't know the physics, but there might be methods of detecting a star by gravitational effects rather than direct visibility. $\endgroup$ – Mikey Apr 24 '15 at 18:51
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There are a number of factors at work here that make things more or less complicated. The main ones are:

  1. Distance to nebula and to Star
  2. Density of the nebula
  3. The length of time you watch it for
  4. Presence of anything else that might interfere with observations.

Nebula really aren't very dense or thick, they add up over interstellar distances but any nearby stars are not going to be hidden.

The denser the Nebula the more effectively it will hide the stars.

If you watch over a long enough period of time you will see the effect of the star in perturbations of the orbit of bodies that you can see, or of the nebula itself. This is how a lot of things are detected at the moment, even if we can't see them directly we can see the effect their gravity has on things we can watch.

A nearby bright star in between or close to the one you are trying to view will completely hide it.

Combine these factors and stars can be as easy or as hard to find as you need them to be, although in the long run they will always be detectable through the effect of their gravity if nothing else.

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Yes, a nebula can absolutely block our view!

Take a look at this famous closeup of the Eagle Nebula:

enter image description here

The rightmost pillar appears black, because it's not hot enough to emit light, but is dense enough to absorb pretty much all of the light coming from behind it. This picture of the same region in the infrared spectrum might make things a little clearer:

enter image description here

(Note that this one is zoomed out a little and rotated about 45 degrees compared to the previous one.) We can see that the rightmost pillar is still jet-black compared to the rest of the nebula. Everywhere else in the image is dense with stars, but here the nebula blocks our vision.

Note that the tip of the leftmost pillar is also dense enough to block our vision through it, but the gas it consists of is warm enough to emit light. The gas is heated by the light from stars inside or near the nebula.

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Since nebula are clouds of dust and gas that scatter light, most of the sorts of signals which would indicate a star or solar system to astronomers on Earth would be blocked.

Only very powerful sources would be able to "punch through" the intervening clouds of dust and gas (much like you might see a street light though a foggy or misty street), but even then the signal would be blurred, attenuated or otherwise distorted.

So there could be any number of things hiding in a nebula! Astronomers would be able to infer if there were stars concealed within, as blurry patches of infrared radiation, but very little beyond that with current technology.

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  • $\begingroup$ Astronomers may not be able to detect the stars at all, if the nebula is thick enough! The light just has to be attenuated to the point where it is overwhelmed by reflection or emission from the nebula itself. $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion Apr 24 '15 at 16:21
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The upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will see in infrared light and be beyond the Earth's atmosphere and warmth. It will be able to see through dust that currently blocks our view. That might be a plot point when the system is discovered, as astronomers rush to see what is now revealed.

You might also look up articles on JWST to see details about what is currently blocking existing telescopes.

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