Astronomy Picture of the Day – Orion Nebula in Surrounding Dust

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

Orion Nebula in Surrounding Dust
Image Credit & Copyright: Robert Fields

Explanation: What surrounds a hotbed of star formation? In the case of the Orion Nebula — dust. The entire Orion field, located about 1600 light years away, is inundated with intricate and picturesque filaments of dust. Opaque to visible light, dust is created in the outer atmosphere of massive cool stars and expelled by a strong outer wind of particles. The Trapezium and other forming star clusters are embedded in the nebula. The intricate filaments of dust surrounding M42 and M43 appear gray in the above image, while central glowing gas is highlighted in brown and blue. Over the next few million years much of Orion’s dust will be slowly destroyed by the very stars now being formed, or dispersed into the Galaxy.

Astronomy Picture of the Day for Feb. 6th

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 February 6
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.

Dust of the Orion Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Nicolás Villegas 

Explanation: What surrounds a hotbed of star formation? In the case of the Orion Nebula — dust. The entire Orion field, located about 1600 light years away, is inundated with intricate and picturesque filaments of dust. Opaque to visible light, dust is created in the outer atmosphere of massive cool stars and expelled by a strong outer wind of particles. The Trapezium and other forming star clusters are embedded in the nebula. The intricate filaments of dust surrounding M42 and M43 appear brown in the above image, while central glowing gas is highlighted in red. Over the next few million years much of Orion’s dust will be slowly destroyed by the very stars now being formed, or dispersed into the Galaxy.

NASA Image of the Day for October 11th

Making a Spectacle of Star Formation in Orion

Looking like a pair of eyeglasses only a rock star would wear, this nebula brings into focus a murky region of star formation. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope exposes the depths of this dusty nebula with its infrared vision, showing stellar infants that are lost behind dark clouds when viewed in visible light.

Best known as Messier 78, the two round greenish nebulae are actually cavities carved out of the surrounding dark dust clouds. The extended dust is mostly dark, even to Spitzer’s view, but the edges show up in mid-wavelength infrared light as glowing, red frames surrounding the bright interiors. Messier 78 is easily seen in small telescopes in the constellation of Orion, just to the northeast of Orion’s belt, but looks strikingly different, with dominant, dark swaths of dust. Spitzer’s infrared eyes penetrate this dust, revealing the glowing interior of the nebulae.

A string of baby stars that have yet to burn their way through their natal shells can be seen as red pinpoints on the outside of the nebula. Eventually these will blossom into their own glowing balls, turning this two-eyed eyeglass into a many-eyed monster of a nebula.

This is a three-color composite that shows infrared observations from two Spitzer instruments. Blue represents 3.6- and 4.5-micron light, and green shows light of 5.8 and 8 microns, both captured by Spitzer’s infrared array camera. Red is 24-micron light detected by Spitzer’s multiband imaging photometer.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy Picture of the Day for Sept. 17th

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2011 September 17

Spitzer’s Orion
NASA, JPL-Caltech, T. Megeath (Univ. Toledo, Ohio) 

Explanation: Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This stunning false-color view spans about 40 light-years across the region, constructed using infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Compared to its visual wavelength appearance, the brightest portion of the nebula is likewise centered on Orion’s young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But the infrared image also detects the nebula’s many protostars, still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. In fact, red spots along the dark dusty filament to the left of the bright cluster include the protostar cataloged as HOPS 68, recently found to have crystals of the silicate mineral olivine within its protostellar envelope.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos!Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2011 September 13

Great Orion Nebulae
Image Credit & Copyright: Jesús Vargas (Astrogades) & Maritxu Poyal (Maritxu) 

Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, also known as M42, is one of the most famous nebulas in the sky. The star forming region’s glowing gas clouds and hot young stars are on the right in this sharp and colorful image that includes the smaller nebula M43 near center and dusty, bluish reflection nebulae NGC 1977 and friends on the left. Located at the edge of an otherwise invisible giant molecular cloud complex, these eye-catching nebulae represent only a small fraction of this galactic neighborhood’s wealth of interstellar material. Within the well-studied stellar nursery, astronomers have also identified what appear to be numerous infant planetary systems. The gorgeous skyscape spans nearly two degrees or about 45 light-years at the Orion Nebula’s estimated distance of 1,500 light-years.