Flower of Orion

Credit: European Southern Observatory (ESO)

Explore the folds and petals of the Orion Nebula in this dramatic new image from ESO’s VISTA survey telescope. VISTA’s infrared vision allows to deeply into this well-known nebula showing young active stars and regions of warm gas. As we peer through a telescope at the Orion Nebula, we see only a small part of the light streaming to us. The infrared sensors on NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope and VISTA show a much larger complex of gas and dust, all material for new stars to form.

Explore the nebula. We see the familiar flower shaped form of the Orion Nebula and petal-shaped areas of gas surrounding the heart of the nebula. With a little imagination, we can easily see the 3D nature of the nebula with a ledge at the top and at the heart of the Great Nebula lie the four bright stars that form the Trapezium. These young, hot stars send out a strong solar wind that have hollowed out an area of the nebula. Scorching ultraviolet radiation causes the gas to glow. What is new in this image are the countless young stars that cannot be seen in visible light. These young stars, in many cases, are glowing through the clouds in which they formed. These stars also send streams of fast-moving gas screaming at 700,000 miles an hour into the surrounding cloud. Red globs of light show in the upper part of the image and seem to be associated with the collision of the young stars outflow and the peaceful nebula surrounding the new stars. Search also for background galaxies. A bright edge-on spiral can be seen to the right of the center area of the image.

The Orion Nebula, or M42, is one of the biggest star-making factories in the galaxy. And it’s pretty close; only about 1,350 light-years from Earth. The Great Nebula in Orion lies just below the Belt of Orion in the sword and is faintly visible as a glowing cloud of gray-green. French comet-hunter, Charles Messier sketched its main features in the mid eighteenth century and gave it the number 42 in his catalog. William Herschel guessed at the Orion Nebula’s true nature when he said it might be “the chaotic material of future suns.”

VISTA, short for Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy is the latest addition to ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. It is the largest survey telescope in the world with a large, 4.1 meter mirror, wide field of view, and sensitive detectors.

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