Glowing Globs in a Starry Sea

Credit: ESA/Hub­ble & NASA

Glow­ing globs of star stuff float in a starry sea in this image from NASA’s Hub­ble Space Tele­scope.

Explore the curi­ous fea­tures around young stars still in their dusty cocoons in the lesser-known Orion neb­ula, Messier 43. What sto­ries and shapes do you see in this neb­ula? Leave a note below.

Sev­eral bril­liant young stars show up in this image. These hot stars sculpt the clouds of gas and dust with their blis­ter­ing solar winds. Sear­ing ultra­vi­o­let radi­a­tion from these stars excites hydro­gen atoms and other atoms in the cloud caus­ing it to light with dif­fer­ent col­ors. Because the Great Neb­ula in Orion, also known as M42, and M43 are so close to Earth, astronomers have been able to study the neb­u­lae in detail. They can watch how solar winds move gas and dust, watch young stars as they evolve, and dis­cover elu­sive objects such as brown dwarfs. Brown dwarfs are stars that lack the mass to cause nuclear fusion in their cores and shine on their own as full-fledged stars. They remain hot lumps of gas and dust within the cloud.

The Great Neb­ula in Orion and M43 are sep­a­rated only by a mas­sive dark lane of dust. Also known as De Mairan’s Neb­ula, after its dis­cov­erer French astronomer Jean-Jacques Dor­tous de Mairan in about 1731. The Neb­ula is part of the huge and nearby Orion Mol­e­c­u­lar Cloud Com­plex, which includes the Great Neb­ula, M43, the Horse­head Neb­ula and the Flame Neb­ula. M43 lies only 1,400 light-years from Earth; very close in astro­nom­i­cal terms, toward the con­stel­la­tion of Orion the Hunter. Look for the three bright stars that form the belt of Orion tonight high in the south­ern sky an hour or so after sunset.

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The ancient peo­ples saw pic­tures in the sky. From those pat­terns in the heav­ens, ancient sto­ry­tellers cre­ated leg­ends about heroes, maid­ens, drag­ons, bears, cen­taurs, dogs and myth­i­cal crea­tures…
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