Intense Flames

Credit: ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA.

What looks like a flame, or a cosmic jellyfish, is seen shooting out of the rich star-forming region of the Flame Nebula. Also known as NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula shows a bright group of stars lighting up the region with the core completely hidden behind a pillar of dust. Intense ultraviolet light and strong winds come from bright, new stars deep in the heart of the Flame Nebula. The ultraviolet light excites atoms inside the nebula causing it to glow. Usually we see great images like this from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. This image comes to us from the giant, 4.1-meter VISTA telescope, the world’s largest survey telescope.

Similar to the Great Nebula in Orion, the Flame Nebula is an emission nebula. And it’s found in the same part of the sky as the Orion Nebula. The bright star to the right is the blue supergiant Alnitak. Also known as Zeta Orionis, Alnitak is the left-most star, to northern hemisphere observers, in the belt of Orion.

Explore the image. Can you pick out the familiar Horsehead Nebula? You should be able to spot the ghostly outline of the very familiar reflection nebula in the lower left. It’s not how we usually see it. The image was taken in visible light to near-infrared. Near-infrared is just below what the human eye can see.

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