NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI)

A glowing keyhole beckons in this star-forming region of the galaxy toward the constellation Orion. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows the foggy light of the reflection nebula NGC 1999.

Explore the nebula. Reflection nebulae do shine with light of their own. NGC 1999 reflect the light of a bright, recently formed star. The star called V380 Orionis glows just left of center in the image. NGC 1999 is the cloud from which the star originally formed. Because the star is still enshrouded in this cloud, astronomers believe that V380 Orionis is still very young. It’s white light indicates the star is hot; about twice as hot as our Sun at 10,000 degrees Centigrade. V380 Orionis also is about 3.5 times more massive than the Sun.

The keyhole itself is not a hole at all but an example of inky, dark star clouds called Bok globules. These cold, dense clouds of dust and gas are named after their discoverer, American astronomer Bart Bok. These clouds are so dense that they block all light behind it. Similarly on Earth, dark storm clouds block the Sun on a summer day allowing the edges to glow brightly. Astronomers believe that the globules are contracting due to their own gravity. One day, new stars may form inside these globules.

Sir William Herschel and his sister Caroline discovered NGC 1999 in the late 1700s. The nebula lies about 1,500 light-years from Earth. You can find it in night skies just below the Great Nebula in Orion, M42.

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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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