Smoky Horse

NASA/ESA Hubble

A smoky horse rises from a pink cloud of hydrogen gas in this spectacular new image of the Horseahd Nebula from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Zoom in and explore this dark pillar of dust. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most easily recognized nebula in the sky. Identified in 1888 by Williamina Fleming, its swirling shape resembles a horse’s head when viewed from Earth. Even in a telescope, the emission nebula is hard to see. Fleming identified the nebula using photographic plates taken at the Harvard College Observatory.

The vast interstellar cloud of dust is found just south of the star Alnitak, the most eastern star in Orion’s belt. The pillar of dust and gas, found about 1,500 light-years from Earth, collapsed from the even larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The clumps of material reflect light from the nearby hot star Sigma Orionis.

Usually the Horsehead Nebula is shown as a dark pillar against a bright pink background. The pink nebula is being energized by young, hot stars deep in the nebula. Ultraviolet radiation streaming from these stars causes hydrogen gas in the the nebula to glow pink and red. For this image, Hubble shows this area in infrared light. Infrared is a longer wavelength of light than visible light. We feel infrared light as heat. By using this kind of light, Hubble can pierce the dusty outer layers of the nebula and see deeper, revealing ghostly swirls and delicate folds of gas.

The image also reveals hundreds of faraway galaxies glowing with their own warm light. Pan around to find these stunning gems.

Scientists released this new image of the Horsehead Nebula to celebrate Hubble’s 23rd year in orbit.

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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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