Wonders in Orion

Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

The Great Nebula in Orion, shown in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope, is a place of wonder. The nebula, also known as M42, shows flowers in gas, giant pillars of dust and massive stars. Strong winds from massive stars found in the center of the nebula carved out a great cavity in the nebula.

More than 3,000 stars of various sizes and brightnesses appear in this image. Look for the brightest part of the nebula. Zoom in on a group of four stars. Radiation from these stars, called the Trapezium, causes the gas of the nebula to glow showing us wispy patterns and dense dust lanes. Just below and to the right of the Trapezium, find a star with a “bow shock” around it. Like a boat in the water, gas and dust streaming away from the stars of the Trapezium flow around the star. How many other bow shocks around stars can you find?

Wander more to the right in the image and you can see arcs and bubbles formed when gas and dust carried by the solar winds smashed into cooler, denser material.

In the upper part of the image, you’ll find another nebula separated by a dense band of dust. A massive star lights up this region, known as M43. Astronomers call this a miniature Orion Nebula.

The Orion Nebula is a stellar nursery where stars are born. Some objects in the nebula came close to becoming stars but didn’t quite make it. In this image, The Hubble Space Telescope shows a glimpse of possible brown dwarf stars. Brown dwarfs are failed stars that didn’t have enough mass and fuel to cause them to ignite. These cool objects are too small and cannot sustain nuclear fusion in their cores the way our Sun does. Fusion is the power source of all stars. Astronomers used this image to see for the first time binary brown dwarfs; two brown dwarfs orbiting each other.

The nebula, clearly visible in winter skies just below the three stars that make up the Belt of Orion, is only about 1,500 light years from Earth. It offers astronomers a great place in which to study how stars are born.

Comments

Mila Jones 08-01-2010, 15:50

Cloaked wizard with an old lady’s face to the right.

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