New Image Penetrates Heart of Orion Nebula

New Image Penetrates Heart of Orion Nebula
This wide-field view of the Orion Nebula (Messier 42), lying about 1350 light-years from Earth, was taken with the VISTA infrared survey telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. The new telescope’s huge field of view allows the whole nebula and its surroundings to be imaged in a single picture and its infrared vision also means that it can peer deep into the normally hidden dusty regions and reveal the curious antics of the very active young stars buried there. (Image credit: ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit)

New images and observations of the spectacular Orion Nebulahave revealed normally hidden dusty regions and the odd behavior of very youngactive stars buried within them.

This penetrating view of the Orion Nebula ? a vast stellarnursery about 1,350 light-years from Earth ? comes from the Visible andInfrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), the newest addition to theEuropean Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Although the nebula is spectacular when seen through anordinary telescope, what can be seen using visible light is only a small partof a cloud of gas in which stars are forming. Most of the action is deeplyembedded in dust clouds and to see what is really happening astronomers need touse telescopes with detectors sensitive to the longer, infrared wavelengthradiation that can penetrate the dust.

VISTA has photographed the OrionNebula at wavelengths about twice as long as can be detected by the humaneye.

As in the many visible light pictures of this object, thenew wide field VISTA image shows the familiar bat-like form of the nebula inthe center of the picture as well as the surrounding area.

At the veryheart of this region lie the four bright stars forming the Trapezium, agroup of very hot young stars pumping out fierce ultraviolet radiation that isclearing the surrounding region and making the gas glow. Observing in theinfrared allows VISTA to reveal many other young stars in this central regionthat cannot be seen in visible light.

Looking to the region above the center of the picture,curious red features appear that are completely invisible except in theinfrared. Many of these are very young stars that are still growing and areseen through the dusty clouds from which they form. These youthful stars ejectstreams of gas with typical speeds of about 450,000 mph (700,000 kph) and manyof the red features highlight the places where these gas streams collide withthe surrounding gas, causing emission from excited molecules and atoms in thegas.

There are also a few faint, red features below the OrionNebula in the image, showing that stars form there too, but with much less vigor.These strange features are of great interest to astronomers studying the birthand youth of stars.

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