Is the Orion Nebula as fiery as it looks?
The temperatures in this cradle of young stars might surprise you
It’s a winter sky gem for many amateur astronomers and the go-to target for the naked eye, binoculars and telescopes. Located some 1,344 light years away in the constellation of Orion, the Orion Nebula (M42) is a place where stars are born, a stellar nursery displayed in great volumes of gas and dust, clutching its young open star cluster – the Trapezium – to its heart.
The dramatic new image, captured by the European Southern Observatory-operated Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) in Chile, is a shot of this stunning diffuse nebula that’s seldom seen: a fiery ribbon, glowing in a hue of oranges plays up the light coming from grains of interstellar dust.
You would be forgiven in thinking that this region, which can be seen extending from the luminous centre of M42, is a place of high temperatures but this shot – revealed in a submillimetre-wavelength glow and showing light that’s undetectable to the human eye – is a very cold place. In fact, the hottest places in the nebula sizzle in an icy blue.
Swathes of dust have been manipulated by strong stellar winds, blown out by the atmosphere of the nebula’s stars and giving the clouds their shape. These wavelengths have allowed astronomers to discover unusual objects lurking in this region of the universe, including fifteen protostars – an early phase in star formation – which pop out as brilliant points of light.
Image Credit: ESO