The Flame and Horse Head nebulae surveyed by ESO

A horse bursting from flames an iconic image of ESO

A spectacular fireworks display to celebrate the New Year offered by ESO. Don’t worry, the iconic constellation of Orion is neither exploding nor burning. The “fire” you see on this postcard is the famous Flame Nebula and its surroundings captured here on radio waves.

You will also be interested

This image of the nebula of the Flame produced recently – and in which we recognize the iconic horse head nebula -, is based on observations made by the former astronomer of the’ESO Thomas Stanke and his team a few years ago. Very excited to test the instrument SuperCam, which has just been installed on Apex (Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment), they pointed it at the large constellation of Orion. “As astronomers like to say, as soon as there is a new telescope or a new instrument, observe Orion : there will always be something new and interesting to discover ”, explains Thomas Stanke. A few years and many observations later, the team saw their results accepted for publication in the journal. Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Orion, one of the most famous regions of the sky, is home to the clouds giant molecules closest to the Sun – large cosmic objects composed mostly of hydrogen, where new stars and planets. These clouds are located between 1,300 and 1,600 light years of Earth and is home to the most active stellar nursery in the vicinity of Solar system, as well as the Flame Nebula visible in this image. This nebula “in episode »Houses a cluster of young people in its center stars that emit high energy radiation, making the gas surrounding areas.

Dive into the Flame Nebula, located near the star Alnitak, in Orion’s Belt. © ESO

Discovery of the Cow nebula

With such an exciting target, the team was in no danger of being disappointed. Besides the Flame Nebula and its surroundings, Thomas Stanke and his collaborators were able to admire a wide range of other spectacular objects. These include reflection nebulae Messier 78 and NGC 2071, clouds of gas and interstellar dust thought to reflect the light of nearby stars. The team even discovered a new nebula, a small object, remarkable for its almost perfectly circular appearance, which they named the Nebula of the Cow.

The observations were carried out as part of the Alcohols survey (Apex Large CO Heterodyne Orion Legacy Survey), who was interested in waves radio issued by the carbon monoxide (CO) in the clouds of Orion. The use of this molecule to probe large areas of the sky is the main objective of SuperCam, because it allows astronomers to map the large clouds of gas that give rise to new stars. Contrary to what the ” fire In this image suggests, these clouds are actually cold, with temperatures typically only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero.

Given the many secrets it can reveal, this region of the sky has been scanned many times in the past at different wavelengths, each wavelength range revealing different and unique characteristics of Orion’s molecular clouds (or OMC, for Orion Molecular Cloud). The observations infrared made by Vista (Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy) from ESO to Paranal Observatory in Chile, which provide the much more peaceful background to this image of the Flame Nebula and its surroundings, are an example. Unlike visible light, infrared waves travel through thick clouds of interstellar dust, allowing astronomers to spot stars and other objects that would otherwise remain hidden. These are wavelengths in which the new space telescope of the Nasa, the Webb, will be operating in a few months.

Also, during this holiday season, step into the New Year with this spectacular fireworks display produced in several wavelengths offered by the Flame of Orion nebula, presented by ESO!

Apex telescope probes Orion’s dust

OAMP article published on May 3, 2012

A new image of the surroundings of the Messier 78 reflection nebula, just north of the Orion belt, reveals clouds of cosmic dust “strung” into the nebula like a string of pearls. The observations, carried out with the Apex telescope (Atacama Pathfinder Experiment), use the thermal rays grains of interstellar dust to show astronomers where new stars are forming.

Dust can appear boring and uninspiring – a grimy surface that obscures the beauty of an object. Yet this new image of Messier 78 in the constellation of Orion and its surroundings, by revealing the submillimeter radiation from the grains of dust in space, shows that dust can be dazzling. It is indeed important for astronomers, because the dense clouds of gas and dust are the birthplace of new stars.

In the center of this image (at the bottom of the article), we see Messier 78, also called NGC 2068. When observed in visible light, this region is a reflection nebula, which means that we see a pale blue radiance from starlight reflecting off the dust clouds. The observations ofApex, the submillimeter telescope of theESO, are superimposed on the visible light image and appear here in orange. Taken at longer wavelengths, these observations reveal the slight radiation of cold, dense clusters of dust, some of which can reach temperatures as cold as -250 ° C. In visible light this dust is dark and obscure, which is why telescopes like Apex are so important for studying dusty clouds where stars are born.

Live Star Births

A filament observed by Apex appears, in visible light, as a band of dark dust crossing Messier 78. This indicates to us that very dense dust is in front of the nebula by reflection, blocking its bluish light. Another prominent region of bright dust observed by Apex overlaps with visible light from Messier 78 on its lower edge. The absence of a corresponding dark dust band in the visible light image tells us that this dense region of dust must be behind the nebula.

Observations of the gas in these clouds reveal gas flowing at large speed for some of the packages of matter very dense. These flows are ejected by young stars still forming in the surrounding cloud. Their presence therefore clearly indicates that these packets are actively forming stars. NGC 2071, another reflection nebula, is at the top of the image. While the regions at the bottom of this image host only young stars of low mass, NGC 2071, for its part, contains a young, more massive star whose mass has been estimated to be five times that of Sun and located on the brightest point that we see on the Apex observations.

The Apex observations used in this image were conducted by Thomas Stanke (ESO), Tom Megeath (University of Toledo, United States) and Amy Stutz (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany).

Interested in what you just read?