Flame On! New Image Shows Flame Nebula In Its Full Glory
July 3, 2012

Flame On! New Image Shows Flame Nebula In Its Full Glory

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The cosmos is full of outstanding imagery, and a new image from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has shot back another outstanding image back to Earth.

The latest image, released on Monday, shows a Flame nebula located in the Orion complex, lighting up a cavern of dust.

The Nebula is sitting on the eastern hip of Orion the Hunter, which is a constellation that can be seen with the naked eye in the northern hemisphere during winter evenings.

The new image is being released along with a new batch of data from WISE's second scan of the sky.

"If you're an astronomer, then you'll probably be in hog heaven when it comes to infrared data," Edward (Ned) Wright of UCLA, the principal investigator of the WISE mission, said in a press release. "Data from the second sky scan are useful for studying stars that vary or move over time, and for improving and checking data from the first scan."

In the new image of the Flame nebula, NASA said it appears to be a flaming candle sending off billows of smoke.

"In fact, the wispy tendrils in the image are part of the larger Orion star-forming complex, a huge dust cloud churning out new stars," NASA said in a press release.

The ultraviolet light from a central massive star is 20 times heavier than our sun, and is seen buried in the dust in the image, causing the cloud to glow in infrared light. NASA said this star would be almost as bright to our eyes as the three stars in Orion's belt, but the dust makes the star appear 4 billion times fainter than it is.

Other celestial objects making a cameo in the new image include the nebula NGC 2023, which is seen as a bright circle in the lower half of the frame, and the famous Horsehead nebula seen to the right of one of the lower, vertical ridges.

NASA said the bright red arc seen at the lower right part of the image is a bow shock, which is where material in front of the multiple-star system Sigma Orionis is piling up.

According to the space agency, the data released this week covers about a third of the mission's second full scan of the sky. The images were taken from August to September 2010.