New Image Shows Off Star Birth Region In Orion
January 23, 2013

The Birthplace Of Stars In Orion Featured In New APEX Image

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A new image released by the European Space Observatory (ESO) shows off a great view of clouds of cosmic dust in Orion.

ESO's Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile helps bring out the heat glow of the dust, revealing places where new stars are being formed.

Dense clouds of cosmic gas and dust in space are the birthplaces of new stars. When viewing these in visible light, the dust is dark and obscuring, which helps to hide the stars.

Astronomers had to build telescopes that could observe at longer wavelengths, such as the submillimeter range, in which the dark dust grains shine rather than absorb light.

APEX is the largest single-dish submillimeter-wavelength telescope operating in the southern hemisphere and is ideal for astronomers studying the birth of stars.

The Orion Molecular Cloud Complex is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth, and contains a treasury of bright nebulae, dark clouds and young stars. The image shows just part of this vast complex in visible light, with the APEX observations overlaid in brilliant orange tones that seem to set the dark clouds on fire.

The glowing knots from APEX correspond to darker patches in visible light, which is a sign of a dense cloud of dust that absorbs visible light.

ESO said that the bright patch below the center of the image is the nebular NGC 1999, which is the region astronomers call a reflection nebula. This region is where the pale blue glow of background starlight is reflected from clouds of dust.

The nebula is illuminated by the energetic radiation from the young star V380 Orionis lurking at its heart.

A dark patch seen in the center of the nebula indicates a dense cloud of cosmic dust, obscuring the stars and nebula behind it. However, the image shows the patch remains dark, even when the APEX observations are included. The APEX observations, combined with infrared observations from other telescopes, lead astronomers to believe that the patch is a hole or cavity in the nebula.

The region in the image is located about two degrees south of the large Orion Nebula (Messier 42), which can be seen at the top edge of the visible light view from the Digitized Sky Survey.