Orion, warm and visible

By Phil Plait | November 7, 2006 3:35 pm

It’s been a while since I posted a pretty picture. So here you go:

This newly released image shows the good ol’ Orion Nebula, one of if not the most active star-forming regions in the Galaxy. It’s pretty closeby as these things go, just 1500 light years away (the Galaxy is 100,000 light years across, so Orion is practically sitting in our lap).

The image is a combination of visible light images taken by Hubble and infrared ones by Spitzer. It’s a little garish for my taste, but still cool. It shows shock waves as the four massive central stars (called the Trapezium) blast out ultraviolet light, heated hydrogen and sulfur gas, complex molecules which glow in the IR, and a lot of the chaos and weirdness typical in a nebula like this.

In a million years, maybe two, all four of the Trapezium stars will have exploded, and over the ensuing centuries the nebula will become even more of a mess, if you can imagine. So savor it now while you can.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, NASA, Science

Comments (14)

  1. Nigel Depledge

    Oooh! Shiny!

    It always looks better in long-exposure pictures – I remember viewing this a few years ago through a friend’s 8″ Newtonian and seeing a little bluey-white cloud.

    I’ll make a special note, Phil, to stop viewing this nebula in a million years or so…
    :-)

  2. Melusine

    Whoa, that’s a space-psychedelic photo…even my co-worker was impressed. I rather like all that color, so thanks, I’ll keep that one. (-8~

  3. Carey

    A million years? Well, just time for another bath…

  4. jess tauber

    So maybe not so brand spanking new, but my vote is for a time trip back to Westerlund I, when IT was pushin’ out stars like a PEZ dispenser. If it has maybe half a million stars within a 6 LY^3 cube, imagine how many were forming in any given century in its heyday.

  5. Geroge

    Looks like another beautiful front cover for several magazines. clap, clap

  6. Kyle_Carm

    Anyone else see Phil’s favorite thing in there. I noticed a little pareidolia in the mid-height right in the green area, looks like the face from “The Scream”

  7. idlemind

    Nigel,

    The best part about seeing the Great Orion Nebula in a telescope is seeing those four blue-white stars suspended in a wispy cloud. All the pretty pictures I see, including this one, show the Trapezium area as this angry plume of light. It’s impossible to see why it’s called the “Trapezium” (for “trapezoid,” the shape formed by the stars) in these photos. But in a telescope, there they are. It’s a sight that has its own magic.

  8. Gary Ansorge

    Ummm, messy and chaotic. My kinda clouds,,,wait, is that an angel???Oh, no, just my glasses are dirty,,,

    GAry 7

  9. Hey Phil,
    You call this one of the most active star-forming regions in our galaxy. I was wondering: How much of our own galaxy can we actually see, and how much is obscured by dust or gas or stars or whatever else is out there?

  10. Gary Ansorge

    Lab: Depends on the EM spectrum we’re using to see with. What’s invisible(blocked) in one part is usually quite visible in another,,,See the most recent post,,,

    GAry 7

  11. Are there any energies at which we can see what’s on the other side of the middle?

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  13. mungascr

    In a span of time that’s astronomically short, Betelgeux & Rigel plus the other bright stars that make up Orion will also have gone supernova. Betelgeux along with Eta Carinae is one of the current candidate stars likely to blow up any day (or better yet – night) now.

    Far from not watching it then I reckon that’ll make the Orion nebula even more exciting to observe! I’ll have to put it on the schedule for AD 2 million & six! ;)

  14. Troy

    One thing that I’m curious about with such dramatic astrophotos; would it be possible from any point and perspective in the universe for the human eye to see such a dramatic cascade of colors while looking at the orion nebula? Astronomy needs false color and long exposures but I wonder. In a telescope it is wispy but color is absent. I’ve never been too much of a deep sky guy but a pro leant me a view through his scope at a less conspicous deep sky nebula and it appeared almost to be rendered in pencil.

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