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The Orion Nebula's bright new image.

The Orion Nebula's bright new image

Long featured on astronomical posters and calendars, the Orion Nebula is one of the most familiar sights in astronomy. Barely visible to the naked eye, it appears as a small, fuzzy patch of light just below the three stars in the belt of the constellation Orion. Capturing the multicolored splendor of the nebula's glowing gases on film generally requires special photographic techniques. Now, astronomer Mark McCaughrean of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and his collaborators, using a new electronic camera sensitive to infrared light, have penetrated the dust and gas responsible for obscuring the nebula's core. Their image of the nebula reveals a hitherto unseen, dense cluster of young stars.

The color illustration is a composite of three images taken at different infrared wavelengths. It reveals how the Orion Nebula might appear if the human eye were sensitive to infrared light. The hottest sources appear blue, whereas cooler and dust-obscured sources are red. The nebula, located 1,500 light-years from Earth, is the nearest and brightest of all galactic nebulas, in which recently formed stars are still surrounded by gases left over from the formation process. The image shows at least 500 stars, of which more than four-fifths are visible only in infrared light. All the stars in this cluster, the densest young cluster known, would lie within two-thirds of the distance between the sun and its nearest stellar neighbors.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 28, 1989
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