Sifting through dust near Orion's Belt

May 02, 2012
This image of the region surrounding the reflection nebula Messier 78, just to the north of Orion’s belt, shows clouds of cosmic dust threaded through the nebula like a string of pearls. The submillimeter-wavelength observations, made with the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope and shown here in orange, use the heat glow of interstellar dust grains to show astronomers where new stars are being formed. They are overlaid on a view of the region in visible light. Credit: ESO/APEX (MPIfR/ESO/OSO)/T. Stanke et al./Igor Chekalin/Digitized Sky Survey 2

the surface grime that hides the beauty of an object. But this new image of Messier 78 and surroundings, which reveals the submillimetre-wavelength radiation from dust grains in space, shows that dust can be dazzling. Dust is important to astronomers as dense clouds of gas and dust are the birthplaces of new stars.

In the centre of the image is Messier 78, also known as NGC 2068. When seen in visible light, this region is a reflection nebula, meaning that we see the pale blue glow of reflected from clouds of dust. The APEX observations are overlaid on the visible-light image in orange. Sensitive to longer wavelengths, they reveal the gentle glow of dense cold clumps of dust, some of which are even colder than -250ºC. In visible light, this dust is dark and obscuring, which is why telescopes such as APEX are so important for studying the dusty clouds in which stars are born.

One filament seen by APEX appears in visible light as a dark lane of dust cutting across Messier 78. This tells us that the dense dust lies in front of the reflection nebula, blocking its bluish light. Another prominent region of glowing dust seen by APEX overlaps with the visible light from Messier 78 at its lower edge. The lack of a corresponding dark dust lane in the visible light image tells us that this dense region of must lie behind the reflection nebula.

Observations of the gas in these clouds reveal gas flowing at high velocity out of some of the dense clumps. These outflows are ejected from young stars while the star is still forming from the surrounding cloud. Their presence is therefore evidence that these clumps are actively forming stars.

At the top of the image is another reflection nebula, NGC 2071. While the lower regions in this image contain only low-mass young stars, NGC 2071 contains a more massive young star with an estimated mass five times that of the Sun, located in the brightest peak seen in the APEX observations.

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

Explore further: A spectacular landscape of star formation

Related Stories

APEX turns its eye to dark clouds in Taurus

Feb 15, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new image from the APEX (Atacama Pathfinder Experiment) telescope in Chile shows a sinuous filament of cosmic dust more than ten light-years long. In it, newborn stars are hidden, and dense ...

AKARI's view on birth and death of stars

Aug 28, 2006

AKARI, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) infrared astronomical satellite with ESA participation, is continuing its survey of the sky and its mapping of our cosmos in infrared light. New exciting ...

Making a spectacle of star formation in Orion

Jun 30, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Looking like a pair of eyeglasses only a rock star would wear, this nebula brings into focus a murky region of star formation. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope exposes the depths of this dusty ...

Reflected glory

Feb 16, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The nebula Messier 78 takes centre stage in this image taken with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, while the stars powering the ...

The smoky pink core of the Omega Nebula

Jan 04, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new image of the Omega Nebula, captured by ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), is one of the sharpest of this object ever taken from the ground. It shows the dusty, rose-coloured central parts ...

Space Image: North American Nebula

Oct 19, 2011

This swirling landscape of stars is known as the North America Nebula. In visible light, the region resembles North America, but in this image infrared view from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, the continent ...

Recommended for you

Swirling electrons in the whirlpool galaxy

18 hours ago

The whirlpool galaxy Messier 51 (M51) is seen from a distance of approximately 30 million light years. This galaxy appears almost face-on and displays a beautiful system of spiral arms.

A spectacular landscape of star formation

Aug 20, 2014

This image, captured by the Wide Field Imager at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows two dramatic star formation regions in the Milky Way. The first, on the left, is dominated by the star cluster NGC ...

Exoplanet measured with remarkable precision

Aug 19, 2014

Barely 30 years ago, the only planets astronomers had found were located right here in our own solar system. The Milky Way is chock-full of stars, millions of them similar to our own sun. Yet the tally ...

New star catalog reveals unexpected 'solar salad'

Aug 19, 2014

(Phys.org) —An Arizona State University alumnus has devised the largest catalog ever produced for stellar compositions. Called the Hypatia Catalog, after one of the first female astronomers who lived in ...

User comments : 0