(CNN) – The Flame Nebula is one of the many wonders to be found in the constellation Orion, and astronomers have now discovered a new perspective on this amazing celestial feature.
Although the Flame Nebula seems to live up to its name, the fiery image actually represents what interstellar clouds captured by radio waves look like.
The observation was carried out by the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX), operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO, for its English acronym) in the Atacama Desert, in Chile.
Orion is not just a famous constellation. This region of the sky is also where giant clouds of hydrogen give rise to new stars and planets. Molecular clouds are between 1,300 and 1,600 light-years away from our planet.
The Flame Nebula has a young star cluster at its center. These stars emit high-energy radiation, which makes the gas clouds glow dramatically.
The new images are the result of observations made a few years ago by Thomas Stank, a former astronomer at the European Southern Observatory, and his team. The newly processed images of the nebula, along with other observations, have been accepted for publication in the journal. Astronomy and astrophysics.
This new look at Orion’s features came after installing the SuperCam tool into the Atacama Pathfinder Experience. The instrument is designed to observe molecular clouds found in the Milky Way. For this particular research, the team used it to look for radio waves from carbon monoxide in Orion’s clouds.
“As astronomers like to say, when there’s a new telescope or instrument around, look at Orion: there will always be something new and interesting to discover!” Stankey said in a statement.
While observing the Flame Nebula and its surroundings, the researchers also observed light-reflecting clouds from nearby stars and discovered a new small circular nebula they named the Cow Nebula. The SuperCam tool can help astronomers map these stellar nurseries where stars are born.
The Flame Nebula dominates the left half inside the yellow rectangle in the image below. On the right is a reflection of NGC 2023 and at the top right is the Horsehead Nebula.
Scroll between the two images to see the differences in the background, one captured in infrared light by the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy at Paranal Observatory in Chile and the other in visible light from the Digital Sky Survey 2.
Due to Orion’s popularity, telescopes have observed this part of the sky at many wavelengths of light.
Despite the fiery appearance of the Flame Nebula, the clouds are extremely cold, reaching a few tens of degrees above absolute zero. Absolute zero is equal to -273.15 degrees Celsius or -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit.
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