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Waspie_Dwarf

A Horsehead of a Different Color [merged]

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NASA's Hubble Sees a Horsehead of a Different Color

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Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

› Larger image

Astronomers have used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to photograph the iconic Horsehead Nebula in a new, infrared light to mark the 23rd anniversary of the famous observatory's launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990.

Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. The nebula is a favorite target for amateur and professional astronomers. It is shadowy in optical light. It appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths. The rich tapestry of the Horsehead Nebula pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies that easily are visible in infrared light.

Hubble has been producing ground-breaking science for two decades. During that time, it has benefited from a slew of upgrades from space shuttle missions, including the 2009 addition of a new imaging workhorse, the high-resolution Wide Field Camera 3 that took the new portrait of the Horsehead.

The nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud, located about 1,500 light-years away in the constellation Orion. The cloud also contains other well-known objects such as the Great Orion Nebula (M42), the Flame Nebula, and Barnard's Loop. It is one of the nearest and most easily photographed regions in which massive stars are being formed.

In the Hubble image, the backlit wisps along the Horsehead's upper ridge are being illuminated by Sigma Orionis, a young five-star system just out of view. Along the nebula's top ridge, two fledgling stars peek out from their now-exposed nurseries.

Scientists know a harsh ultraviolet glare from one of these bright stars is slowly evaporating the nebula. Gas clouds surrounding the Horsehead already have dissipated, but the tip of the jutting pillar contains a slightly higher density of hydrogen and helium, laced with dust. This casts a shadow that protects material behind it from being stripped away by intense stellar radiation evaporating the hydrogen cloud, and a pillar structure forms.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc., in Washington.

For images and more information about the Horsehead Nebula, visit:

› Hubblesite.org

› Space Telescope Science Institute

› Space Telescope site

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There's something about these space photos that touch me deeply; I'm not sure why. If I believed in God I'd say it's like looking into the face of God, but whatever it is, it's totally awesome.

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Herschel and Hubble see the Horsehead in new light

herschelhorseheadnebula.png

Herschel’s view of the Horsehead Nebula

Stunning new view from ESA’s Herschel space observatory of the iconic Horsehead Nebula in the context of its surroundings. The image is a composite of the wavelengths of 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green) and 250 microns (red), and covers 4.5x1.5 degrees. The image is oriented with northeast towards the left of the image and southwest towards the right.

The Horsehead Nebula resides in the constellation Orion, about 1300 light-years away, and is part of the vast Orion Molecular Cloud complex. The Horsehead appears to rise above the surrounding gas and dust in the far right-hand side of this scene, and points towards the bright Flame Nebula. Intense radiation streaming away from newborn stars heats up the surrounding dust and gas, making it shine brightly to Herschel’s infrared-sensitive eyes (shown in pink and white in this image).

To the left, the panoramic view also covers two other prominent sites where massive stars are forming, NGC 2068 and NGC 2071.

Extensive networks of cool gas and dust weave throughout the scene in the form of red and yellow filaments, some of which may host newly forming low-mass stars.

Credits: ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE/N. Schneider, Ph. André, V. Könyves (CEA Saclay, France) for the “Gould Belt survey” Key Programme

19 April 2013New views of the Horsehead Nebula and its turbulent environment have been unveiled by ESA’s Herschel space observatory and the NASA/ESA Hubble space telescope.

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Hubble’s view of the Horsehead Nebula

The Horsehead Nebula as viewed at near-infrared wavelengths (1.1 microns (blue/cyan) and 1.6 microns (red/orange)) with the Wide Field Camera 3 on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The image is approximately 6 arcminutes across and is oriented with north to the left and east down.

This thick pillar of gas and dust is sculpted by powerful stellar winds blowing from clusters of massive stars located beyond the field of this image. The bright source at the top left edge of the nebula is a young star whose radiation is already eroding the surrounding interstellar material.

Credits: NASA, ESA & Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)

The Horsehead Nebula lies in the constellation Orion, about 1300 light-years away, and is a popular target for amateur and professional astronomers alike. It sits just to the south of star Alnitak, the easternmost of Orion’s famous three-star belt, and is part of the vast Orion Molecular Cloud complex.

The new far-infrared Herschel view shows in spectacular detail the scene playing out around the Horsehead Nebula at the right-hand side of the image, where it seems to surf like a ‘white horse’ in the waves of turbulent star-forming clouds.

It appears to be riding towards another favourite stopping point for astrophotographers: NGC 2024, also known as the Flame Nebula. This star-forming region appears obscured by dark dust lanes in visible light images, but blazes in full glory in the far-infrared Herschel view.

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Zooming in on the Horsehead

This three-panel image shows the latest near-infrared Hubble image of the Horsehead Nebula in context with the new wide-field Herschel view of the surrounding environment at far-infrared wavelengths.

A portion of the image highlighting both the Horsehead and Flame Nebula is also shown in visible light in an image from the Digitized Sky Survey 2 (DSS2). The star Altnitak is indicated – this is the most easterly star in Orion’s famous three-star belt. Several reflection nebulas are also indicated; these host star formation, and like the Horsehead and Flame, are popular targets for astrophotographers.

The Herschel image is 4.5x1.5 degrees and is oriented with northeast towards the left of the image and southwest towards the right. The image covers far-infrared wavelengths: 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green) and 250 microns (red).

The Hubble image is approximately 6 arcminutes across and is oriented with north to the left and east down. The image is taken at near-infrared wavelengths: 1.1 microns (blue/cyan) and 1.6 microns (red/orange).

Credits: Herschel: ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE/N. Schneider, Ph. André, V. Könyves (CEA Saclay, France) for the “Gould Belt survey” Key Programme, N. Schneider, Ph. André, V. Könyves (CEA Saclay); Hubble: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI); DSS2: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2, D. De Martin

Intense radiation streaming away from newborn stars heats up the surrounding dust and gas, making it shine brightly to Herschel’s infrared-sensitive eyes.

The panoramic view also covers two prominent sites of massive star formation to the northeast (left-hand side of this image), known as NGC 2068 (or M78) and NGC 2071. These take on the appearance of beautifully patterned butterfly wings, with long tails of colder gas and dust streaming away.

Both are reflection nebulas, so called because they reflect the light of nearby stars, revealing them even at visible wavelengths.

Extensive networks of cool gas and dust weave throughout the scene in the form of red and yellow filaments, some of which may host newly forming lightweight stars.

The new Hubble view, taken at near-infrared wavelengths with its Wide Field Camera 3 to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the launch of the observatory, zooms in on the Horsehead to reveal fine details of its structure.

Nearby stars illuminate the backlit wisps along the upper ridge of the nebula in an ethereal glow. The harsh ultraviolet glare from these bright stars is slowly evaporating the dusty stellar nursery. Two fledgling stars have already been exposed from their protective cocoons, and can just be seen peeking out from the upper ridge.

The Horsehead Nebula in new light

This fly-through takes the observer on a journey into the famous constellation of Orion, to visit the iconic Horsehead Nebula and its fascinating environment. A new wide-field view from ESA’s Herschel space observatory complements the latest close-up view of the Horsehead by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The new views are combined here with ground-based images from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), the ESO Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), and the Digitized Sky Survey 2 (DSS2).

Credit: ESA

These latest views are also presented in a new fly-through animation, which puts the Horsehead in context and shows it at both visible and infrared wavelengths. The new views from Herschel and Hubble are complemented by ground-based images from other telescopes.

Notes for Editors

The Herschel image was obtained as part of a wider study of the Orion B region for the Herschel Gould Belt Survey, a guaranteed-time key programme of the mission. The image is a composite of individual images made at wavelengths of 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green) and 250 microns (red).

A paper describing these results “What determines the density structure of molecular clouds? A case study of Orion B with Herschel,” by N. Schneider et al., is published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, 766, L17, April 2013.

The Hubble Space Telescope image depicts the Horsehead Nebula at near-infrared wavelengths of 1.1 microns (blue/cyan) and 1.6 microns (red/orange). It was photographed by the Wide Field Camera 3 to mark the 23rd anniversary of its launch on the Space Shuttle in April 1990. Wide Field Camera 3 was installed on the space telescope by astronauts during the 2009 servicing mission.

For further information, please contact:

Markus Bauer

ESA Science and Robotic Exploration Communication Officer

Tel: +31 71 565 6799

Mob: +31 61 594 3 954

Email: markus.bauer@esa.int

Göran Pilbratt

ESA Herschel Project Scientist

Tel: +31 71 565 3621

Email: gpilbratt@rssd.esa.int

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