Monday, May 23, 2022

The Flame Nebula blazes like a cosmic fire in this stunning new image

New image of the Flame Nebula shows the interstellar cloud like we’ve never seen it before.

A team of astronomers using the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope captured a star-forming region at radio wavelengths, revealing details we’ve never seen before.

The Flame Nebula, close to the famous Horsehead Nebula, is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, located in the constellation Orion, which is one of the best studied regions of the night sky.

“As astronomers like to say, whenever a new telescope or instrument comes along, watch Orion: there will always be something new and interesting to discover!” says astronomer Thomas Stanke from the European Southern Observatory.

(ESO/Th. Stanke & ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA/Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit)

Top: A composite image showing radio and infrared wavelengths.

The Orion complex is a vast series of star-forming nebulae that span hundreds of light-years in all directions, starting about 1,000 light-years from the solar system. Because it’s so close (from a cosmic point of view) and so huge, it’s a great laboratory for studying how stars are born.

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The Flame Nebula is one of the many stellar nurseries in the complex. This is what is classified as an emission nebula; that is, it emits its own light, unlike reflection nebulae, which glow only by reflected starlight, and dark nebulae, which do not glow at all, but cast a shadow across the sky like chasms in space.

What makes an emission nebula glow is the ionization of the gases in the nebula by the bright radiation from a nearby hot star. Since young stars are often very hot, stellar nurseries usually glow brightly. The Flame Nebula is home to hundreds of newly formed stars clustered at its center.

only fiery nebula radioThe Flame Nebula is radio-only. (ESO/T. Stanke)

But stars are born in clouds of dense dust and gas that darken the stars in the optical range. An instrument like APEX, which captures radio images, can capture details that are invisible to our eyes.

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In their observations of the Orion complex, Stanke and his colleagues were able to trace molecular streams, the huge winds forced into interstellar space by star formation processes, and map the molecular gas in various regions of the nebula.

The researchers also found a nebula that no one had ever noticed before, almost perfectly round, suggestive of a spherical cloud containing no stars. They named this object the Korov Nebula Globule and believe that it can be used to study the structure and dynamics of clouds, although additional observations are needed to better understand its nature and properties.

Team work accepted in Astronomy and astrophysics and available on arXiv.

Wallpaper size composite and radio images of the fiery nebula can be found on the ESO website.

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Nation World News Desk
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