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Photo: Hubble Snaps Stunning View of Iconic Nebula

In honor of its launch 23 years ago the Hubble Space Telescope snapped a breathtaking, never-before-seen view of one of the most photogenic cosmic vistas in the night sky. Dubbed the Horsehead nebula because of its obvious resemblance to a steed or chess piece in profile,  this dark cloud of gas and dust sits 1,500...

The Hubble space telescope’s infrared camera provides a new look to the famous Horsehead nebula. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

In honor of its launch 23 years ago the Hubble Space Telescope snapped a breathtaking, never-before-seen view of one of the most photogenic cosmic vistas in the night sky.

Dubbed the Horsehead nebula because of its obvious resemblance to a steed or chess piece in profile,  this dark cloud of gas and dust sits 1,500 light years from Earth in the winter constellation Orion and has been a favorite target for generations of backyard stargazers.

Now thanks to the Hubble’s  infrared vision of its high-resolution Wide Field Camera,  we finally get to lift the veil of gas and dust covering a nursery of newborn stars buried within the nebula.

In this new portrait, the nebula’s  normally shadowy facade seen in optical light,  now appears in infrared light to be transparent, and lit up against a backdrop of more distant bright nebulae and star clusters scattered in our Milky Way galaxy.

The wispy outline along the outer ridge of this distinctively shaped pillar of hydrogen gas and dust glows due to a nearby, hot, young five star system lying just off the frame.

Astronomers believe that the radiation from these same stars that showcase the Horsehead today will eventually kill it off- evaporating it over time. But no need to worry since astronomers estimate that will be about 5 million years before it completely disappears from our skies.

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Meet the Author

Andrew Fazekas
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.