Photo: Orion’s Hidden Dusty Ribbon Revealed

In this image, the deep infrared glow of the orange hued ribbon shaped dust clouds is overlaid on a view of the region in the more familiar visible light,. The large bright cloud in the upper right of the image is the well-known Orion Nebula. Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2


The Orion nebula  is one of the most favorite spots for stargazers to explore in the heavens, but this week astronomers are releasing a stunning new look to this giant stellar nursery 1300 light years from Earth.

A fiery cosmic ribbon glows with orange colors as grains of cold interstellar dust light up like a neon sign, shining bright in the far infrared part of the spectrum which is invisible to the human eye. This new image released by the European Southern observatory (ESO) shows this ribbon-like feature superimposed on a more familiar view of the cosmic clouds of dust visible in optical wavelengths.  (See also: Orion Nebula in Billion Pixel Beauty)

Thanks to the new views offered by the sub-millimeter (deep infrared) wavelength camera of the Atacama Pathfinder (APEX) telescope in the high deserts of Chile,  astronomers are able to peek behind this veil of cold dust that has been hiding hot, newborn stars in the more traditional views obtained in optical wavelengths. (Related: OMG Orion!)

The large white cloud in the upper right of the image is the famous Orion nebula- the brightest part of this star factory complex. It is a familiar sight for sky watchers as a fuzzy patch of light- the faint middle star of three that makes up the mythical hunter’s sword. In small backyard telescopes it looks like a ghostly grey flower in bloom.

Astronomers have combined the power of the Chilean telescope with the Herschel Space Observatory to comb this intense star formation region for signs of baby stars and sure enough they have been able to uncover 15 promising targets that glow in the far-infrared part of the spectrum. Astronomers believe these new dramatic views are finally giving them a glimpse at the earliest stages of star birth we have seen to date.


Changing Planet

Meet the Author
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.