Cosmic cradle is a blaze of colour

Two space telescopes have combined to produce this stunning photo of chaos in a celestial nursery. Nasa’s Hubble and Spitzer observatories zoomed in on the Orion nebula, a cloud of gas bright enough to be seen with the naked eye on winter nights.

Hubble/Spitzer image of the Orion NebulaTheir survey of the region, a cosmic cradle where hundreds of stars are being born, reveals colourful wisps of gas and dust blown by the stellar winds.

This vast star factory lies nearly 1,500 light-years from the Earth in the sword of Orion the mythical hunter. The space telescopes have painted it like an explosion of colours from right across the spectrum.

Four brilliant stars known as the Trapezium and around 100,000 times brighter than the sun, dominate the centre of the nebula in a yellow smudge. The wisps of green are hydrogen and sulphur heated by those giant stars’ intense ultraviolet radiation. Red and orange swirls are made up of carbon-rich molecules similar to those found on burnt toast!

Hundreds of stars are scattered throughout the nebula. Spitzer, a heat-seeking telescope, revealed the youngest as orange-yellow dots embedded in the dust and gas.

The picture was built up from images taken over many months by the two telescopes. One thing it clearly shows is that a celestial nursery is as untidy as kiddies’ toyroom.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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