“Orion’s Chimney”: the Flame Nebula shines in a breathtaking new sight

The Flame Nebula shines in this processed image. The colors show the speed of gas in the nebula, with red clouds moving away faster than yellows.

ESO / Th. Stanke & ESO / J. Emerson / VISTA. Acknowledgments: Cambridge Astronomical Research Unit

This is winter where I am and I have felt the drag of the short days and cold temperatures. This is why I am dwelling on a new image of the Flame Nebula which shows a gloriously glowing region of space. It looks like hell, but it’s actually a cloud of dust and gas strewn with stars.

The European Southern Observatory called the flame nebula the “Orion chimney” in a statement on Tuesday. It is located in the constellation Orion, which is named after the hunter from Greek mythology. “This ’emission’ nebula harbors at its center a cluster of young stars which emit high-energy radiation, making surrounding gases glow,” ESO said.

There’s a lot going on in ESO’s image. The Flame Nebula is the large formation on the left. The smallest object on the right is another nebula, NGC 2023. Look closely above and to the right of NGC 2023 to find the Horse’s Head nebula, which Hubble picturesque captured in 2013.

The image of the flame nebula is taken from the Atacama Pathfinder experiment in Chile. The observation is part of a larger investigation of radio waves emitted by carbon monoxide in star-forming regions of Orion’s molecular clouds. “Contrary to what the ‘fire’ in this image might suggest, these clouds are in fact cold, with temperatures typically a few tens of degrees above absolute zero,” ESO said.

The image highlights the speed of gas in the nebula, with red clouds moving away from us faster than yellow ones. The science is neat, but there is also room to sit and appreciate the sheer visual beauty. My toes might be cold, but my space-loving heart is warm.


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