Astronomers have used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to photograph the iconic Horsehead Nebula in a new, infrared light.

Credit: Image courtesy of Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)


Hubble and the Horsehead, Then and Now

To celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s launch next week, astronomers released a new image (top) of the iconic Horsehead Nebula. It is stunning.

The clouds of stellar gas almost jump right out of my screen! It’s a far cry from the view of the nebula that we’re used to, in the bottom image. Phil Plait has a great description of what you’re seeing at Bad Astronomy:

Just off the top of the Hubble picture is the bright star system Sigma Orionis, composed of five incredibly luminous stars. Combined, they shine with the power of over 75,000 Suns! They are responsible for heating and exciting the gas behind the Horsehead.

The Horsehead itself is the site of ongoing star formation. The dense gas and dust inside the nebula is collapsing to form stars, and, at the same time, the edges are being eroded away by the fierce ultraviolet light of Sigma Orionis. The top of the Horsehead is acting a bit like a shield, protecting the material beneath it, which is why it’s taken on that umbrella-like shape. You can see more sculpted pillars of material around the sides, too, like sandbars in a stream.

Well done, Hubble team. Keep up the good work. You’ve inspired millions.


Hubble at 23: Horsehead Nebula in a New Light

The Hubble Space Telescope has been in orbit for 23 years and, to celebrate this milestone, the space telescope has revisited the famous Horsehead Nebula in the constellation of Orion.

It really has been a crappy week, so here’s some Hubble therapy to end the week a little less crappy. Hubble reminds us that the human spirit for exploration and discovery far outweigh our drive to maim and kill.

Orion Molecular Cloud Complex in Infrared

This is an image of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex including the Flame nebula and the famous Horsehead nebula as seen from from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The Horsehead is only one small feature in the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, dominated in the center of this view by the brilliant Flame nebula (NGC 2024). The smaller, glowing cavity falling between the Flame nebula and the Horsehead is called NGC 2023. These regions are about 1,200 light-years away.

In this infrared image from Spitzer, blue represents light emitted at a wavelength of 3.6-microns, and cyan (blue-green) represents 4.5-microns, both of which come mainly from hot stars. Green represents 8-micron light and red represents 24-micron light. Relatively cooler objects, such as the dust of the nebulae, appear green and red.

Horsehead Emerges

Rising from a sea of dust and gas, the legendary Horsehead Nebula emerges. This amazing NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope close-up reveals the cloud’s intricate structure. Also known as Barnard 33, the Horsehead is a cold, dark cloud of gas and dust, silhouetted against the bright nebula, IC 434. The bright area at the top left edge is a young star still embedded in its nursery of gas and dust. The top of the nebula also is being sculpted by radiation from a massive star located out of view. 

Image Credit: NASA, NOAO, ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Visible and Infrared Views of the Horsehead Nebula

The Horsehead Nebula, also known as Barnard 33 is part of the much larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. Due to its recognizable shape – which roughly resembles the head and neck of a horse, it is one of the most well known astronomical objects. The nebula is, in fact, an extremely dense dark cloud projecting in front of the bright emission nebula IC434.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI); ESO