Witch-Head-Nebula

A frighteningly shaped reflection nebula, this cosmic crone is about 800 light-years away though. Its malevolent visage seems to glare toward nearby bright star Rigel in Orion, just off the right edge of this frame. More formally known as IC 2118, the interstellar cloud of dust and gas is nearly 70 light-years across, its dust grains reflecting Rigel’s starlight. In this composite portrait, the nebula’s color is caused not only by the star’s intense bluish light but because the dust grains scatter blue light more efficiently than red. The same physical process causes Earth’s daytime sky to appear blue, although the scatterers in planet Earth’s atmosphere are molecules of nitrogen and oxygen

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble …. maybe Macbeth should have consulted the Witch Head Nebula. A suggestively shaped reflection nebula, this cosmic crone is about 800 light-years away though. Its frightening visage seems to glare toward nearby bright star Rigel in Orion, just off the right edge of this frame. More formally known as IC 2118, the interstellar cloud of dust and gas is nearly 70 light-years across, its dust grains reflecting Rigel’s starlight. In this composite portrait, the nebula’s color is caused not only by the star’s intense bluish light but because the dust grains scatter blue light more efficiently than red. The same physical process causes Earth’s daytime sky to appear blue, although the scatterers in planet Earth’s atmosphere are molecules of nitrogen and oxygen.

Object Names: Witch Head Nebula, 2118

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: Jeff signorelli

Time And Space

‘Witch head’ brews baby stars

A witch appears to be screaming out into space in this new image from NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The infrared portrait shows the Witch Head nebula, named after its resemblance to the profile of a wicked witch. Astronomers say the billowy clouds of the nebula, where baby stars are brewing, are being lit up by massive stars. Dust in the cloud is being hit with starlight, causing it to glow with infrared light, which was picked up by WISE’s detectors. The Witch Head nebula is estimated to be hundreds of light-years away in the Orion constellation, just off the famous hunter’s knee.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Familiar stars in Orion and constellations across the sky now have official names. Over the past year, the International Astronomical Union, the only body officially tasked with naming stars, approved names already in common use for 227 of the brightest stars, including the most famous stars on the sky Sirius, Polaris, and Betelgeuse. Pictured, the constellation of Orion is shown with several of these now-official star names superposed. Spanning about 30 degrees, this breath-taking vista stretches across the well-known constellation from head to toe (left to right) and beyond. The common names for all three stars in Orion’s belt are also now official. At 1,500 light years away, the Great Orion Nebula is the closest large star forming region, here visible just right and below center. Also visible are famous nebulae including the Horsehead Nebula and the Witch Head Nebula. Of course, the Orion Nebula and bright stars are easy to see with the unaided eye, but dust clouds and emission from the extensive interstellar gas in this nebula-rich complex, are too faint and much harder to record. In the featured mosaic of broadband telescopic images, additional image data acquired with a narrow hydrogen alpha filter was used to bring out the pervasive tendrils of energized atomic hydrogen gas like in the arc of the giant Barnard’s Loop.

Credit: Rogelio Bernal Andreo

Time And Space

The constellation of Orion is much more than three stars in a row. It is a direction in space that is rich with impressive nebulas. To better appreciate this well-known swath of sky, an extremely long exposure was taken over many clear nights in 2013 and 2014. After 212 hours of camera time and an additional year of processing, the featured 1400-exposure collage spanning over 40 times the angular diameter of the Moon emerged. Of the many interesting details that have become visible, one that particularly draws the eye is Barnard’s Loop, the bright red circular filament arcing down from the middle. The Rosette Nebula is not the giant red nebula near the top of the image – that is a larger but lesser known nebula known as Lambda Orionis. The Rosette Nebula is visible, though: it is the red and white nebula on the upper left. The bright orange star just above the frame center is Betelgeuse, while the bright blue star on the lower right is Rigel. Other famous nebulas visible include the Witch Head Nebula, the Flame Nebula, the Fox Fur Nebula, and, if you know just where to look, the comparatively small Horsehead Nebula. About those famous three stars that cross the belt of Orion the Hunter – in this busy frame they can be hard to locate, but a discerning eye will find them just below and to the right of the image center.

Image Credit & Copyright: Stanislav Volskiy, Rollover Annotation: Judy Schmidt