(ORDO NEWS) — New image of the Flame Nebula shows the interstellar cloud like we’ve never seen it before.
A team of astronomers using the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope captured the star-forming region at radio wavelengths, revealing details we’ve never seen before.
The Flame Nebula, which is next to the famous Horsehead Nebula, is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex located in the constellation of Orion, which is one of the best studied and photographed regions in the night sky.
“As astronomers say, whenever a new telescope or instrument comes along, watch Orion: there will always be something new and interesting!” says astronomer Thomas Stanke from the European Southern Observatory.
The Orion Complex is a vast series of star-forming nebulae extending hundreds of light-years in all directions, starting at about 1,000 light-years from the solar system. Because it’s so close (from a cosmic point of view) and so huge, it’s a great laboratory for studying how stars are born.
The Flame Nebula is one of many stellar nurseries in the complex. It is classified as an emission nebula, that is, it emits its own light, as opposed to reflection nebulae, which shine only by reflected starlight, and dark nebulae, which do not shine at all, but shadow the sky like chasms in space.
Emission nebulae glow due to the ionization of gases in the nebula under the influence of bright radiation from a nearby hot star. Since young stars are often very hot, stellar nurseries usually shine brightly. The Flame Nebula is home to hundreds of newly formed stars clustered at its center.
But stars are born in clouds of dense dust and gas that normally obscure stars in the optical wavelength range. An instrument such as APEX, which captures radio images, can capture details that are invisible to our eyes.
Through observations of the Orion complex, Stanke and his colleagues were able to track molecular streams – huge winds rushing into interstellar space as a result of star formation processes – and map the molecular gas in various regions of the nebula.
The researchers also found a nebula that no one had noticed before, almost perfectly round, suggestive of a spherical cloud containing no stars.
They named this object the globule of the Korov Nebula and believe that it can be used to study the structure and dynamics of clouds, although additional observations are needed to better understand its nature and properties.
The team’s work has been accepted into the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics and is available on the arXiv website.
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