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Astronomy Picture of the Day
Search Results for "Great Nebula OR Orion Nebula"




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Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 April 19 - The Great Carina Nebula
Explanation: A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula is more modestly known as NGC 3372. One of our Galaxy's largest star forming regions, it spans over 300 light-years. Like the smaller, more northerly Great Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye. But at a distance of 7,500 light-years it lies some 5 times farther away. This stunning telescopic view reveals remarkable details of the region's glowing filaments of interstellar gas and obscuring cosmic dust clouds. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the still enigmatic variable Eta Carinae, a star with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. Eta Carinae is the bright star above the central dark notch in this field and left of the dusty Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 January 16 – The Orion You Can Almost See
Explanation: Do you recognize this constellation? Although it is one of the most recognizable star groupings on the sky, this is a more full Orion than you can see -- an Orion only revealed with long exposure digital camera imaging and post- processing. Here the cool red giant Betelgeuse takes on a strong orange tint as the brightest star on the upper left. Orion's hot blue stars are numerous, with supergiant Rigel balancing Betelgeuse on the lower right, and Bellatrix at the upper right. Lined up in Orion's belt are three stars all about 1,500 light-years away, born from the constellation's well-studied interstellar clouds. Just below Orion's belt is a bright but fuzzy patch that might also look familiar -- the stellar nursery known as Orion's Nebula. Finally, just barely visible to the unaided eye but quite striking here is Barnard's Loop -- a huge gaseous emission nebula surrounding Orion's Belt and Nebula discovered over 100 years ago by the pioneering Orion photographer E. E. Barnard.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 January 5 - Trapezium: At the Heart of Orion
Explanation: Near the center of this sharp cosmic portrait, at the heart of the Orion Nebula, are four hot, massive stars known as the Trapezium. Gathered within a region about 1.5 light-years in radius, they dominate the core of the dense Orion Nebula Star Cluster. Ultraviolet ionizing radiation from the Trapezium stars, mostly from the brightest star Theta-1 Orionis C powers the complex star forming region's entire visible glow. About three million years old, the Orion Nebula Cluster was even more compact in its younger years and a dynamical study indicates that runaway stellar collisions at an earlier age may have formed a black hole with more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. The presence of a black hole within the cluster could explain the observed high velocities of the Trapezium stars. The Orion Nebula's distance of some 1,500 light-years would make it one of the closest known black holes to planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 October 31 – Halloween and the Wizard Nebula
Explanation: Halloween's origin is ancient and astronomical. Since the fifth century BC, Halloween has been celebrated as a cross-quarter day, a day halfway between an equinox (equal day / equal night) and a solstice (minimum day / maximum night in the northern hemisphere). With a modern calendar however, even though Halloween occurs today, the real cross-quarter day will occur next week. Another cross-quarter day is Groundhog Day. Halloween's modern celebration retains historic roots in dressing to scare away the spirits of the dead. Perhaps a fitting tribute to this ancient holiday is this closeup view of the Wizard Nebula (NGC 7380). Visually, the interplay of stars, gas, and dust has created a shape that appears to some like a fictional ancient sorcerer. Although the nebula may last only a few million years, some of the stars being conjured from the gas by the great gravitational powers may outlive our Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 October 10 – Hidden Orion from Webb
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion has hidden stars. To the unaided eye in visible light, it appears as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion. But this image was taken by the Webb Space Telescope in a representative-color composite of red and very near infrared light. It confirms with impressive detail that the Orion Nebula is a busy neighborhood of young stars, hot gas, and dark dust. The rollover image shows the same image in representative colors further into the near infrared. The power behind much of the Orion Nebula (M42) is the Trapezium - a cluster of bright stars near the nebula's center. The diffuse and filamentary glow surrounding the bright stars is mostly heated interstellar dust. Detailed inspection of these images shows an unexpectedly large number of Jupiter-Mass Binary Objects (JuMBOs), pairs of Jupiter-mass objects which might give a clue to how stars are forming. The whole Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next few million years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 June 14 – The Shark Nebula
Explanation: There is no sea on Earth large enough to contain the Shark nebula. This predator apparition poses us no danger as it is composed only of interstellar gas and dust. Dark dust like that featured here is somewhat like cigarette smoke and created in the cool atmospheres of giant stars. After being expelled with gas and gravitationally recondensing, massive stars may carve intricate structures into their birth cloud using their high energy light and fast stellar winds as sculpting tools. The heat they generate evaporates the murky molecular cloud as well as causing ambient hydrogen gas to disperse and glow red. During disintegration, we humans can enjoy imagining these great clouds as common icons, like we do for water clouds on Earth. Including smaller dust nebulae such as Lynds Dark Nebula 1235 and Van den Bergh 149 & 150, the Shark nebula spans about 15 light years and lies about 650 light years away toward the constellation of the King of Aethiopia (Cepheus).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 May 1 – Carina Nebula North
Explanation: The Great Carina Nebula is home to strange stars and iconic nebulas. Named for its home constellation, the huge star-forming region is larger and brighter than the Great Orion Nebula but less well known because it is so far south -- and because so much of humanity lives so far north. The featured image shows in great detail the northernmost part of the Carina Nebula. On the bottom left is the Gabriela Mistral Nebula consisting of an emission nebula of glowing gas (IC 2599) surrounding the small open cluster of stars (NGC 3324). Above the image center is the larger star cluster NGC 3293, while to its right is the emission nebula Loden 153. The most famous occupant of the Carina Nebula, however, is not shown. Off the image to the lower right is the bright, erratic, and doomed star known as Eta Carinae -- a star once one of the brightest stars in the sky and now predicted to explode in a supernova sometime in the next few million years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 March 10 - Orion and the Running Man
Explanation: Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like The Great Nebula in Orion. Visible as a faint celestial smudge to the naked-eye, the nearest large star-forming region sprawls across this sharp telescopic image, recorded on a cold January night in dark skies from West Virginia, planet Earth. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot, young stars. About 40 light-years across, it lies at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away within the same spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy as the Sun. Along with dusty bluish reflection nebula NGC 1977 and friends near the top of the frame, the eye-catching nebulae represent only a small fraction of our galactic neighborhood's wealth of star-forming material. Within the well-studied stellar nursery, astronomers have also identified what appear to be numerous infant solar systems.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 September 25 - The Fairy of Eagle Nebula
Explanation: The dust sculptures of the Eagle Nebula are evaporating. As powerful starlight whittles away these cool cosmic mountains, the statuesque pillars that remain might be imagined as mythical beasts. Featured here is one of several striking dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula that might be described as a gigantic alien fairy. This fairy, however, is ten light years tall and spews radiation much hotter than common fire. The greater Eagle Nebula, M16, is actually a giant evaporating shell of gas and dust inside of which is a growing cavity filled with a spectacular stellar nursery currently forming an open cluster of stars. This great pillar, which is about 7,000 light years away, will likely evaporate away in about 100,000 years. The featured image is in scientifically re-assigned colors and was taken by the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 September 14 - Waves of the Great Lacerta Nebula
Explanation: It is one of the largest nebulas on the sky -- why isn't it better known? Roughly the same angular size as the Andromeda Galaxy, the Great Lacerta Nebula can be found toward the constellation of the Lizard (Lacerta). The emission nebula is difficult to see with wide-field binoculars because it is so faint, but also usually difficult to see with a large telescope because it is so great in angle -- spanning about three degrees. The depth, breadth, waves, and beauty of the nebula -- cataloged as Sharpless 126 (Sh2-126) -- can best be seen and appreciated with a long duration camera exposure. The featured image is one such combined exposure -- in this case 10 hours over five different colors and over six nights during this past June and July at the IC Astronomy Observatory in Spain. The hydrogen gas in the Great Lacerta Nebula glows red because it is excited by light from the bright star 10 Lacertae, one of the bright blue stars just above the red-glowing nebula's center. The stars and nebula are about 1,200 light years distant.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 August 29 - The Horsehead Nebula Region without Stars
Explanation: The famous Horsehead Nebula in Orion is not alone. A deep exposure shows that the dark familiar shaped indentation, visible just right of center, is part of a vast complex of absorbing dust and glowing gas. The featured spectacular picture details an intricate tapestry of gaseous wisps and dust-laden filaments that were created and sculpted over eons by stellar winds and ancient supernovas. The Flame Nebula is visible in orange just to the Horsehead's left. To highlight the dust and gas, most of the stars have been digitally removed, although a notable exception is Alnitak, just above the Flame Nebula, which is the rightmost star in Orion's famous belt of three aligned stars. The Horsehead Nebula lies 1,500 light years distant towards the constellation of Orion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 April 25 - The Great Nebula in Carina
Explanation: In one of the brightest parts of Milky Way lies a nebula where some of the oddest things occur. NGC 3372, known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is home to massive stars and changing nebulas. The Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324), the bright structure just below the image center, houses several of these massive stars. The entire Carina Nebula, captured here, spans over 300 light years and lies about 7,500 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically. While Eta Carinae itself maybe on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that much of the Great Nebula in Carina has been a veritable supernova factory.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 April 16 - Orion Pines
Explanation: Taken with a camera fixed to a tripod, many short exposures were aligned with the stars to unveil this beautiful, dark night sky. Captured near the rural village of Albany`a at the northeastern corner of Spain, the three stars of Orion's belt stretch across top center in the starry frame. Alnitak, the easternmost (left) of the belt stars is seen next to the more diffuse glow of the Flame Nebula and the dark notch of the famous Horsehead. Easily visible to the naked-eye The Great Nebula of Orion is below the belt stars. A mere 1,500 light-years distant, it is the closest large stellar nursery to our fair planet. Best seen in photographs, the broad and faint arc of Barnard's Loop seems to embrace Orion's brighter stars and nebulae though. In the northern spring the familiar northern winter constellation is setting. Near the western horizon toward lower right Orion's apparently bright blue supergiant Rigel just touches the branches of a pine tree.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 March 7 - A Lion in Orion
Explanation: Yes, but can you see the lion? A deep exposure shows the famous dark indentation that looks like a horse's head, visible just left and below center, and known unsurprisingly as the Horsehead Nebula. The Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33) is part of a vast complex of dark absorbing dust and bright glowing gas. To bring out details of the Horsehead's pasture, an astrophotographer artistically combined light accumulated for over 20 hours in hydrogen (orange), oxygen (blue), and sulfur (green). The resulting spectacular picture captured from Raachine, Lebanon, details an intricate tapestry of gaseous wisps and dust-laden filaments that were created and sculpted over eons by stellar winds and ancient supernovas. The featured composition brings up another pareidolic animal icon -- that of a lion's head -- in the expansive orange colored gas above the horse's head. The Flame Nebula is visible just to the left of the Horsehead. The Horsehead Nebula lies 1,500 light years distant towards the constellation of Orion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 January 31 - Carina Nebula North
Explanation: The Great Carina Nebula is home to strange stars and iconic nebulas. Named for its home constellation, the huge star-forming region is larger and brighter than the Great Orion Nebula but less well known because it is so far south -- and because so much of humanity lives so far north. The featured image shows in great detail the northern-most part of the Carina Nebula. Visible nebulas include the semi-circular filaments surrounding the active star Wolf-Rayet 23 (WR23) on the far left. Just left of center is the Gabriela Mistral Nebula consisting of an emission nebula of glowing gas (IC 2599) surrounding the small open cluster of stars (NGC 3324). Above the image center is the larger star cluster NGC 3293, while to its right is the relatively faint emission nebula designated Loden 153. The most famous occupant of the Carina Nebula, however, is not shown. Off the image to the lower right is the bright, erratic, and doomed star star known as Eta Carinae -- a star once one of the brightest stars in the sky and now predicted to explode in a supernova sometime in the next few million years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 January 27 - South of Orion
Explanation: South of the large star-forming region known as the Orion Nebula, lies bright blue reflection nebula NGC 1999. At the edge of the Orion molecular cloud complex some 1,500 light-years distant, NGC 1999's illumination is provided by the embedded variable star V380 Orionis. The nebula is marked with a dark sideways T-shape at center right in this telescopic vista that spans about two full moons on the sky. Its dark shape was once assumed to be an obscuring dust cloud seen in silhouette. But infrared data suggest the shape is likely a hole blown through the nebula itself by energetic young stars. In fact, this region abounds with energetic young stars producing jets and outflows with luminous shock waves. Cataloged as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects, named for astronomers George Herbig and Guillermo Haro, the shocks have intense reddish hues. HH1 and HH2 are just below and right of NGC 1999. HH222, also known as the Waterfall nebula, looks like a red gash near top right in the frame. To create the shocks stellar jets push through the surrounding material at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 July 7 - Flight Through the Orion Nebula in Infrared Light
Explanation: What would it look like to fly into the Orion Nebula? The exciting dynamic visualization of the Orion Nebula is based on real astronomical data and adept movie rendering techniques. Up close and personal with a famous stellar nursery normally seen from 1,500 light-years away, the digitally modeled representation based is based on infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. The perspective moves along a valley over a light-year wide, in the wall of the region's giant molecular cloud. Orion's valley ends in a cavity carved by the energetic winds and radiation of the massive central stars of the Trapezium star cluster. The entire Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 June 29 - Orion Nebula: The Hubble View
Explanation: Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula. Also known as M42, the nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away. The Orion Nebula offers one of the best opportunities to study how stars are born partly because it is the nearest large star-forming region, but also because the nebula's energetic stars have blown away obscuring gas and dust clouds that would otherwise block our view - providing an intimate look at a range of ongoing stages of starbirth and evolution. The featured image of the Orion Nebula is among the sharpest ever, constructed using data from the Hubble Space Telescope. The entire Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 May 9 - Horsehead and Orion Nebulas
Explanation: The dark Horsehead Nebula and the glowing Orion Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, they appear in opposite corners of the above stunning mosaic. The familiar Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow at the lower left. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and is seen as the brightest star to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42), lies at the upper right. Immediately to its left is a prominent reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man. Pervasive tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 April 12 - Alnitak and the Flame Nebula
Explanation: What lights up the Flame Nebula? Fifteen hundred light years away towards the constellation of Orion lies a nebula which, from its glow and dark dust lanes, appears, on the left, like a billowing fire. But fire, the rapid acquisition of oxygen, is not what makes this Flame glow. Rather the bright star Alnitak, the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion visible on the far left, shines energetic light into the Flame that knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. The featured picture of the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) was taken across three visible color bands with detail added by a long duration exposure taken in light emitted only by hydrogen. The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a star-forming region that includes the famous Horsehead Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 November 26 - The Great Turkey Nebula
Explanation: Surprisingly reminiscent of The Great Nebula in Orion, The Great Turkey Nebula spans this creative field of view. Of course if it were the Orion Nebula it would be our closest large stellar nursery, found at the edge of a large molecular cloud a mere 1,500 light-years away. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula is visible to the eye as the middle "star" in the sword of Orion the Hunter, a constellation now rising in planet Earth's evening skies. Stellar winds from clusters of newborn stars scattered throughout the Orion Nebula sculpt its ridges and cavities seen in familiar in telescopic images. Much larger than any bird you might be cooking, this Great Turkey Nebula was imagined to be similar in size to the Orion Nebula, about 13 light-years across. Stay safe and well.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 October 4 - Orion Nebula in Oxygen, Hydrogen, and Sulfur
Explanation: Few astronomical sights excite the imagination like the nearby stellar nursery known as the Orion Nebula. The Nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud. Many of the filamentary structures visible in the featured image are actually shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. The Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located about 1500 light years away in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. The image shows the nebula in three colors specifically emitted by hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur gas. The whole Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 August 28 - The Valley of Orion
Explanation: This exciting and unfamiliar view of the Orion Nebula is a visualization based on astronomical data and movie rendering techniques. Up close and personal with a famous stellar nursery normally seen from 1,500 light-years away, the digitally modeled frame transitions from a visible light representation based on Hubble data on the left to infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope on the right. The perspective at the center looks along a valley over a light-year wide, in the wall of the region's giant molecular cloud. Orion's valley ends in a cavity carved by the energetic winds and radiation of the massive central stars of the Trapezium star cluster. The single frame is part of a multiwavelength, three-dimensional video that lets the viewer experience an immersive, three minute flight through the Great Nebula of Orion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 August 14 - NGC 5189: An Unusually Complex Planetary Nebula
Explanation: Why is this nebula so complex? When a star like our Sun is dying, it will cast off its outer layers, usually into a simple overall shape. Sometimes this shape is a sphere, sometimes a double lobe, and sometimes a ring or a helix. In the case of planetary nebula NGC 5189, however, besides an overall "Z" shape (the featured image is flipped horizontally and so appears as an "S"), no such simple structure has emerged. To help find out why, the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope has observed NGC 5189 in great detail. Previous findings indicated the existence of multiple epochs of material outflow, including a recent one that created a bright but distorted torus running horizontally across image center. Hubble results appear consistent with a hypothesis that the dying star is part of a binary star system with a precessing symmetry axis. NGC 5189 spans about three light years and lies about 3,000 light years away toward the southern constellation of the Fly (Musca).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 July 21 - Iron in the Butterfly Nebula
Explanation: Can stars, like caterpillars, transform themselves into butterflies? No, but in the case of the Butterfly Nebula -- it sure looks like it. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years and its estimated surface temperature exceeds 200,000 degrees, C, the dying central star of NGC 6302, the featured planetary nebula, has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in visible and ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This sharp close-up was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope and is reprocessed here to show off the remarkable details of the complex planetary nebula, highlighting in particular light emitted by iron, shown in red. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). Planetary nebulas evolve from outer atmospheres of stars like our Sun, but usually fade in about 20,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 July 6 - M43: Dust, Gas, and Stars in the Orion Nebula
Explanation: Unspeakable beauty and unimaginable bedlam can be found together in the Orion Nebula Arguably the most famous of all astronomy nebulas, the Great Nebula in Orion is an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. In the featured deep image shown in assigned colors, the part of the nebula's center known as M43 is shown as taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye near the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. The entire Orion Nebula, including both M42 and M43 spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 March 29 - A 212 Hour Exposure of Orion
Explanation: 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.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 February 21 - LDN 1622: Dark Nebula in Orion
Explanation: The silhouette of an intriguing dark nebula inhabits this cosmic scene. Lynds' Dark Nebula (LDN) 1622 appears against a faint background of glowing hydrogen gas only visible in long telescopic exposures of the region. In contrast, the brighter reflection nebula vdB 62 is more easily seen, just above and right of center. LDN 1622 lies near the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, close on the sky to Barnard's Loop, a large cloud surrounding the rich complex of emission nebulae found in the Belt and Sword of Orion. With swept-back outlines, the obscuring dust of LDN 1622 is thought to lie at a similar distance, perhaps 1,500 light-years away. At that distance, this 1 degree wide field of view would span about 30 light-years. Young stars do lie hidden within the dark expanse and have been revealed in Spitzer Space telescope infrared images. Still, the foreboding visual appearance of LDN 1622 inspires its popular name, the Boogeyman Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 February 15 - Carina Nebula Close Up
Explanation: A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, also known as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our galaxy's largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Great Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This gorgeous telescopic close-up reveals remarkable details of the region's central glowing filaments of interstellar gas and obscuring cosmic dust clouds in a field of view nearly 20 light-years across. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the still enigmatic and violently variable Eta Carinae, a star system with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. In the processed composite of space and ground-based image data a dusty, two-lobed Homunculus Nebula appears to surround Eta Carinae itself just below and left of center. While Eta Carinae is likely on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that the Great Carina Nebula has been a veritable supernova factory.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 October 30 - M42: Inside the Orion Nebula
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, an immense, nearby starbirth region, is probably the most famous of all astronomical nebulas. Here, glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. In the featured deep image in assigned colors highlighted by emission in oxygen and hydrogen, wisps and sheets of dust and gas are particularly evident. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye near the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain much hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 October 2 - Molecular Clouds in the Carina Nebula
Explanation: They are not alive -- but they are dying. The unusual forms found in the Carina nebula, a few of which are featured here, might best be described as evaporating. Energetic light and winds from nearby stars are breaking apart the dark dust grains that make the iconic forms opaque. Ironically the figures, otherwise known as dark molecular clouds or bright rimmed globules, frequently create in their midst the very stars that later destroy them. The floating space structures pictured here by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope span a few light months. The Great Nebula in Carina itself spans about 30 light years, lies about 7,500 light years away, and can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of Keel(Carina).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 September 30 - Orion Rising over Brazil
Explanation: Have you seen Orion lately? The next few months will be the best for seeing this familiar constellation as it rises continually earlier in the night. However, Orion's stars and nebulas won't look quite as colorful to the eye as they do in this fantastic camera image. In the featured image, Orion was captured by camera showing its full colors last month over a Brazilian copal tree from Brazil's Central-West Region. Here the cool red giant Betelgeuse takes on a strong orange hue as the brightest star on the far left. Otherwise, Orion's hot blue stars are numerous, with supergiant Rigel balancing Betelgeuse at the upper right, Bellatrix at the upper left, and Saiph at the lower right. Lined up in Orion's belt (bottom to top) are Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka all about 1,500 light-years away, born of the constellation's well studied interstellar clouds. And if a "star" toward the upper right Orion's sword looks reddish and fuzzy to you, it should. It's the stellar nursery known as the Great Nebula of Orion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 August 21 - The Orion You Can Almost See
Explanation: Do you recognize this constellation? Although it is one of the most recognizable star groupings on the sky, this is a more full Orion than you can see -- an Orion only revealed with long exposure digital camera imaging and post-processing. Here the cool red giant Betelgeuse takes on a strong orange tint as the brightest star at the lower left. Orion's hot blue stars are numerous, with supergiant Rigel balancing Betelgeuse on the upper right, and Bellatrix at the upper left. Lined up in Orion's belt are three stars all about 1,500 light-years away, born from the constellation's well-studied interstellar clouds. To the right of Orion's belt is a bright but fuzzy patch that might also look familiar -- the stellar nursery known as Orion's Nebula. Finally, just barely visible to the unaided eye but quite striking here is Barnard's Loop -- a huge gaseous emission nebula surrounding Orion's Belt and Nebula discovered over 100 years ago by the pioneering Orion photographer E. E. Barnard.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 August 17 - 1901 Photograph: The Orion Nebula
Explanation: By the turn of the 20th century advances in photography contributed an important tool for astronomers. Improving photographic materials, long exposures, and new telescope designs produced astronomical images with details not visible at the telescopic eyepiece alone. Remarkably recognizable to astrophotographers today, this stunning image of the star forming Orion Nebula was captured in 1901 by American astronomer and telescope designer George Ritchey. The original glass photographic plate, sensitive to green and blue wavelengths, has been digitized and light-to-dark inverted to produce a positive image. His hand written notes indicate a 50 minute long exposure that ended at dawn and a reflecting telescope aperture of 24 inches masked to 18 inches to improve the sharpness of the recorded image. Ritchey's plates from over a hundred years ago preserve astronomical data and can still be used for exploring astrophysical processes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 June 5 - The Interstellar Clouds of Orion
Explanation: 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, a new long exposure image was taken over several clear nights in January, February and March. After 23 hours of camera time and untold hours of image processing, the featured collage in the light of hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur was produced spanning over 40 times the angular diameter of the Moon. Of the many interesting details that have become visible, one that particularly draws the eye is Barnard's Loop, the bright red orange arc just to the right of the image center. The Rosette Nebula is not the giant orange nebula just to the left of the image center -- that is larger but lesser known nebula known as the Meissa Ring. The Rosette Nebula is visible, though: it is the bright orange, blue and white nebula near the image bottom. The bright orange star just left of the frame center is Betelgeuse, while the bright blue star on the upper right is Rigel. 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 to the right of the image center.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 May 7 - The Great Nebula in Carina
Explanation: What's happening in the center of the Carina Nebula? Stars are forming, dying, and leaving an impressive tapestry of dark dusty filaments. The entire Carina Nebula, cataloged as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light years and lies about 8,500 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. The nebula is composed predominantly of hydrogen gas, which emits the pervasive red glow seen in this highly detailed featured image. The blue glow in the center is created by a trace amount of glowing oxygen. Young and massive stars located in the nebula's center expel dust when they explode in supernovae. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula's center, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 April 3 - Wisps Surrounding the Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The famous Horsehead Nebula in Orion is not alone. A deep exposure shows that the dark familiar shaped indentation, visible just below center, is part of a vast complex of absorbing dust and glowing gas. To bring out details of the Horsehead's pasture, an amateur astronomer used a backyard telescope in Austria to accumulate and artistically combine 7.5 hours of images in the light of Hydrogen (red), Oxygen (green), and Sulfur (blue). The resulting spectacular picture details an intricate tapestry of gaseous wisps and dust-laden filaments that were created and sculpted over eons by stellar winds and ancient supernovas. The Flame Nebula is visible just to the left of the Horsehead, while the bright star on the upper left is Alnilam, the central star in Orion's Belt. The Horsehead Nebula lies 1,500 light years distant towards the constellation of Orion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 March 18 - Horsehead and Orion Nebulas
Explanation: The dark Horsehead Nebula and the glowing Orion Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, they appear in opposite corners of the above stunning two-panel mosaic. The familiar Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud on the lower left, a small silhouette notched against the glow of hydrogen (alpha) gas, here tinted orange. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and can be found to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42), lies at the upper right, surrounded by the blue glow of reflecting dust. Immediately to its left is a prominent reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man. Pervasive tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 February 27 - Magnetic Orion
Explanation: Can magnetism affect how stars form? Recent analysis of Orion data from the HAWC+ instrument on the airborne SOFIA observatory indicate that, at times, it can. HAWC+ is able to measure the polarization of far-infrared light which can reveal the alignment of dust grains by expansive ambient magnetic fields. In the featured image, these magnetic fields are shown as curvy lines superposed on an infrared image of the Orion Nebula taken by a Very Large Telescope in Chile. Orion's Kleinmann-Low Nebula is visible slightly to the upper right of the image center, while bright stars of the Trapezium cluster are visible just to the lower left of center. The Orion Nebula at about l300 light years distant is the nearest major star formation region to the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 February 2 - LDN 1622: Dark Nebula in Orion
Explanation: The silhouette of an intriguing dark nebula inhabits this cosmic scene. Lynds' Dark Nebula (LDN) 1622 appears against a faint background of glowing hydrogen gas only easily seen in long telescopic exposures of the region. LDN 1622 lies near the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, close on the sky to Barnard's Loop, a large cloud surrounding the rich complex of emission nebulae found in the Belt and Sword of Orion. But the obscuring dust of LDN 1622 is thought to be much closer than Orion's more famous nebulae, perhaps only 500 light-years away. At that distance, this 1 degree wide field of view would span less than 10 light-years. Its foreboding appearance lends this dark expanse a popular name, the Boogeyman Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 January 2 - The Orion Nebula in Infrared from WISE
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion is an intriguing place. Visible to the unaided eye, it appears as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion. But this image, an illusory-color four-panel mosaic taken in different bands of infrared light with the Earth orbiting WISE observatory, shows the Orion Nebula to be a bustling neighborhood of recently formed stars, hot gas, and dark dust. The power behind much of the Orion Nebula (M42) is the stars of the Trapezium star cluster, seen near the center of the featured image. The orange glow surrounding the bright stars pictured here is their own starlight reflected by intricate dust filaments that cover much of the region. The current Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 December 27 - The Great Carina Nebula
Explanation: A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, also known as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our galaxy's largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Great Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This gorgeous telescopic close-up reveals remarkable details of the region's central glowing filaments of interstellar gas and obscuring cosmic dust clouds. The field of view is over 50 light-years across. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the stars of open cluster Trumpler 14 (above and left of center) and the still enigmatic variable Eta Carinae, a star with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. Eta Carinae is the brightest star, centered here just below the dusty Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324). While Eta Carinae itself maybe on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that the Great Carina Nebula has been a veritable supernova factory.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 December 2 - The Fairy of Eagle Nebula
Explanation: The dust sculptures of the Eagle Nebula are evaporating. As powerful starlight whittles away these cool cosmic mountains, the statuesque pillars that remain might be imagined as mythical beasts. Featured here is one of several striking dust pillars of the Eagle Nebula that might be described as a gigantic alien fairy. This fairy, however, is ten light years tall and spews radiation much hotter than common fire. The greater Eagle Nebula, M16, is actually a giant evaporating shell of gas and dust inside of which is a growing cavity filled with a spectacular stellar nursery currently forming an open cluster of stars. This great pillar, which is about 7,000 light years away, will likely evaporate away in about 100,000 years. The featured image in scientifically re-assigned colors was released in 2005 as part of the fifteenth anniversary celebration of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 October 14 - Orion in Red and Blue
Explanation: When did Orion become so flashy? This colorful rendition of part of the constellation of Orion comes from red light emitted by hydrogen and sulfur (SII), and blue-green light emitted by oxygen (OIII). Hues on the featured image were then digitally reassigned to be indicative of their elemental origins -- but also striking to the human eye. The breathtaking composite was painstakingly composed from hundreds of images which took nearly 200 hours to collect. Pictured, Barnard's Loop, across the image bottom, appears to cradle interstellar constructs including the intricate Orion Nebula seen just right of center. The Flame Nebula can also be quickly located, but it takes a careful eye to identify the slight indentation of the dark Horsehead Nebula. As to Orion's flashiness -- a leading explanation for the origin of Barnard's Loop is a supernova blast that occurred about two million years ago.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 August 5 - Trapezium: At the Heart of Orion
Explanation: Near the center of this sharp cosmic portrait, at the heart of the Orion Nebula, are four hot, massive stars known as the Trapezium. Gathered within a region about 1.5 light-years in radius, they dominate the core of the dense Orion Nebula Star Cluster. Ultraviolet ionizing radiation from the Trapezium stars, mostly from the brightest star Theta-1 Orionis C powers the complex star forming region's entire visible glow. About three million years old, the Orion Nebula Cluster was even more compact in its younger years and a recent dynamical study indicates that runaway stellar collisions at an earlier age may have formed a black hole with more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. The presence of a black hole within the cluster could explain the observed high velocities of the Trapezium stars. The Orion Nebula's distance of some 1,500 light-years would make it the closest known black hole to planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 May 20 - In the Heart of the Tarantula Nebula
Explanation: In the heart of monstrous Tarantula Nebula lies huge bubbles of energetic gas, long filaments of dark dust, and unusually massive stars. In the center of this heart, is a knot of stars so dense that it was once thought to be a single star. This star cluster, labeled as R136 or NGC 2070, is visible just above the center of the featured image and home to a great number of hot young stars. The energetic light from these stars continually ionizes nebula gas, while their energetic particle wind blows bubbles and defines intricate filaments. The representative-color picture, a digital synthesis of images from the NASA/ESA orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and ESO's ground-based New Technology Telescope, shows great details of the LMC nebula's tumultuous center. The Tarantula Nebula, also known as the 30 Doradus nebula, is one of the largest star-formation regions known, and has been creating unusually strong episodes of star formation every few million years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 May 9 - The Red Rectangle Nebula from Hubble
Explanation: How was the unusual Red Rectangle nebula created? At the nebula's center is an aging binary star system that surely powers the nebula but does not, as yet, explain its colors. The unusual shape of the Red Rectangle is likely due to a thick dust torus which pinches the otherwise spherical outflow into tip-touching cone shapes. Because we view the torus edge-on, the boundary edges of the cone shapes seem to form an X. The distinct rungs suggest the outflow occurs in fits and starts. The unusual colors of the nebula are less well understood, however, and speculation holds that they are partly provided by hydrocarbon molecules that may actually be building blocks for organic life. The Red Rectangle nebula lies about 2,300 light years away towards the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros). The nebula is shown here in great detail as recently reprocessed image from Hubble Space Telescope. In a few million years, as one of the central stars becomes further depleted of nuclear fuel, the Red Rectangle nebula will likely bloom into a planetary nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 March 21 - Camera Orion
Explanation: Do you recognize this constellation? Although it is one of the most recognizable star groupings on the sky, Orion's icons don't look quite as colorful to the eye as they do to a camera. In this 20-image digitally-composed mosaic, cool red giant Betelgeuse takes on a strong orange tint as the brightest star at the upper left. Orion's hot blue stars are numerous, with supergiant Rigel balancing Betelgeuse at the lower right, and Bellatrix at the upper right Lined up in Orion's belt are three stars all about 1,500 light-years away, born from the constellation's well-studied interstellar clouds. Below Orion's belt a reddish and fuzzy patch that might also look familiar -- the stellar nursery known as Orion's Nebula. Finally, just barely visible to the unaided eye but quite striking here by camera is Barnard's Loop -- a huge gaseous emission nebula surrounding Orion's Belt and Nebula discovered over 100 years ago by the pioneering Orion photographer E. E. Barnard.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 February 18 - LL Ori and the Orion Nebula
Explanation: Stars can make waves in the Orion Nebula's sea of gas and dust. This esthetic close-up of cosmic clouds and stellar winds features LL Orionis, interacting with the Orion Nebula flow. Adrift in Orion's stellar nursery and still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged Sun. As the fast stellar wind runs into slow moving gas a shock front is formed, analogous to the bow wave of a boat moving through water or a plane traveling at supersonic speed. The small, arcing, graceful structure just above and left of center is LL Ori's cosmic bow shock, measuring about half a light-year across. The slower gas is flowing away from the Orion Nebula's hot central star cluster, the Trapezium, located off the upper left corner of the picture. In three dimensions, LL Ori's wrap-around shock front is shaped like a bowl that appears brightest when viewed along the "bottom" edge. This beautiful painting-like photograph is part of a large mosaic view of the complex stellar nursery in Orion, filled with a myriad of fluid shapes associated with star formation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 January 17 - In the Valley of Orion
Explanation: This exciting and unfamiliar view of the Orion Nebula is a visualization based on astronomical data and movie rendering techniques. Up close and personal with a famous stellar nursery normally seen from 1,500 light-years away, the digitally modeled frame transitions from a visible light representation based on Hubble data on the left to infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope on the right. The perspective at the center looks along a valley over a light-year wide, in the wall of the region's giant molecular cloud. Orion's valley ends in a cavity carved by the energetic winds and radiation of the massive central stars of the Trapezium star cluster. The single frame is part of a multiwavelength, three-dimensional video that lets the viewer experience an immersive, three minute flight through the Great Nebula of Orion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 January 9 - Bright Planetary Nebula NGC 7027 from Hubble
Explanation: It is one of the brightest planetary nebulae on the sky -- what should it be named? First discovered in 1878, nebula NGC 7027 can be seen toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus) with a standard backyard telescope. Partly because it appears there as only an indistinct spot, it is rarely referred to with a moniker. When imaged with the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, however, great details are revealed. Studying Hubble images of NGC 7027 have led to the understanding that it is a planetary nebula that began expanding about 600 years ago, and that the cloud of gas and dust is unusually massive as it appears to contain about three times the mass of our Sun. Pictured here in assigned colors, the resolved, layered, and dust-laced features of NGC 7027 might remind sky enthusiasts of a familiar icon that could be the basis for an informal name. A leading previous suggestion was the Pillow Nebula, but please feel free to make new suggestions -- for example, in an online APOD discussion forum.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 November 29 - M42: The Great Orion Nebula
Explanation: Few astronomical sights excite the imagination like the nearby stellar nursery known as the Orion Nebula. The Nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud. Many of the filamentary structures visible in the featured image are actually shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. The Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located about 1500 light years away in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. The featured image, taken last month, shows a two-hour exposure of the nebula in three colors. The whole Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 June 13 - The Great Nebula in Carina
Explanation: In one of the brightest parts of Milky Way lies a nebula where some of the oddest things occur. NGC 3372, known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is home to massive stars and changing nebulas. The Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324), the bright structure just to the right of the image center, houses several of these massive stars and has itself changed its appearance. The entire Carina Nebula, captured here, spans over 300 light years and lies about 7,500 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically. While Eta Carinae itself maybe on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that much of the Great Nebula in Carina has been a veritable supernova factory.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 June 4 - Orion: Belt, Flame, and Horsehead
Explanation: What surrounds the famous belt stars of Orion? A deep exposure shows everything from dark nebula to star clusters, all embedded in an extended patch of gaseous wisps in the greater Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The brightest three stars, appearing diagonally on the left of the featured image are indeed the famous three stars that make up the belt of Orion. Just below Alnitak, the lowest of the three belt stars, is the Flame Nebula, glowing with excited hydrogen gas and immersed in filaments of dark brown dust. Just to the right of Alnitak lies the Horsehead Nebula, a dark indentation of dense dust that has perhaps the most recognized nebular shapes on the sky. The dark molecular cloud, roughly 1,500 light years distant, is cataloged as Barnard 33 and is seen primarily because it is backlit by the nearby massive star Sigma Orionis. The Horsehead Nebula will slowly shift its apparent shape over the next few million years and will eventually be destroyed by the high-energy starlight.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 March 21 - Fast Stars and Rogue Planets in the Orion Nebula
Explanation: Start with the constellation of Orion. Below Orion's belt is a fuzzy area known as the Great Nebula of Orion. In this nebula is a bright star cluster known as the Trapezium, marked by four bright stars near the image center. The newly born stars in the Trapezium and surrounding regions show the Orion Nebula to be one of the most active areas of star formation to be found in our area of the Galaxy. In Orion, supernova explosions and close interactions between stars have created rogue planets and stars that rapidly move through space. Some of these fast stars have been found by comparing different images of this region taken by the Hubble Space Telescope many years apart. Many of the stars in the featured image, taken in visible and near-infrared light, appear unusually red because they are seen through dust that scatters away much of their blue light.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 March 12 - At the Heart of Orion
Explanation: Near the center of this sharp cosmic portrait, at the heart of the Orion Nebula, are four hot, massive stars known as the Trapezium. Tightly gathered within a region about 1.5 light-years in radius, they dominate the core of the dense Orion Nebula Star Cluster. Ultraviolet ionizing radiation from the Trapezium stars, mostly from the brightest star Theta-1 Orionis C powers the complex star forming region's entire visible glow. About three million years old, the Orion Nebula Cluster was even more compact in its younger years and a dynamical study indicates that runaway stellar collisions at an earlier age may have formed a black hole with more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. The presence of a black hole within the cluster could explain the observed high velocities of the Trapezium stars. The Orion Nebula's distance of some 1,500 light-years would make it the closest known black hole to planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 March 8 - Dust, Gas, and Stars in the Orion Nebula
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, an immense, nearby starbirth region, is probably the most famous of all astronomical nebulas. Here, filaments of dark dust and glowing gas surround hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. In the featured deep image shown in assigned colors, part of the nebula's center is shown as taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye near the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain much hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Also known as M42 and M43, the Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 December 4 - Official Star Names for Orion
Explanation: 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.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 October 14 - Herschel's Orion
Explanation: This dramatic image peers within M42, the Orion Nebula, the closest large star-forming region. Using data at infrared wavelengths from the Herschel Space Observatory, the false-color composite explores the natal cosmic cloud a mere 1,500 light-years distant. Cold, dense filaments of dust that would otherwise be dark at visible wavelengths are shown in reddish hues. Light-years long, the filaments weave together bright spots that correspond to regions of collapsing protostars. The brightest bluish area near the top of the frame is warmer dust heated by the hot Trapezium cluster stars that also power the nebula's visible glow. Herschel data has recently indicated ultraviolet starlight from the hot newborn stars likely contributes to the creation of carbon-hydrogen molecules, basic building blocks of life. This Herschel image spans about 3 degrees on the sky. That's about 80 light-years at the distance of the Orion Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 September 28 - NGC 3576: The Statue of Liberty Nebula
Explanation: What's happening in the Statue of Liberty nebula? Bright stars and interesting molecules are forming and being liberated. The complex nebula resides in the star forming region called RCW 57. This image showcases dense knots of dark interstellar dust, bright stars that have formed in the past few million years, fields of glowing hydrogen gas ionized by these stars, and great loops of gas expelled by dying stars. A detailed study of NGC 3576, also known as NGC 3582 and NGC 3584, uncovered at least 33 massive stars in the end stages of formation, and the clear presence of the complex carbon molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are thought to be created in the cooling gas of star forming regions, and their development in the Sun's formation nebula five billion years ago may have been an important step in the development of life on Earth. The featured image was taken at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 July 18 - The Orion Nebula in Infrared from HAWK I
Explanation: The deepest infrared image of the Orion Nebula has uncovered a bonanza of previously unknown low-mass stars and -- quite possibly -- free floating planets. The picturesque nebula is best known in visible light where it shows a many bright stars and bright glowing gas. Catalogued as M42, the Orion Nebula at a distance of 1300 light years is the closest major star forming region to Earth. One can peer into Orion's pervasive dust in infrared light, as was done again recently with the sophisticated HAWK-I camera attached to one of the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescopes in the high mountains of Chile. High resolution versions of the featured infrared deep image show many points of light, many of which are surely brown dwarf stars but some of which are best fit by an unexpectedly high abundance of free-floating planets. Understanding how these low mass objects formed is important to understanding star formation generally and may even help humanity to better understand the early years of our Solar System.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 May 27 - The Great Carina Nebula
Explanation: A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, also known as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our galaxy's largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Great Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This gorgeous telescopic close-up reveals remarkable details of the region's central glowing filaments of interstellar gas and obscuring cosmic dust clouds. The field of view is over 50 light-years across. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the stars of open cluster Trumpler 14 (below and right of center) and the still enigmatic variable Eta Carinae, a star with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. Eta Carinae is the brightest star, seen here just above the dusty Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324). While Eta Carinae itself maybe on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that the Great Carina Nebula has been a veritable supernova factory.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 May 22 - LL Orionis: When Cosmic Winds Collide
Explanation: What created this great arc in space? This arcing, graceful structure is actually a bow shock about half a light-year across, created as the wind from young star LL Orionis collides with the Orion Nebula flow. Adrift in Orion's stellar nursery and still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged sun. As the fast stellar wind runs into slow moving gas a shock front is formed, analogous to the bow wave of a boat moving through water or a plane traveling at supersonic speed. The slower gas is flowing away from the Orion Nebula's hot central star cluster, the Trapezium, located off the lower right hand edge of the picture. In three dimensions, LL Ori's wrap-around shock front is shaped like a bowl that appears brightest when viewed along the "bottom" edge. The complex stellar nursery in Orion shows a myriad of similar fluid shapes associated with star formation, including the bow shock surrounding a faint star at the upper right. Part of a mosaic covering the Great Nebula in Orion, this composite color image was recorded in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 May 17 - The Orion Nebula in Visible and Infrared
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion is a colorful place. Visible to the unaided eye, it appears as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion. Long exposure, multi-wavelength images like this, however, show the Orion Nebula to be a busy neighborhood of young stars, hot gas, and dark dust. This digital composite features not only three colors of visible light but four colors of infrared light taken by NASA's orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope as well. The power behind much of the Orion Nebula (M42) is the Trapezium - four of the brightest stars in the nebula. Many of the filamentary structures visible are actually shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. The Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located about 1500 light years away in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 April 13 - Orion in Red and Blue
Explanation: When did Orion become so flashy? This colorful rendition of part of the constellation of Orion comes from red light emitted by hydrogen and sulfur (SII), and blue-green light emitted by oxygen (OIII). Hues on the featured image were then digitally reassigned to be indicative of their elemental origins -- but also striking to the human eye. The breathtaking composite was painstakingly composed from hundreds of images which took nearly 200 hours to collect. Pictured, Barnard's Loop, across the image bottom, appears to cradle interstellar constructs including the intricate Orion Nebula seen just right of center. The Flame Nebula can also be quickly located, but it takes a careful eye to identify the slight indentation of the dark Horsehead Nebula. As to Orion's flashiness -- a leading explanation for the origin of Barnard's Loop is a supernova blast that occurred about two million years ago.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 March 28 - Orion's Belt and Sword over Teide's Peak
Explanation: The southern part of Orion, the famous constellation and mythical hunter, appears quite picturesque posing here over a famous volcano. Located in the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, the snow-peaked Teide is one of the largest volcanoes on Earth. Lights from a group planning to summit Teide before dawn are visible below the volcano's peak. In this composite of exposures taken from the same location one night last month, the three iconic belt stars of Orion are seen just above the peak, while the famous Orion Nebula and the rest of Orion's sword are visible beyond the volcano's left slope. Also visible in the long duration sky image are the Horsehead Nebula, seen as a dark indentation on the red emission nebula to the belt's left, and the Flame Nebula, evident just above and to the right of the Horsehead.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 March 23 - The Great Nebula in Carina
Explanation: In one of the brightest parts of Milky Way lies a nebula where some of the oddest things occur. NGC 3372, known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is home to massive stars and changing nebulas. The Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324), the bright structure just above the image center, houses several of these massive stars and has itself changed its appearance. The entire Carina Nebula spans over 300 light years and lies about 7,500 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically. Eta Carinae is the brightest star near the image center, just left of the Keyhole Nebula. While Eta Carinae itself maybe on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that much of the Great Carina Nebula has been a veritable supernova factory.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 January 12 - The California Nebula
Explanation: What's California doing in space? Drifting through the Orion Arm of the spiral Milky Way Galaxy, this cosmic cloud by chance echoes the outline of California on the west coast of the United States. Our own Sun also lies within the Milky Way's Orion Arm, only about 1,500 light-years from the California Nebula. Also known as NGC 1499, the classic emission nebula is around 100 light-years long. On the featured image, the most prominent glow of the California Nebula is the red light characteristic of hydrogen atoms recombining with long lost electrons, stripped away (ionized) by energetic starlight. The star most likely providing the energetic starlight that ionizes much of the nebular gas is the bright, hot, bluish Xi Persei just to the right of the nebula. A regular target for astrophotographers, the California Nebula can be spotted with a wide-field telescope under a dark sky toward the constellation of Perseus, not far from the Pleiades.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 December 29 - Dust of the Orion Nebula
Explanation: What surrounds a hotbed of star formation? In the case of the Orion Nebula -- dust. The entire Orion field, located about 1600 light years away, is inundated with intricate and picturesque filaments of dust. Opaque to visible light, dust is created in the outer atmosphere of massive cool stars and expelled by a strong outer wind of particles. The Trapezium and other forming star clusters are embedded in the nebula. The intricate filaments of dust surrounding M42 and M43 appear brown in the featured image, while central glowing gas is highlighted in red. Over the next few million years much of Orion's dust will be slowly destroyed by the very stars now being formed, or dispersed into the Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 November 23 - A 212 Hour Exposure of Orion
Explanation: 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.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 November 16 - A Blazing Fireball between the Orion Nebula and Rigel
Explanation: What's happening to that meteor? A few days ago, a bright fireball was photographed from the Alps mountain range in Switzerland as it blazed across the sky. The fireball, likely from the Taurids meteor shower, was notable not only for how bright it was, but for the rare orange light it created that lingered for several minutes. Initially, the orange glow made it seem like the meteor trail was on fire. However, the orange glow, known as a persistent train, originated neither from fire nor sunlight-reflecting smoke. Rather, the persistent train's glow emanated from atoms in the Earth's atmosphere in the path of the meteor -- atoms that had an electron knocked away and emit light during reacquisition. Persistent trains often drift, so that the long 3-minute exposure actually captured the initial wind-blown displacement of these bright former ions. The featured image was acquired when trying to image the famous Orion Nebula, visible on the upper left. The bright blue star Rigel, part of the constellation of Orion, is visible to the right. This week the fireball-rich Taurids meteor shower continues to be active even though it has passed its peak, while the more active Leonids meteor shower is just peaking.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 November 4 - The Great Orion Nebula M42
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, also known as M42, is one of the most famous nebulae in the sky. The star forming region's glowing gas clouds and hot young stars are on the right in this sharp and colorful image that includes the bluish reflection nebulae NGC 1977 and friends on the left. Located at the edge of an otherwise invisible giant molecular cloud complex, these eye-catching nebulas represent only a small fraction of this galactic neighborhood's wealth of interstellar material. Within the well-studied stellar nursery, astronomers have also identified what appear to be numerous infant planetary systems. The gorgeous skyscape spans nearly two degrees or about 45 light-years at the Orion Nebula's estimated distance of 1,500 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 September 7 - The Shark Nebula
Explanation: There is no sea on Earth large enough to contain the Shark nebula. This predator apparition poses us no danger, though, as it is composed only of interstellar gas and dust. Dark dust like that featured here is somewhat like cigarette smoke and created in the cool atmospheres of giant stars. After being expelled with gas and gravitationally recondensing, massive stars may carve intricate structures into their birth cloud using their high energy light and fast stellar winds as sculpting tools. The heat they generate evaporates the murky molecular cloud as well as causing ambient hydrogen gas to disperse and glow red. During disintegration, we humans can enjoy imagining these great clouds as common icons, like we do for water clouds on Earth. Including smaller dust nebulae such as Lynds Dark Nebula 1235 and Van den Bergh 149 & 150, the Shark nebula spans about 15 light years and lies about 650 light years away toward the constellation of the King of Aethiopia (Cepheus).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 March 16 - The Clouds of Orion the Hunter
Explanation: Cradled in cosmic dust and glowing hydrogen, stellar nurseries in Orion the Hunter lie at the edge of giant molecular clouds some 1,500 light-years away. Spanning about 30 degrees, this breath-taking vista stretches across the well-known constellation from head to toe (left to right) and beyond. At 1,500 light years away, the Great Orion Nebula is the closest large star forming region, here visible just right and below center. To its left are the Horsehead Nebula, M78, and Orion's belt stars. Sliding your cursor over the picture will also find red giant Betelgeuse at the hunter's shoulder, bright blue Rigel at his foot, the Witch Head Nebula above -- and illuminated by -- Rigel, and the glowing Lambda Orionis (Meissa) nebula on the left, near Orion's head. 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 this 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.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 January 19 - Infrared Orion from WISE
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion is an intriguing place. Visible to the unaided eye, it appears as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion. But this image, an illusory-color four-panel mosaic taken in different bands of infrared light with the Earth orbiting WISE observatory, shows the Orion Nebula to be a bustling neighborhood of recently formed stars, hot gas, and dark dust. The power behind much of the Orion Nebula (M42) is the stars of the Trapezium star cluster, seen near the center of the above wide field image. The orange glow surrounding the bright stars pictured here is their own starlight reflected by intricate dust filaments that cover much of the region. The current Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 January 2 - At the Heart of Orion
Explanation: Near the center of this sharp cosmic portrait, at the heart of the Orion Nebula, are four hot, massive stars known as the Trapezium. Tightly gathered within a region about 1.5 light-years in radius, they dominate the core of the dense Orion Nebula Star Cluster. Ultraviolet ionizing radiation from the Trapezium stars, mostly from the brightest star Theta-1 Orionis C powers the complex star forming region's entire visible glow. About three million years old, the Orion Nebula Cluster was even more compact in its younger years and a dynamical study indicates that runaway stellar collisions at an earlier age may have formed a black hole with more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. The presence of a black hole within the cluster could explain the observed high velocities of the Trapezium stars. The Orion Nebula's distance of some 1,500 light-years would make it the closest known black hole to planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 December 9 - The Flame Nebula in Visible and Infrared
Explanation: What lights up the Flame Nebula? Fifteen hundred light years away towards the constellation of Orion lies a nebula which, from its glow and dark dust lanes, appears, on the left, like a billowing fire. But fire, the rapid acquisition of oxygen, is not what makes this Flame glow. Rather the bright star Alnitak, the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion visible just to the right of the nebula, shines energetic light into the Flame that knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. The above false-color picture of the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) was taken is a composite of both visible and infrared light, the later energy band being where a young star cluster becomes visible. The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a star-forming region that includes the famous Horsehead Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 November 11 - Orion in Gas, Dust, and Stars
Explanation: The constellation of Orion holds much more than three stars in a row. A deep exposure shows everything from dark nebulae to star clusters, all embedded in an extended patch of gaseous wisps in the greater Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The brightest three stars on the far left are indeed the famous three stars that make up the belt of Orion. Just below Alnitak, the lowest of the three belt stars, is the Flame Nebula, glowing with excited hydrogen gas and immersed in filaments of dark brown dust. Below and left of the frame center and just to the right of Alnitak lies the Horsehead Nebula, a dark indentation of dense dust that has perhaps the most recognized nebular shapes on the sky. On the upper right lies M42, the Orion Nebula, an energetic caldron of tumultuous gas, visible to the unaided eye, that is giving birth to a new open cluster of stars. Immediately to the left of M42 is a prominent bluish reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man that houses many bright blue stars. The featured image covers an area with objects that are roughly 1,500 light years away and spans about 75 light years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 July 17 - 3D Homunculus Nebula
Explanation: If you're looking for something to print with that new 3D printer, try out a copy of the Homunculus Nebula. The dusty, bipolar cosmic cloud is around 1 light-year across but is slightly scaled down for printing to about 1/4 light-nanosecond or 80 millimeters. The full scale Homunculus surrounds Eta Carinae, famously unstable massive stars in a binary system embedded in the extensive Carina Nebula about 7,500 light-years distant. Between 1838 and 1845, Eta Carinae underwent the Great Eruption becoming the second brightest star in planet Earth's night sky and ejecting the Homunculus Nebula. The new 3D model of the still expanding Homunculus was created by exploring the nebula with the European Southern Observatory's VLT/X-Shooter. That instrument is capable of mapping the velocity of molecular hydrogen gas through the nebula's dust at a fine resolution. It reveals trenches, divots and protrusions, even in the dust obscured regions that face away from Earth. Eta Carinae itself still undergoes violent outbursts, a candidate to explode in a spectacular supernova in the next few million years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 April 8 - M42: Inside the Orion Nebula
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, an immense, nearby starbirth region, is probably the most famous of all astronomical nebulas. Here, glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. In the above deep image composite in assigned colors taken by the Hubble Space Telescope wisps and sheets of dust and gas are particularly evident. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye near the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain much hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 March 26 - M78 and Reflecting Dust Clouds
Explanation: An eerie blue glow and ominous columns of dark dust highlight M78 and other bright reflection nebula in the constellation of Orion. The dark filamentary dust not only absorbs light, but also reflects the light of several bright blue stars that formed recently in the nebula. Of the two reflection nebulas pictured above, the more famous nebula is M78, in the image center, while NGC 2071 can be seen to its lower left. The same type of scattering that colors the daytime sky further enhances the blue color. M78 is about five light-years across and visible through a small telescope. M78 appears above only as it was 1600 years ago, however, because that is how long it takes light to go from there to here. M78 belongs to the larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex that contains the Great Nebula in Orion and the Horsehead Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 March 25 - Orion Nebula in Surrounding Dust
Explanation: What surrounds a hotbed of star formation? In the case of the Orion Nebula -- dust. The entire Orion field, located about 1600 light years away, is inundated with intricate and picturesque filaments of dust. Opaque to visible light, dust is created in the outer atmosphere of massive cool stars and expelled by a strong outer wind of particles. The Trapezium and other forming star clusters are embedded in the nebula. The intricate filaments of dust surrounding M42 and M43 appear gray in the above image, while central glowing gas is highlighted in brown and blue. Over the next few million years much of Orion's dust will be slowly destroyed by the very stars now being formed, or dispersed into the Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 January 15 - Spitzer's Orion
Explanation: Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This stunning false-color view spans about 40 light-years across the region, constructed using infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Compared to its visual wavelength appearance, the brightest portion of the nebula is likewise centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But the infrared image also detects the nebula's many protostars, still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. In fact, red spots along the dark dusty filament to the left of the bright cluster include the protostar cataloged as HOPS 68, recently found to have crystals of the silicate mineral olivine within its protostellar envelope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 November 28 - NGC 1999: South of Orion
Explanation: South of the large star-forming region known as the Orion Nebula, lies bright blue reflection nebula NGC 1999. At the edge of the Orion molecular cloud complex some 1,500 light-years distant, NGC 1999's illumination is provided by the embedded variable star V380 Orionis. That nebula is marked with a dark sideways T-shape near center in this cosmic vista that spans about 10 light-years. The dark shape was once assumed to be an obscuring dust cloud seen in silhouette against the bright reflection nebula. But recent infrared images indicate the shape is likely a hole blown through the nebula itself by energetic young stars. In fact, this region abounds with energetic young stars producing jets and outflows with luminous shock waves. Cataloged as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects, named for astronomers George Herbig and Guillermo Haro, the shocks look like red gashes in this scene that includes HH1 and HH2 just below NGC 1999. The stellar jets push through the surrounding material at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 October 29 - Horsehead and Orion Nebulas
Explanation: The dark Horsehead Nebula and the glowing Orion Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, they appear in opposite corners of the above stunning mosaic. The familiar Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow at the lower left. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and is seen as the brightest star to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42), lies at the upper right. Immediately to its left is a prominent reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man. Pervasive tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 October 15 - The Great Carina Nebula
Explanation: A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, also known as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our galaxy's largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Great Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This gorgeous telescopic portrait reveals remarkable details of the region's glowing filaments of interstellar gas and obscuring cosmic dust clouds. Wider than the Full Moon in angular size, the field of view stretches over 300 light-years across the nebula. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the still enigmatic variable Eta Carinae, a star with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. Eta Carinae is the brightest star near the image center, just left of the dusty Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324). While Eta Carinae itself maybe on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that the Great Carina Nebula has been a veritable supernova factory.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 August 26 - Bright Planetary Nebula NGC 7027 from Hubble
Explanation: It is one of the brightest planetary nebulae on the sky -- what should it be named? First discovered in 1878, nebula NGC 7027 can be seen toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus) with a standard backyard telescope. Partly because it appears there as only an indistinct spot, it is rarely referred to with a moniker. When imaged with the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, however, great details are revealed. Studying Hubble images of NGC 7027 have led to the understanding that it is a planetary nebula that began expanding about 600 years ago, and that the cloud of gas and dust is unusually massive as it appears to contain about three times the mass of our Sun. Pictured above in assigned colors, the resolved, layered, and dust-laced features of NGC 7027 might remind sky enthusiasts of a familiar icon that could be the basis for an informal name. Please feel free to make suggestions -- some suggestions are being recorded, for example, in an online APOD discussion forum.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 June 4 - Orion Nebula in Oxygen, Hydrogen, and Sulfur
Explanation: Few astronomical sights excite the imagination like the nearby stellar nursery known as the Orion Nebula. The Nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud. Many of the filamentary structures visible in the above image are actually shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. The Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located about 1500 light years away in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. The above image shows the nebula in three colors specifically emitted by hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur gas. The whole Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 May 21 - The Red Rectangle Nebula from Hubble
Explanation: How was the unusual Red Rectangle nebula created? At the nebula's center is an aging binary star system that surely powers the nebula but does not, as yet, explain its colors. The unusual shape of the Red Rectangle is likely due to a thick dust torus which pinches the otherwise spherical outflow into tip-touching cone shapes. Because we view the torus edge-on, the boundary edges of the cone shapes seem to form an X. The distinct rungs suggest the outflow occurs in fits and starts. The unusual colors of the nebula are less well understood, however, and speculation holds that they are partly provided by hydrocarbon molecules that may actually be building blocks for organic life. The Red Rectangle nebula lies about 2,300 light years away towards the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros). The nebula is shown above in great detail as recently reprocessed image from Hubble Space Telescope. In a few million years, as one of the central stars becomes further depleted of nuclear fuel, the Red Rectangle nebula will likely bloom into a planetary nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 March 20 - M42: Inside the Orion Nebula
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, an immense, nearby starbirth region, is probably the most famous of all astronomical nebulas. Here, glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. In the above deep image in assigned colors highlighted by emission in oxygen and hydrogen, wisps and sheets of dust and gas are particularly evident. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye near the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain much hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 February 13 - Infrared Orion from WISE
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion is a intriguing place. Visible to the unaided eye, it appears as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion. But this image, an illusory-color composite of four colors of infrared light taken with the Earth orbiting WISE observatory, shows the Orion Nebula to be a bustling neighborhood or recently formed stars, hot gas, and dark dust. The power behind much of the Orion Nebula (M42) is the stars of the Trapezium star cluster, seen near the center of the above wide field image. The eerie green glow surrounding the bright stars pictured here is their own starlight reflected by intricate dust filaments that cover much of the region. The current Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 February 3 - LL Ori and the Orion Nebula
Explanation: This esthetic close-up of cosmic clouds and stellar winds features LL Orionis, interacting with the Orion Nebula flow. Adrift in Orion's stellar nursery and still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged Sun. As the fast stellar wind runs into slow moving gas a shock front is formed, analogous to the bow wave of a boat moving through water or a plane traveling at supersonic speed. The small, arcing, graceful structure just above and left of center is LL Ori's cosmic bow shock, measuring about half a light-year across. The slower gas is flowing away from the Orion Nebula's hot central star cluster, the Trapezium, located off the upper left corner of the picture. In three dimensions, LL Ori's wrap-around shock front is shaped like a bowl that appears brightest when viewed along the "bottom" edge. The beautiful picture is part of a large mosaic view of the complex stellar nursery in Orion, filled with a myriad of fluid shapes associated with star formation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 December 19 - NGC 5189: An Unusually Complex Planetary Nebula
Explanation: Why is this nebula so complex? When a star like our Sun is dying, it will cast off its outer layers, usually into a simple overall shape. Sometimes this shape is a sphere, sometimes a double lobe, and sometimes a ring or a helix. In the case of planetary nebula NGC 5189, however, no such simple structure has emerged. To help find out why, the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope recently observed NGC 5189 in great detail. Previous findings indicated the existence of multiple epochs of material outflow, including a recent one that created a bright but distorted torus running horizontally across image center. Results appear consistent with a hypothesis that the dying star is part of a binary star system with a precessing symmetry axis. Given this new data, though, research is sure to continue. NGC 5189 spans about three light years and lies about 3,000 light years away toward the southern constellation of the Fly (Musca).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 October 6 - At the Heart of Orion
Explanation: Near the center of this sharp cosmic portrait, at the heart of the Orion Nebula, are four hot, massive stars known as the Trapezium. Gathered within a region about 1.5 light-years in radius, they dominate the core of the dense Orion Nebula Star Cluster. Ultraviolet ionizing radiation from the Trapezium stars, mostly from the brightest star Theta-1 Orionis C powers the complex star forming region's entire visible glow. About three million years old, the Orion Nebula Cluster was even more compact in its younger years and a recent dynamical study indicates that runaway stellar collisions at an earlier age may have formed a black hole with more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. The presence of a black hole within the cluster could explain the observed high velocities of the Trapezium stars. The Orion Nebula's distance of some 1500 light-years would make it the closest known black hole to planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 September 9 - Wisps Surrounding the Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The famous Horsehead Nebula in Orion is not alone. A deep exposure shows that the dark familiar shaped indentation, visible just below center, is part of a vast complex of absorbing dust and glowing gas. To bring out details of the Horsehead's pasture, amateur astronomers at the Star Shadow Remote Observatory in New Mexico, USA fixed a small telescope on the region for over seven hours filtering out all but a very specific color of red light emitted by hydrogen. They then added the image to a full color frame taken over three hours. The resulting spectacular picture details an intricate tapestry of gaseous wisps and dust-laden filaments that were created and sculpted over eons by stellar winds and ancient supernovas. The Horsehead Nebula lies 1,500 light years distant towards the constellation of Orion. Two stars from the Orion's Belt can be found in the above image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 July 15 - Orion Nebula: The Hubble View
Explanation: Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula. Also known as M42, the nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away. The Orion Nebula offers one of the best opportunities to study how stars are born partly because it is the nearest large star-forming region, but also because the nebula's energetic stars have blown away obscuring gas and dust clouds that would otherwise block our view - providing an intimate look at a range of ongoing stages of starbirth and evolution. This detailed image of the Orion Nebula is the sharpest ever, constructed using data from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys and the European Southern Observatory's La Silla 2.2 meter telescope. The mosaic contains a billion pixels at full resolution and reveals about 3,000 stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 May 16 - Star Formation in the Tarantula Nebula
Explanation: The largest, most violent star forming region known in the whole Local Group of galaxies lies in our neighboring galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). Were the Tarantula Nebula at the distance of the Orion Nebula -- a local star forming region -- it would take up fully half the sky. Also called 30 Doradus, the red and pink gas indicates a massive emission nebula, although supernova remnants and dark nebula also exist there. The bright knot of stars left of center is called R136 and contains many of the most massive, hottest, and brightest stars known. The above image is one of the largest mosaics ever created by observations of the Hubble Space Telescope and has revealed unprecedented details of this enigmatic star forming region. The image is being released to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of Hubble's launch.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 April 23 - Evaporating Blobs of the Carina Nebula
Explanation: No, they are not alive -- but they are dying. The unusual blobs found in the Carina nebula, some of which are seen floating on the upper right, might best be described as evaporating. Energetic light and winds from nearby stars are breaking apart the dark dust grains that make the iconic forms opaque. Ironically the blobs, otherwise known as dark molecular clouds, frequently create in their midst the very stars that later destroy them. The floating space mountains pictured above by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope span a few light months. The Great Nebula in Carina itself spans about 30 light years, lies about 7,500 light years away, and can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of Keel (Carina).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 February 12 - Orion in Gas, Dust, and Stars
Explanation: The constellation of Orion holds much more than three stars in a row. A deep exposure shows everything from dark nebula to star clusters, all embedded in an extended patch of gaseous wisps in the greater Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The brightest three stars on the far left are indeed the famous three stars that make up the belt of Orion. Just below Alnitak, the lowest of the three belt stars, is the Flame Nebula, glowing with excited hydrogen gas and immersed in filaments of dark brown dust. Below the frame center and just to the right of Alnitak lies the Horsehead Nebula, a dark indentation of dense dust that has perhaps the most recognized nebular shapes on the sky. On the upper right lies M42, the Orion Nebula, an energetic caldron of tumultuous gas, visible to the unaided eye, that is giving birth to a new open cluster of stars. Immediately to the left of M42 is a prominent bluish reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man that houses many bright blue stars. The above image, a digitally stitched composite taken over several nights, covers an area with objects that are roughly 1,500 light years away and spans about 75 light years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 February 6 - Dust of the Orion Nebula
Explanation: What surrounds a hotbed of star formation? In the case of the Orion Nebula -- dust. The entire Orion field, located about 1600 light years away, is inundated with intricate and picturesque filaments of dust. Opaque to visible light, dust is created in the outer atmosphere of massive cool stars and expelled by a strong outer wind of particles. The Trapezium and other forming star clusters are embedded in the nebula. The intricate filaments of dust surrounding M42 and M43 appear brown in the above image, while central glowing gas is highlighted in red. Over the next few million years much of Orion's dust will be slowly destroyed by the very stars now being formed, or dispersed into the Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 October 24 - HH 222: The Waterfall Nebula
Explanation: What created the Waterfall Nebula? No one knows. The structure seen in the region of NGC 1999 in the Great Orion Molecular Cloud complex is one of the more mysterious structures yet found on the sky. Designated HH-222, the elongated gaseous stream stretches about ten light years and emits an unusual array of colors. One hypothesis is that the gas filament results from the wind from a young star impacting a nearby molecular cloud. That would not explain, however, why the Waterfall and fainter streams all appear to converge on a bright but unusual non thermal radio source located toward the upper left of the curving structure. Another hypothesis is that the unusual radio source originates from a binary system containing a hot white dwarf, neutron star, or black hole, and that the Waterfall is just a jet from this energetic system. Such systems, though, are typically strong X-rays emitters, and no X-rays have been detected. For now, this case remains unsolved. Perhaps well-chosen future observations and clever deductive reasoning will unlock the true origin of this enigmatic wisp in the future.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 September 17 - Spitzer's Orion
Explanation: Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This stunning false-color view spans about 40 light-years across the region, constructed using infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Compared to its visual wavelength appearance, the brightest portion of the nebula is likewise centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But the infrared image also detects the nebula's many protostars, still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. In fact, red spots along the dark dusty filament to the left of the bright cluster include the protostar cataloged as HOPS 68, recently found to have crystals of the silicate mineral olivine within its protostellar envelope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 September 13 - Great Orion Nebulae
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, also known as M42, is one of the most famous nebulas in the sky. The star forming region's glowing gas clouds and hot young stars are on the right in this sharp and colorful image that includes the smaller nebula M43 near center and dusty, bluish reflection nebulae NGC 1977 and friends on the left. Located at the edge of an otherwise invisible giant molecular cloud complex, these eye-catching nebulae represent only a small fraction of this galactic neighborhood's wealth of interstellar material. Within the well-studied stellar nursery, astronomers have also identified what appear to be numerous infant planetary systems. The gorgeous skyscape spans nearly two degrees or about 45 light-years at the Orion Nebula's estimated distance of 1,500 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 June 9 - The Great Carina Nebula
Explanation: A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, also known as NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our galaxy's largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Great Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This gorgeous telescopic portrait reveals remarkable details of the region's glowing filaments of interstellar gas and obscuring cosmic dust clouds. Wider than the Full Moon in angular size, the field of view stretches nearly 100 light-years across the nebula. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the still enigmatic variable Eta Carinae, a star with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. Eta Carinae is the brightest star at the left, near the dusty Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324). While Eta Carinae itself maybe on the verge of a supernova explosion, X-ray images indicate that the Great Carina Nebula has been a veritable supernova factory.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 February 24 - NGC 1999: South of Orion
Explanation: South of the large star-forming region known as the Orion Nebula, lies bright blue reflection nebula NGC 1999. Also at the edge of the Orion molecular cloud complex some 1,500 light-years distant, NGC 1999's illumination is provided by the embedded variable star V380 Orionis. The nebula is marked with a dark sideways T-shape near center in this broad cosmic vista that spans over 10 light-years. The dark shape was once assumed to be an obscuring dust cloud seen in silhouette against the bright reflection nebula. But recent infrared images indicate the shape is likely a hole blown through the nebula itself by energetic young stars. In fact, this region abounds with energetic young stars producing jets and outflows that create luminous shock waves. Cataloged as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects, named for astronomers George Herbig and Guillermo Haro, the shocks appear bright red in this view that includes HH1 and HH2 just below NGC 1999. The stellar jets and outflows push through the surrounding material at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 October 23 - Orion: Head to Toe
Explanation: Cradled in cosmic dust and glowing hydrogen, stellar nurseries in Orion the Hunter lie at the edge of a giant molecular cloud some 1,500 light-years away. Spanning nearly 25 degrees, this breath-taking vista stretches across the well-known constellation from head to toe (left to right). The Great Orion Nebula, the closest large star forming region, is right of center. To its left are the Horsehead Nebula, M78, and Orion's belt stars. Sliding your cursor over the picture will also find red giant Betelgeuse at the hunter's shoulder, bright blue Rigel at his foot, and the glowing Lambda Orionis (Meissa) nebula at the far left, near Orion's head. 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 this 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 and the arc of the giant Barnard's Loop.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 October 5 - Horsehead and Orion Nebulas
Explanation: The dark Horsehead Nebula and the glowing Orion Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, they appear in opposite corners of the above stunning mosaic. The familiar Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow at the lower left. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and is seen as the brightest star to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42), lies at the upper right. Immediately to its left is a prominent bluish reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man. Pervasive tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 September 19 - Dark Clouds of the Carina Nebula
Explanation: What dark forms lurk in the mists of the Carina Nebula? These ominous figures are actually molecular clouds, knots of molecular gas and dust so thick they have become opaque. In comparison, however, these clouds are typically much less dense than Earth's atmosphere. Pictured above is part of the most detailed image of the Carina Nebula ever taken, a part where dark molecular clouds are particularly prominent. The image has recently been retaken and then re-colored based on light emitted by oxygen. The entire Carina Nebula spans over 300 light years and lies about 7,500 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. NGC 3372, known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is home to massive stars and changing nebula. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically. Wide-field annotated and zoomable versions of the larger image composite are also available.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 March 2 - M78 and Reflecting Dust Clouds in Orion
Explanation: An eerie blue glow and ominous columns of dark dust highlight M78 and other bright reflection nebula in the constellation of Orion. The dark filamentary dust not only absorbs light, but also reflects the light of several bright blue stars that formed recently in the nebula. Of the two reflection nebulas pictured above, the more famous nebula is M78, in the image center, while NGC 2071 can be seen to its lower left. The same type of scattering that colors the daytime sky further enhances the blue color. M78 is about five light-years across and visible through a small telescope. M78 appears above only as it was 1600 years ago, however, because that is how long it takes light to go from there to here. M78 belongs to the larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex that contains the Great Nebula in Orion and the Horsehead Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 January 12 - The Flame Nebula in Infrared
Explanation: What lights up the Flame Nebula? Fifteen hundred light years away towards the constellation of Orion lies a nebula which, from its glow and dark dust lanes, appears, on the left, like a billowing fire. But fire, the rapid acquisition of oxygen, is not what makes this Flame glow. Rather the bright star Alnitak, the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion visible just above the nebula, shines energetic light into the Flame that knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. The above false-color picture of the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) was taken in infrared light, where a young star cluster becomes visible. The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a star-forming region that includes the famous Horsehead Nebula, visible above on the far right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 December 22 - Planetary Systems Now Forming in Orion
Explanation: How do planets form? To help find out, the Hubble Space Telescope was tasked to take a detailed look at one of the more interesting of all astronomical nebulae, the Great Nebula in Orion. The Orion nebula, visible with the unaided eye near the belt in the constellation of Orion, is an immense nearby starbirth region and probably the most famous of all astronomical nebulas. Insets to the above mosaic show numerous proplyds, many of which are stellar nurseries likely harboring planetary systems in formation. Some proplyds glow as close disks surrounding bright stars light up, while other proplyds contain disks further from their host star, contain cooler dust, and hence appear as dark silhouettes against brighter gas. Studying this dust, in particular, is giving insight for how planets are forming. Many proplyd images also show arcs that are shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. The Orion Nebula lies about 1,500 light years distant and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as our Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 October 2 - Comet and Orion
Explanation: These colorful panels both feature a familiar astronomical sight: the stellar nursery known as the Great Orion Nebula. They also offer an intriguing and unfamiliar detail of the nebula rich skyscape -- a passing comet. Recorded this weekend with a remotely operated telescope in New Mexico, the right hand image was taken on September 26 and the left on September 27. Comet 217P Linear sports an extended greenish tail and lies above the bluish Running Man reflection nebula near the top of both frames. Nearby and moving rapidly through the night sky, the comet's position clearly shifts against the cosmic nebulae and background stars from one night to the next. In fact, the comet was a mere 5 light-minutes away on September 27, compared to 1,500 light-years for the Orion Nebula. Much too faint to be seen with the unaided eye, Comet 217P Linear is a small periodic comet with an orbital period of about 8 years. At its most distant point from the Sun, the comet's orbit is calculated to reach beyond the orbit of Jupiter At its closest point to the Sun, the comet still lies just beyond the orbit of planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 September 29 - Orion in Gas, Dust, and Stars
Explanation: The constellation of Orion holds much more than three stars in a row. A deep exposure shows everything from dark nebula to star clusters, all imbedded in an extended patch of gaseous wisps in the greater Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The brightest three stars on the far left are indeed the famous three stars that make up the belt of Orion. Just below Alnitak, the lowest of the three belt stars, is the Flame Nebula, glowing with excited hydrogen gas and immersed in filaments of dark brown dust. Below the frame center and just to the right of Alnitak lies the Horsehead Nebula, a dark indentation of dense dust that has perhaps the most recognized nebular shapes on the sky. On the upper right lies M42, the Orion Nebula, an energetic caldron of tumultuous gas, visible to the unaided eye, that is giving birth to a new open cluster of stars. Immediately to the left of M42 is a prominent bluish reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man that houses many bright blue stars. The above image, a digitally stitched composite taken over several nights, covers an area with objects that are roughly 1,500 light years away and spans about 75 light years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 August 26 - Classic Orion Nebulae
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, also known as M42, is one of the most famous nebulae in the sky. The star forming region's glowing gas clouds and hot young stars are near the center of this colorful deep sky image that includes the smaller nebula M43 and dusty, bluish reflection nebulae NGC 1977 and friends on the left. Located at the edge of an otherwise invisible giant molecular cloud complex, these eye-catching nebulae represent only a small fraction of this galactic neighborhood's wealth of interstellar material. Captured with very modest equipment, the gorgeous skyscape was awarded Best in Show at the 2009 Starfest International Salon of Astrophotography. Judges commented that the detail and shading were exquisite in this version of a classic astronomical image. The field spans nearly 3 degrees or about 75 light-years at the Orion Nebula's estimated distance of 1,500 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 May 24 - Carina Nebula Panorama from Hubble
Explanation: In one of the brightest parts of Milky Way lies a nebula where some of the oddest things occur. NGC 3372, known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is home to massive stars and changing nebulas. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically. The Keyhole Nebula, visible left of center, houses several of the most massive stars known and has also changed its appearance. The entire Carina Nebula spans over 300 light years and lies about 7,500 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. Pictured above is the most detailed image of the Carina Nebula ever taken. The controlled color image is a composite of 48 high-resolution frames taken by the Hubble Space Telescope two years ago. Wide-field annotated and zoomable image versions are also available.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 April 11 - The Big Picture
Explanation: Intricate, glowing nebulae that shine in planet Earth's night sky are beautiful to look at in deep images made with telescopes and sensitive cameras. But they are faint and otherwise invisible to the naked-eye. That makes their relative location and extent on the sky difficult to appreciate. So, consider this impressive composite image of a wide region of the northern winter sky. With a total exposure time of 40 hours, the painstaking mosaic presents a nebula-rich expanse known as the Orion-Eridanus Superbubble above a house in suburban Boston, USA. Within the wide and deep view are nebulae more often seen in narrower views, including the Great Orion Nebula, the Rosette Nebula, the Seagull Nebula, the California Nebula, and Barnard's Loop. The familiar constellation of Orion itself is just above the foreground house. Brightest star Sirius is left of the roof, and the recognizable Pleiades star cluster is above the tree at the right. A version of the big picture that includes simple constellation guidelines is available here.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 March 31 - In the Heart of the Tarantula Nebula
Explanation: In the heart of monstrous Tarantula Nebula lies huge bubbles of energetic gas, long filaments of dark dust, and unusually massive stars. In the center of this heart, is a knot of stars so dense that it was once thought to be a single star. This star cluster, labeled as R136 or NGC 2070, is visible just above the center of the above image and home to a great number of hot young stars. The energetic light from these stars continually ionizes nebula gas, while their energetic particle wind blows bubbles and defines intricate filaments. The above representative-color picture of this great LMC nebula details its tumultuous center. The Tarantula Nebula, also known as the 30 Doradus nebula, is one of the largest star-formation regions known, and has been creating unusually strong episodes of star formation every few million years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 March 10 - Horsehead and Orion Nebulae
Explanation: Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, the glowing Orion Nebula and the dark Horsehead Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. They appear in opposite corners of this stunning mosaic taken with a digital camera attached to a small telescope. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42), lies at the upper right of the picture. Immediately to its left is a prominent bluish reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man. The Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow at the lower left. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and is seen as the brightest star to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. Pervasive tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region in this deep field image of the same region.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 February 22 - Orion Nebula: The Hubble View
Explanation: Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula. Also known as M42, the nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away. The Orion Nebula offers one of the best opportunities to study how stars are born partly because it is the nearest large star-forming region, but also because the nebula's energetic stars have blown away obscuring gas and dust clouds that would otherwise block our view - providing an intimate look at a range of ongoing stages of starbirth and evolution. This detailed image of the Orion Nebula is the sharpest ever, constructed using data from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys and the European Southern Observatory's La Silla 2.2 meter telescope. The mosaic contains a billion pixels at full resolution and reveals about 3,000 stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 February 16 - The Great Carina Nebula
Explanation: A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, aka NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our Galaxy's largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Great Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This stunning telescopic view from the 2.2-meter ESO/MPG telescope La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals remarkable details of the region's glowing filaments of interstellar gas and dark cosmic dust clouds. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the still enigmatic variable Eta Carinae, a star with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. Eta Carinae is the bright star left of the central dark notch in this field and near the dusty Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 February 11 - Orion s Belt Continued
Explanation: Yesterday's skyscape featured Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka, the stars of Orion's Belt. Today's also presents the easternmost belt star, Alnitak, at the bottom right of the field, surrounded by the well-known Horsehead and Flame nebulae. But this view sweeps farther to the east (left) and north (top) detailing subtler cosmic clouds of gas and dust scattered through the fertile, nebula rich region. The scene is anchored at the top left by the eerie blue glow and ominous dark dust lanes of reflection nebula M78. Like the Horsehead, the Flame, and the Orion Nebula itself, M78 is a readily visible part of the large Orion Molecular Cloud complex some 1,500 light-years distant.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 February 10 - Orion s Belt
Explanation: Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka, are the bright bluish stars from east to west (left to right) along the diagonal in this gorgeous cosmic vista. Otherwise known as the Belt of Orion, these three blue supergiant stars are hotter and much more massive than the Sun. They lie about 1,500 light-years away, born of Orion's well-studied interstellar clouds. In fact, clouds of gas and dust adrift in this region have intriguing and some surprisingly familiar shapes, including the dark Horsehead Nebula and Flame Nebula near Alnitak at the lower left. The famous Orion Nebula itself lies off the bottom of this star field that covers about 4.5x3.5 degrees on the sky. This image was taken last month with a digital camera attached to a small telescope in Switzerland, and better matches human color perception than a more detailed composite taken over 15 years ago.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 December 8 - The Dark Doodad Nebula
Explanation: What is that strange dark ribbon on the sky? When observing the great globular cluster NGC 4372, observers frequently take note of a strange dark streak nearly three degrees in length running near it. Unnamed, the streak, actually a long molecular cloud, has become known as the Dark Doodad Nebula. (Doodad is slang for a thingy or a whatchamacallit.) Pictured above in a rich and colorful star-field, the Dark Doodad Nebula can be found sweeping across the image center. The globular star cluster NGC 4372 is visible on the image left, while the bright star gamma Musca is seen to the cluster's right. The Dark Doodad Nebula can be found with strong binoculars toward the southern constellation of the Fly (Musca). The above image was compiled by consecutive 45 minutes exposures taken by a small telescope from the La Frontera region in Chile.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 November 26 - The Horsehead Nebula in Orion
Explanation: One of the most identifiable nebulae in the sky, the Horsehead Nebula in Orion, is part of a large, dark, molecular cloud. Also known as Barnard 33, the unusual shape was first discovered on a photographic plate in the late 1800s. The red glow originates from hydrogen gas predominantly behind the nebula, ionized by the nearby bright star Sigma Orionis. A blue reflection nebula dubbed NGC 2023 surrounds the bright star at the lower left. The darkness of the Horsehead is caused mostly by thick dust, although the lower part of the Horsehead's neck casts a shadow to the left. Streams of gas leaving the nebula are funneled by a strong magnetic field. Bright spots in the Horsehead Nebula's base are young stars just in the process of forming. Light takes about 1500 years to reach us from the Horsehead Nebula. The above image was taken earlier this month with a 0.6-meter telescope at the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter in Arizona, USA.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 October 23 - Great Orion Nebulae
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, also known as M42, is one of the most famous nebulae in the sky. The star forming region's glowing gas clouds and hot young stars are on the right in this sharp and colorful two frame mosaic that includes the smaller nebula M43 near center and dusty, bluish reflection nebulae NGC 1977 and friends on the left. Located at the edge of an otherwise invisible giant molecular cloud complex, these eye-catching nebulae represent only a small fraction of this galactic neighborhood's wealth of interstellar material. Within the well-studied stellar nursery, astronomers have also identified what appear to be numerous infant solar systems. The gorgeous skyscape spans nearly two degrees or about 45 light-years at the Orion Nebula's estimated distance of 1,500 light-years.

Editor's Note: A version of the image with labels generated by Astrometry.net is available here.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 October 15 - Camera Orion
Explanation: Orion, the Hunter, is one of the most easily recognizable constellations in planet Earth's night sky. But Orion's stars and nebulas don't look quite as colorful to the eye as they do in this lovely camera image, taken early last month at the Black Forest Star Party from Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania, USA. In this single exposure, cool red giant Betelgeuse takes on a yellowish tint as the brightest star at the far left. Otherwise Orion's hot blue stars are numerous, with supergiant Rigel balancing Betelgeuse at the upper right, Bellatrix at the upper left, and Saiph at the lower right. Lined up in Orion's belt (bottom to top) are Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka all about 1,500 light-years away, born of the constellation's well studied interstellar clouds. And if the middle "star" of Orion's sword looks reddish and fuzzy to you, it should. It's the stellar nursery known as the Great Nebula of Orion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 May 28 - Dark Clouds of the Carina Nebula
Explanation: What dark forms lurk in the mists of the Carina Nebula? These ominous figures are actually molecular clouds, knots of molecular gas and dust so thick they have become opaque. In comparison, however, these clouds are typically much less dense than Earth's atmosphere. Pictured above is part of the most detailed image of the Carina Nebula ever taken, a part where dark molecular clouds are particularly prominent. The entire Carina Nebula spans over 300 light years and lies about 7,500 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. NGC 3372, known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is home to massive stars and changing nebula. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically. Wide-field annotated and zoomable versions of the larger image composite are also available.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 April 8 - Southern Orion: From Belt to Witch
Explanation: Do you recognize the belt of Orion in this image? The familiar trio of stars, visible to the unaided eye, can be found across the upper left. Otherwise, the southern part of the constellation Orion has taken on a new look in this unusually deep and wide view First note that the lower left belt star, Alnitak, is the easternmost star in Orion's belt. Left of Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. Directly below Alnitak, a close inspection will reveal the Horsehead Nebula. Farther right and below is the Orion Nebula, M42, itself visible to the unaided eye. The brightest star in the frame, near the bottom right, is Rigel. A bright blue star, Rigel illuminates the ominously shaped dust patch known as the Witch Head Nebula, visible as the blue reflection nebula near the lower right corner. Finally, appearing as a vast red ring and encompassing the entire region, is Barnard's Loop. Humans could see this entire menagerie, unaided, were their eyes about 10,000 times more sensitive.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 April 6 - Wisps Surrounding the Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The famous Horsehead Nebula in Orion is not alone. A deep exposure shows that the dark familiar shaped indentation, visible just below center, is part of a vast complex of absorbing dust and glowing gas. To bring out details of the Horsehead's pasture, amateur astronomers at the Star Shadow Remote Observatory in New Mexico, USA fixed a small telescope on the region for over seven hours filtering out all but a very specific color of red light emitted by hydrogen. They then added the image to a full color frame taken over three hours. The resulting spectacular picture details an intricate tapestry of gaseous wisps and dust-laden filaments that were created and sculpted over eons by stellar winds and ancient supernovas. The Horsehead Nebula lies 1,500 light years distant towards the constellation of Orion. Two stars from the Orion's Belt can be found in the above image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 April 3 - South of Orion
Explanation: This tantalizing array of nebulae and stars can be found about 2 degrees south of the famous star-forming Orion Nebula. The region abounds with energetic young stars producing jets and outflows that push through the surrounding material at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second. The interaction creates luminous shock waves known as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects. For example, the graceful, flowing arc just right of center is cataloged as HH 222, also called the Waterfall Nebula. Seen below the Waterfall, HH 401 has a distinctive cone shape. The bright bluish nebula below and left of center is NGC 1999, a dusty cloud reflecting light from an embedded variable star. The entire cosmic vista spans over 30 light-years, near the edge of the Orion molecular cloud complex some 1,500 light-years distant.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 March 18 - M78 and Reflecting Dust Clouds in Orion
Explanation: An eerie blue glow and ominous columns of dark dust highlight M78 and other bright reflection nebula in the constellation of Orion. The dark filamentary dust not only absorbs light, but also reflects the light of several bright blue stars that formed recently in the nebula. Of the two reflection nebulas pictured above, the more famous nebula is M78, on the upper right, while NGC 2071 can be seen to its lower left. The same type of scattering that colors the daytime sky further enhances the blue color. M78 is about five light-years across and visible through a small telescope. M78 appears above only as it was 1600 years ago, however, because that is how long it takes light to go from there to here. M78 belongs to the larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex that contains the Great Nebula in Orion and the Horsehead Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 February 21 - Orion's Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is visible as the dark indentation to the red emission nebula seen just below and left of center in the this photograph. The brightest star on the left is located in the belt of the familiar constellation Orion. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud that lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth's atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will alter its appearance. The emission nebula's red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. Also visible in the picture are blue reflection nebulae that preferentially reflect the blue light from nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 October 27 - The Great Carina Nebula
Explanation: A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, aka NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our galaxy's largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the naked eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This stunning telescopic view reveals remarkable details of the region's glowing filaments of interstellar gas and dark cosmic dust clouds. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the still enigmatic variable Eta Carinae, a star with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. Eta Carinae is the bright star left of the central dark notch in this field and just below the dusty Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 October 6 - X-Ray Stars of Orion
Explanation: The stars of Orion shine brightly in visible light in planet Earth's night sky. The constellation harbors the closest large stellar nursery, the Great Nebula of Orion, a mere 1,500 light-years away. In fact, the apparently bright clump of stars near the center of this false color Chandra x-ray telescope picture are the massive stars of the Trapezium - the young star cluster which powers much of the nebula's visible-light glow. The stars shown in blue and orange are young sun-like stars; prodigious sources of x-rays thought to be produced in hot stellar coronae and surface flares in a young star's strong magnetic field. Our middle-aged Sun itself was probably thousands of times brighter in x-rays when, like the Trapezium stars, it was only a few million years old. The x-ray image spans about 2.5 light-years across the central region of the Orion Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 May 11 - LDN 1622: Dark Nebula in Orion
Explanation: The silhouette of an intriguing dark nebula inhabits this cosmic scene, based on images from the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey. Lynds' Dark Nebula (LDN) 1622 appears against a faint background of glowing hydrogen gas only easily seen in long telescopic exposures of the region. LDN 1622 lies near the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, close on the sky to Barnard's Loop - a large cloud surrounding the rich complex of emission nebulae found in the Belt and Sword of Orion. But the obscuring dust of LDN 1622 is thought to be much closer than Orion's more famous nebulae, perhaps only 500 light-years away. At that distance, this 1 degree wide field of view would span less than 10 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 April 25 - Carina Nebula Panorama from Hubble
Explanation: In one of the brightest parts of Milky Way lies a nebula where some of the oddest things occur. NGC 3372, known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is home to massive stars and changing nebula. Eta Carinae, the most energetic star in the nebula, was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically. The Keyhole Nebula, visible left the center, houses several of the most massive stars known and has also changed its appearance. The entire Carina Nebula spans over 300 light years and lies about 7,500 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. Pictured above is the most detailed image of the Carina Nebula ever taken. The controlled color image is a composite of 48 high-resolution frames taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released to honor its 17th anniversary. Wide-field annotated and zoomable image versions are also available.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 March 26 - Bullet Pillars in Orion
Explanation: Why are bullets of gas shooting out of the Orion Nebula? Nobody is yet sure. First discovered in 1983, each bullet is actually about the size of our Solar System, and moving at about 400 km/sec from a central source dubbed IRc2. The age of the bullets, which can be found from their speed and distance from IRc2, is very young -- typically less than 1,000 years. As the bullets rip through the interior of the Orion Nebula, a small percentage of iron gas causes the tip of each bullet to glow blue, while each bullet leaves a tubular pillar that glows by the light of heated hydrogen gas. Pictured above, the Orion bullets were captured in unprecedented detail by the adaptive optics technology of the Gemini North telescope. M42, the Orion Nebula, is the closest major star forming region to us and filled with changing dust, gas, and bright stars. The Orion Nebula, is located about 1,500 light years away and can be seen with the unaided eye toward the constellation of Orion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 January 25 - Orion's Cradle
Explanation: Cradled in glowing hydrogen, stellar nurseries in Orion lie at the edge of a giant molecular cloud some 1,500 light-years away. This breath-taking view spans about 13 degrees across the center of the well-known constellation with the Great Orion Nebula, the closest large star forming region, just right of center. The deep mosaic also includes (left of center), the Horsehead Nebula, the Flame Nebula, and Orion's belt stars. Image data acquired with a hydrogen alpha filter adds other remarkable features to this wide angle cosmic vista -- pervasive tendrils of energized atomic hydrogen gas and portions of the surrounding Barnard's Loop. While the Orion Nebula and belt stars are easy to see with the unaided eye, emission from the extensive interstellar gas is faint and much harder to record, even in telescopic views of the nebula-rich complex.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 January 6 - The Orion Deep Field
Explanation: Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, the glowing Orion Nebula and the dark Horsehead Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. But even fainter filaments of glowing gas are easily traced throughout the region in this stunning composite image that includes exposures filtered to record emission from hydrogen atoms. The view reveals extensive nebulosities associated with the giant Orion Molecular Cloud complex, itself hundreds of light-years across. A magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42) lies at the upper right of the picture. Immediately to its left are a cluster of prominent bluish reflection nebulae sometimes called the Running Man. The Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow left of center. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and the brightest star to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. Completing the trio of Orion's belt stars, bluish Alnilam and Mintaka form a line with Alnitak, extending to the upper left.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 December 8 - NGC 2174: Emission Nebula in Orion
Explanation: A lesser known sight in the nebula-rich constellation Orion, NGC 2174 can be found with binoculars near the head of the celestial hunter. About 6,400 light-years distant, the glowing cosmic cloud surrounds loose clusters of young stars. Covering an area larger than the full Moon on the sky, this stunning narrow band image adopts a typical color mapping of the atomic emission from NGC 2174. The false-color mapping shows otherwise red hydrogen emission in green hues and emphasizes sulfur emission in red and oxygen in blue. Placing your cursor on the image will reveal an alternative image of the nebula made through broad band filters. The broad band image combines filters in a closer analogy to human vision, dominated by the red glow of hydrogen.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 November 20 - M42: Wisps of the Orion Nebula
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, an immense, nearby starbirth region, is probably the most famous of all astronomical nebulas. Here, glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. In the above deep image, faint wisps and sheets of dust and gas are particularly evident. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 October 15 - An Orion Deep Field
Explanation: Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, the glowing Orion Nebula and the dark Horsehead Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. They both appear in this stunning composite digital image assembled from over 20 hours of data that includes exposures filtered to record emission from hydrogen atoms. The view reveals extensive nebulosities associated with the giant Orion Molecular Cloud complex, itself hundreds of light-years across. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42), lies at the upper right of the picture. Immediately to its left are a cluster of of prominent bluish reflection nebulae sometimes called the Running Man. The Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow at the lower left. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and is seen as the brightest star to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. Fainter tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region in this Orion deep field.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 March 16 - Eta and Keyhole in the Carina Nebula
Explanation: South is toward the top in this colorful close-up view of the Great Carina Nebula (NGC 3372), famous star-forming region of the southern sky. Covering an area surrounding the dusty Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324) near picture center, the image spans about 40 light-years within the larger Carina Nebula at an estimated distance of 7,500 light-years. Like the more northerly Orion Nebula, the bright Carina Nebula is easily visible to the naked-eye. But the dramatic colors in this telescopic picture are mapped colors, based on three exposures through narrow filters each intended to record the light emitted by specific atoms in the gaseous nebula. Sulfur is shown in blue, hydrogen in green and oxygen in red hues. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the still enigmatic variable Eta Carinae, a star with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. Highlighted by diffraction spikes, Eta is just above and right (east) of the Keyhole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 February 21 - Wisps Surrounding the Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The famous Horsehead Nebula in Orion is not alone. A deep exposure shows that the dark familiar shaped indentation, visible just below center, is part of a vast complex of absorbing dust and glowing gas. To bring out details of the Horsehead's pasture, amateur astronomers at the Star Shadow Remote Observatory in New Mexico, USA fixed a small telescope on the region for over seven hours filtering out all but a very specific color of red light emitted by hydrogen. They then added the image to a full color frame taken over three hours. The resulting spectacular picture details an intricate tapestry of gaseous wisps and dust-laden filaments that were created and sculpted over eons by stellar winds and ancient supernovas. The Horsehead Nebula lies 1,500 light years distant towards the constellation of Orion. Two stars from the Orion's Belt can be found in the above image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 January 30 - NGC 1999: South of Orion
Explanation: South of the large star-forming region known as the Orion Nebula, lies bright blue reflection nebula NGC 1999. The nebula is marked with a dark inverted T-shape at the lower left in a broad cosmic vista that spans over 10 light-years. The dark shape is a dense gas and dust cloud, or Bok globule, seen in silhouette against the bright nebula, and likely a site of future star formation. At the edge of the Orion molecular cloud complex some 1,500 light-years distant, NGC 1999's illumination is provided by the embedded variable star V380 Orionis. The region abounds with energetic young stars producing jets and outflows that create luminous shock waves, including HH (Herbig-Haro) 1 and 2 just below and left of NGC 1999, and the apparent cascade of reddish arcs and bow shocks beginning at the upper right. The stellar jets and outflows push through the surrounding material at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 January 20 - LL Ori and the Orion Nebula
Explanation: This esthetic close-up of cosmic clouds and stellar winds features LL Orionis, interacting with the Orion Nebula flow. Adrift in Orion's stellar nursery and still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged Sun. As the fast stellar wind runs into slow moving gas a shock front is formed, analogous to the bow wave of a boat moving through water or a plane traveling at supersonic speed. The small, arcing, graceful structure just above and left of center is LL Ori's cosmic bow shock, measuring about half a light-year across. The slower gas is flowing away from the Orion Nebula's hot central star cluster, the Trapezium, located off the upper left corner of the picture. In three dimensions, LL Ori's wrap-around shock front is shaped like a bowl that appears brightest when viewed along the "bottom" edge. The beautiful picture is part of a large mosaic view of the complex stellar nursery in Orion, filled with a myriad of fluid shapes associated with star formation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 January 19 - Orion Nebula, The Hubble View
Explanation: Few cosmic vistas excite the imagination like the Orion Nebula. Also known as M42, the nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away. The Orion Nebula offers one of the best opportunities to study how stars are born partly because it is the nearest large star-forming region, but also because the nebula's energetic stars have blown away obscuring gas and dust clouds that would otherwise block our view - providing an intimate look at a range of ongoing stages of starbirth and evolution. This detailed image of the Orion Nebula is the sharpest ever, constructed using data from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys and the European Southern Observatory's La Silla 2.2 meter telescope. The mosaic contains a billion pixels at full resolution and reveals about 3,000 stars. In apparent size, the picture is as large as the Full Moon. At the distance of M42 it spans thirteen light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 September 18 - M42: Wisps of the Orion Nebula
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, an immense, nearby starbirth region, is probably the most famous of all astronomical nebulas. Here, glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. In the above deep image, faint wisps and sheets of dust and gas are particularly evident. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 May 19 - X Ray Stars in the Orion Nebula
Explanation: When our middle-aged Sun was just a few million years old it was thousands of times brighter in x-rays. In fact, it was likely similar to some of the stars found in this false-color x-ray composite of the Orion Nebula region from the Chandra Observatory. The image is centered on bright stars of the nebula's Trapezium star cluster, and while analyzing the Chandra data astronomers have now found examples of young, sun-like stars producing intense x-ray flares. It sounds dangerous, but the situation may actually favor the formation of hospitable planetary systems like our own. Energetic flares can produce turbulence in the planet-forming disks surrounding the stars - preventing rocky earth-like planets from spiraling uncomfortably close to and even falling into their active, young parent stars. About 1,500 light-years away, the Orion Nebula is the closest large stellar nursery. At that distance, this Chandra image spans about 10 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 April 20 - Barnard's Loop Around Orion
Explanation: Why is the belt of Orion surrounded by a bubble? Although glowing like an emission nebula, the origin of the bubble, known as Barnard's Loop, is currently unknown. Progenitor hypotheses include the winds from bright Orion stars and the supernovas of stars long gone. Barnard's Loop is too faint to be identified with the unaided eye. The nebula was discovered only in 1895 by E. E. Barnard on long duration film exposures. Orion's belt is seen as the three bright stars across the center of the image, the upper two noticeably blue. Just to the right of the lowest star in Orion's belt is a slight indentation in an emission nebula that, when seen at higher magnification, resolves into the Horsehead Nebula. To the right of the belt stars is the bright, famous, and photogenic Orion Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 April 19 - Orion in Infrared
Explanation: Do you recognize the constellation Orion? This striking but unfamiliar looking picture of the familiar Orion region of the sky was produced using survey data from the now-defunct InfraRed Astronomical Satellite (IRAS). The above image combines information recorded at three different invisible infrared wavelengths and covers about 30x24 degrees on the sky. Most of Orion's visually impressive stars don't stand out, but bright Betelgeuse does appear as a small bright purplish dot on the lower left. The bright region on the right contains the Great Nebula in Orion, while the bright region just above the image bottom is the Rosette Nebula. Surrounding these regions are a jumble of chaotic glowing gas and dark dust jettisoned by stars forming and exploding over millions of years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 March 21 - Orion's Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is visible as the dark indentation to the red emission nebula seen above and to the right of center in the above photograph. The bright star on the left is located in the belt of the familiar constellation of Orion. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud which lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth's atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will alter its appearance. The emission nebula's red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. Also visible in the picture are blue reflection nebulae, which preferentially reflect the blue light from nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 September 27 - The Great Nebula in Orion
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion is a colorful place. Visible to the unaided eye, it appears as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion. Long exposure, digitally sharpened images like this, however, show the Orion Nebula to be a busy neighborhood of young stars, hot gas, and dark dust. The power behind much of the Orion Nebula (M42) is the Trapezium - four of the brightest stars in the nebula. Many of the filamentary structures visible are actually shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. The Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located about 1500 light years away in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 July 13 - Orion Nebula in Oxygen, Hydrogen, and Sulfur
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, an immense, nearby starbirth region, is arguably the most famous of all astronomical nebulae. The Orion Nebula, also known as M42, is shown above through ultraviolet and blue filters augmented with three exact colors specifically emitted by hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain glowing gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Many of the filamentary structures visible in this image are actually shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. The Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located about 1500 light years away in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 May 17 - NGC 3372: The Great Nebula in Carina
Explanation: In one of the brightest parts of the Milky Way lies a nebula where some of the oddest things occur. NGC 3372, known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is home to massive stars and changing nebula. Eta Carina, the most energetic star in the nebula was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically. The Keyhole Nebula, visible near the center, houses several of the most massive stars known and has also changed its appearance. The Carina Nebula spans over 300 light years and lies about 7000 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. The above image was taken from La Frontera in Alcohuaz, Chile. Eta Carina might explode in a dramatic supernova within the next thousand years, and has even flared in brightness over just the past decade.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 March 15 - The Orion Nebula from CFHT
Explanation: Few astronomical sights excite the imagination like the nearby stellar nursery known as the Orion Nebula. The Nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. The above image from the 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope atop a dormant volcano in Hawaii brings out Orion's detail in spectacular fashion. Buried in the complex nebulosity are the bright stars of the Trapezium in Orion's heart, the sweeping lanes of dark dust that cross the center, the pervasive red glowing hydrogen gas, and the blue tinted dust that reflects the light of newborn stars. The whole Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 February 19 - McNeil's Nebula
Explanation: It was a clear, cold western Kentucky night on January 23rd as seasoned amateur astronomer Jay McNeil tried out his recently acquired 3-inch refracting telescope by imaging the area around a familiar object, the M78 reflection nebula in Orion. Days later while processing the images, he noted a substantial but totally unfamiliar nebulosity in the region! With a little help from his friends, his amazing discovery is now recognized as a newly visible reflection nebula surrounding a newborn star -- McNeil's Nebula. Pictured here at the center of this close-up, McNeil's Nebula with its illuminating young star at the tip, do not appear in images of the area before September 2003. The emergence of McNeil's Nebula is a rare event to witness and astronomers are eagerly following its development, but Orion will soon lie too close to the Sun in the sky, interrupting further observations for several months. The Orion nebula complex itself is around 1,500 light-years away. At that distance, the above image spans less than 10 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 February 2 - The Tarantula Nebula from Spitzer
Explanation: In the heart of monstrous Tarantula Nebula lies one of the most unusual star clusters. Known as NGC 2070 or R136, it is home to a great number of hot young stars. The energetic light from these stars continually ionizes nebula gas, while their energetic particle wind blows bubbles and defines intricate filaments. The new Spitzer Space Telescope took the above representative-color infrared image of this great LMC cluster. The image details the cluster's tumultuous center in gas, dust and young stars. The 30 Doradus nebula is one of the largest star-formation regions known, and has been creating unusually strong episodes of star formation every few million years. In the heart of this heart is a central knot of stars that is so dense it was once thought to be a single star.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 January 15 - An Orion Deep Field
Explanation: Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, the glowing Orion Nebula and the dark Horsehead Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. They both appear in this stunning composite digital image assembled from over 20 hours of data that includes exposures filtered to record emission from hydrogen atoms. The view reveals extensive nebulosities associated with the giant Orion Molecular Cloud complex, itself hundreds of light-years across. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42), lies at the upper right of the picture. Immediately to its left are a cluster of of prominent bluish reflection nebulae sometimes called the Running Man. The Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow at the lower left. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and is seen as the brightest star to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. Fainter tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region in this Orion deep field.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 November 15 - LL Orionis: When Cosmic Winds Collide
Explanation: This arcing, graceful structure is actually a bow shock about half a light-year across, created as the wind from young star LL Orionis collides with the Orion Nebula flow. Adrift in Orion's stellar nursery and still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged sun. As the fast stellar wind runs into slow moving gas a shock front is formed, analogous to the bow wave of a boat moving through water or a plane traveling at supersonic speed. The slower gas is flowing away from the Orion Nebula's hot central star cluster, the Trapezium, located off the lower right hand edge of the picture. In three dimensions, LL Ori's wrap-around shock front is shaped like a bowl that appears brightest when viewed along the "bottom" edge. The complex stellar nursery in Orion shows a myriad of similar fluid shapes associated with star formation, including the bow shock surrounding a faint star at the upper right. Part of a mosaic covering the Great Nebula in Orion, this composite color image was recorded in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 February 25 - M42: Wisps of the Orion Nebula
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, an immense, nearby starbirth region, is probably the most famous of all astronomical nebulas. Here, glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. In the above deep image, faint wisps and sheets of dust and gas are particularly evident. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula spans about 40 light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 February 7 - Orion on Film
Explanation: Orion, the Hunter, is one of the most easily recognizable constellations in planet Earth's night sky. But Orion's stars and nebulae don't look quite as colorful to the eye as they do in this lovely photograph, taken last month from Vekol Ranch south of Phoenix, Arizona, USA. The celestial scene was recorded in a five minute time exposure using high-speed color print film and a 35mm camera mounted on a small telescope. In the picture, cool red giant Betelgeuse takes on a yellowish tint as the brightest star at the upper left. Otherwise Orion's hot blue stars are numerous, with supergiant Rigel balancing Betelgeuse at the lower right, Bellatrix at the upper right, and Saiph at the lower left. Lined up in Orion's belt (left to right) are Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka all about 1,500 light-years away, born of the constellation's well studied interstellar clouds. And if the middle "star" of Orion's sword looks reddish and fuzzy to you, it should. It's the stellar nursery known as the Great Nebula of Orion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 January 29 - Orion's Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is visible as the dark indentation to the red emission nebula seen above and to the right of center in the above photograph. The bright star on the left is located in the belt of the familiar constellation of Orion. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud which lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth's atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will alter its appearance. The emission nebula's red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. Also visible in the picture are blue reflection nebulae, which preferentially reflect the blue light from nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 December 20 - Colorful Clouds of Orion
Explanation: Revisiting one of the most famous nebulae in planet Earth's night sky, astrophotographer Robert Gendler has constructed this stunning, color-enhanced mosaic of the region surrounding the Great Nebula in Orion. As seen here, the clouds of Orion are dominated by the reddish emission nebula M42 near the bottom of the image, with blue reflection nebulae, including NGC 1977, near the top. Strewn with dust lanes and dark nebulae, the striking cosmic apparitions surrounding Orion's stellar nurseries are about 1,500 light-years away and are themselves several light-years across. Located at the edge of a giant molecular cloud complex spanning hundreds of light-years, these nebulae represent only a small, but very visible(!), fraction of this region's wealth of interstellar material. Within these colorful clouds of Orion, astronomers have also identified what appear to be numerous infant solar systems.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 May 30 - Orion Nebulosities
Explanation: Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, the glowing Orion Nebula and the dark Horsehead Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. They both appear in this stunning composite color photograph along with other nebulosities as part of the giant Orion Molecular Cloud complex, itself hundreds of light-years across. The magnificent Orion Nebula (aka M42) lies at the bottom of the image. This emission nebula's bright central regions were captured on fast film in a relatively short 30 second exposure. Above M42 are a cluster of prominent bluish reflection nebulae and fainter reddish emission nebulae recorded in additional exposures lasting up to 40 minutes. The Horsehead appears as a dark nebula, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow at the upper left. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and is seen as the brightest star above the Horsehead. Immediately to Alnitak's left is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. The telescopic exposures were made from a site in the Southern French Alps at an altitude of 2,800 meters (a little closer to the stars!) in September of 2001.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 April 20 - Orion Nebula: The 2MASS View
Explanation: Few astronomical sights excite the imagination like the nearby stellar nursery known as the Orion Nebula. The Nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away. This distinctively detailed image of the Orion Nebula was constructed using data from the 2 Micron All Sky Survey or 2MASS. Using telescopes in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of planet Earth, the 2MASS project has mapped the entire sky in infrared light. The wavelength of infrared light is longer than visible light but more easily penetrates obscuring dust clouds. 2MASS cameras were sensitve to near infrared wavelengths around 2 microns or about 0.00008 inches. Visible light has a wavelength of about 0.00002 inches. Survey observations in three infrared bands were translated to blue, green, and red colors to produce this composite image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 March 13 - LL Orionis: When Cosmic Winds Collide
Explanation: This arcing, graceful structure is actually a bow shock about half a light-year across, created as the wind from young star LL Orionis collides with the Orion Nebula flow. Adrift in Orion's stellar nursery and still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged sun. As the fast stellar wind runs into slow moving gas a shock front is formed, analogous to the bow wave of a boat moving through water or a plane traveling at supersonic speed. The slower gas is flowing away from the Orion Nebula's hot central star cluster, the Trapezium, located off the lower right hand edge of the picture. In three dimensions, LL Ori's wrap-around shock front is shaped like a bowl that appears brightest when viewed along the "bottom" edge. The complex stellar nursery in Orion shows a myriad of similar fluid shapes associated with star formation, including the bow shock surrounding a faint star at the upper right. Part of a mosaic covering the Great Nebula in Orion, this composite color image was recorded in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 February 13 - The Great Nebula in Orion
Explanation: Few astronomical sights excite the imagination like the nearby stellar nursery known as the Orion Nebula. The Nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. The above image has been contrast balanced to bring out Orion's detail in spectacular fashion. Visible simultaneously are the bright stars of the Trapezium in Orion's heart, the sweeping lanes of dark dust that cross the center, the pervasive red glowing hydrogen gas, and the blue tinted dust that reflects the light of newborn stars. The whole Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 February 11 - Reflection Nebula M78
Explanation: An eerie blue glow and ominous columns of dark dust highlight M78, one of the brightest reflection nebula on the sky. M78 is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of Orion. The dust not only absorbs light, but also reflects the light of several bright blue stars that formed recently in the nebula. The same type of scattering that colors the daytime sky further enhances the blue color. M78 is about five light-years across. M78 appears above only as it was 1600 years ago, however, because that is how long it takes light to go from there to here. M78 belongs to the larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex that contains the Great Nebula in Orion and the Horsehead Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 July 22 - NGC 1977: Blue Reflection Nebula in Orion
Explanation: The Orion Nebula is visible to the unaided eye as a fuzzy patch near the famous belt of three stars in the Orion. The above picture captures a part of the Orion Nebula that primarily reflects light from bright Orion stars. This reflection nebula appears blue because the blue light from the neighboring stars scatters more efficiently from nebula gas than does red light. The dark lanes are composed of mostly interstellar dust - fine needle-shaped carbon grains.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 January 30 - The Orion Nebula from VLT
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion is a colorful place. Visible to the unaided eye, it appears as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion. But this image, a representative-color composite of 81 near-infrared light images taken with VLT's ISAAC, shows the Orion Nebula to be a busy neighborhood of young stars, hot gas, and dark dust. The power behind much of the Orion Nebula (M42) is the Trapezium - four of the brightest stars in the nebula. The eerie blue glow surrounding the bright stars pictured here is their own starlight reflected by nearby dust. Dark brown dust filaments cover much of the region. The whole Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 November 22 - The Orion Nebula in Hydrogen
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion can be found just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. This fuzzy patch, visible to the unaided eye, contains one of the closest stellar nurseries, lying at a distance of about 1500 light years. The above picture highlights red light emitted by the nebula's hydrogen gas. Dark dust filaments punctuate regions of this glowing hydrogen gas and reflect light from the nebula's brightest stars. Recent observations of the Orion Nebula by the Hubble Space Telescope have located solar-system sized regions that are thought to be planet-forming circumstellar disks.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 August 27 - Orion's Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is visible as the black indentation to the red emission nebula seen just to the right of center of the above photograph. The bright star near the center is located in the belt of the familiar constellation of Orion. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud which lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth's atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will alter its appearance. The emission nebula's red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. Also visible in the picture are blue reflection nebulae, which preferentially reflect the blue light from nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 July 11 - The Crab Nebula in Blue and White
Explanation: The Crab Nebula is a complex shell of expanding gas. The Crab Nebula formed from a star that was seen to explode in a supernova about 1000 years ago. This two color composite image taken with the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope shows in great detail filamentary structure of the glowing hydrogen gas. Also known as M1, the center is home to a dense neutron star, a star as massive as our Sun but only the size of a city. The neutron star is a pulsar that spins thirty times a second and spits out energy that powers the nebula. The nebula is named from its likeness to a crab in an early drawing. The Crab Nebula still presents mysteries today as the total mass of the nebula and pulsar appears much less than the mass of the original pre-supernova star!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 April 24 - Reflection Nebula M78
Explanation: An eerie blue glow and ominous columns of dark dust highlight M78, a bright reflection nebula in the constellation of Orion. The dust not only absorbs light, but also reflects the light of several bright blue stars that formed recently in the nebula. The same type of scattering that colors the daytime sky further enhances the blue color. M78 is about five light-years across and visible through a small telescope. M78 appears above only as it was 1600 years ago, however, because that is how long it takes light to go from there to here. M78 belongs to the larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex that contains the Great Nebula in Orion and the Horsehead Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 March 2 - NGC 1999: Reflection Nebula In Orion
Explanation: A dusty bright nebula contrasts dramatically with a dusty dark nebula in this Hubble Space Telescope image recorded shortly after December's orbital servicing mission. The nebula, cataloged as NGC 1999, is a reflection nebula, which shines by reflecting light from a nearby star. Unlike emission nebulae, whose reddish glow comes from excited atoms of gas, reflection nebulae have a bluish cast as their interstellar dust grains preferentially reflect blue starlight. While perhaps the most famous reflection nebulae surround the bright young stars of the Pleiades star cluster, NGC 1999's stellar illumination is provided by the embedded variable star V380 Orionis, seen here just left of center. Extending right of center, the ominous dark nebula is actually a condensation of cold molecular gas and dust so thick and dense that it blocks light. From our perspective it lies in front of the bright nebula, silhouetted against the ghostly nebular glow. New stars will likely form within the dark cloud, called a Bok globule, as self-gravity continues to compress its dense gas and dust. Reflection nebula NGC 1999 lies about 1500 light-years away in the constellation Orion, just south of Orion's well known emission nebula, M42.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 February 4 - X-Ray Stars Of Orion
Explanation: The stars of Orion shine brightly in northern winter skies where the constellation harbors the closest large stellar nursery, the Great Nebula of Orion, a mere 1500 light-years away. In fact, the apparently bright clump of stars near the center of this Chandra X-ray telescope picture of a portion of the nebula are the massive stars of the Trapezium - the young star cluster which powers much of the nebula's visible-light glow. But the sheer number of other stars seen in this X-ray image, which spans about 10 light-years, has surprised and delighted astronomers and this picture was recently touted as the richest field of X-ray sources ever recorded in a single observation. The picture does dramatically illustrate that young stars are prodigious sources of X-rays, thought to be produced in hot stellar coronas and surface flares in a young star's strong magnetic field. Our middle-aged Sun itself was probably thousands of times brighter in X-rays when, like the Trapezium stars, it was only a few million years old. The dark lines through the image are instrumental artifacts.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 January 11 - The Rosette Nebula in Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Sulfur
Explanation: The Rosette Nebula is a large emission nebula located 3000 light-years away. The great abundance of hydrogen gas gives NGC 2237 its red color in most photographs. The wind from the open cluster of stars known as NGC 2244 has cleared a hole in the nebula's center. The above photograph, however, was taken in the light emitted by three elements of the gas ionized by the energetic central stars. Here green light originating from oxygen and blue light originating from sulfur supplements the red from hydrogen. Filaments of dark dust lace run through the nebula's gases. The origin of recently observed fast-moving molecular knots in the Rosette Nebula remains under investigation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 27, 1999 - In the Heart of the Tarantula Nebula
Explanation: In the heart of monstrous Tarantula Nebula lies one of the most unusual star clusters. Known as NGC 2070 or R136, it is home to a great number of hot young stars. The energetic light from these stars continually ionizes nebula gas, while their energetic particle wind blows bubbles and defines intricate filaments. The above representative-color picture of this great LMC cluster details its tumultuous center in gas, dust and young stars. The 30 Doradus nebula is one of the largest star-formation regions known, and has been creating unusually strong episodes of star formation every few million years. In the heart of this heart is a central knot of stars that is so dense it was once thought to be a single star.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 14, 1999 - The Colorful Orion Nebula
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion is a colorful place. Visible to the unaided eye as a fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion, this image taken with the Big Throughput Camera shows the Orion Nebula to be a busy neighborhood of young stars, hot gas, and dark dust. The power behind much of the Orion Nebula (M42) is the Trapezium - four of the brightest stars in the nebula. The eerie blue glow surrounding the bright stars pictured here is their own starlight reflected by nearby dust. Hot oxygen and hydrogen gases cause the extended green and pink glows, respectively. Dark brown dust filaments cover much of the region. The whole Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 19, 1999 - NGC 3372: The Great Nebula in Carina
Explanation: In one of the brightest parts of the Milky Way lies a nebula where some of the oddest things occur. NGC 3372, known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is home to massive stars and changing nebula. Eta Carina, the most energetic star in the nebula was one of the brightest stars in the sky in the 1830s, but then faded dramatically. The Keyhole Nebula, visible near the center, houses several of the most massive stars known and has also changed its appearance. The Carina Nebula is about 7000 light-years away in the constellation of Carina. The CTIO Curtis-Schmidt Telescope in Chile, South America took the above photograph. Eta Carina might explode in a dramatic supernova within the next thousand years, and has even flared in brightness over just the past two years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 13, 1999 - The Flame Nebula in Infrared
Explanation: What lights up the Flame Nebula? Fifteen hundred light years away towards the constellation of Orion lies a nebula which, from its glow and dark dust lanes, appears like a billowing fire. But fire, the rapid acquisition of oxygen, is not what makes this Flame glow. Rather the bright star Alnitak, the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion visible to the nebula's right, shines energetic light into the Flame that knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. The above false-color picture of the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) was taken in infrared light, where a young star cluster becomes visible. The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a star-forming region that includes the famous Horsehead Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 22, 1999 - M42: A Mosaic of Orion's Great Nebula
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, an immense, nearby starbirth region, is probably the most famous of all astronomical nebulae. Here, 15 pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope have been mosaicked to cover the inner 2.5 light years of the nebula and illustrate its diverse nature. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Most of the filamentary structures visible in this image are actually shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. Shocks are particularly apparent near the bright stars in the lower left of the picture. The Orion Nebula is about 1500 light years distant, located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 2, 1999 - The Kleinmann Low Nebula
Explanation: The most active part of the Orion Nebular Cloud Complex is an area known as the Kleinmann-Low Nebula. There, a cluster of young and forming stars is embedded in a molecular cloud filled with dust. In visible light, the dark dust blocks much of Orion KL's light, but in the infrared light of the above photograph, the area seems literally to explode. Hot stellar winds flowing off massive young stars in Orion KL region permeate and heat surrounding gas, causing finger-like intrusions. Near the center of Orion KL is IRc2, a particularly active star estimated to have over 30 times the mass of our Sun. Radio telescopes have recently detected unusual emission from water molecules - maser radiation from the Kleinmann-Low Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 2, 1999 - The Orion Nebula from Subaru
Explanation: The Orion Nebula (M42) shows a host of treasures when viewed in infrared light. Some stars in the Trapezium, an open cluster of stars at the center, are only visible in infrared light. The orange feature above center is called the Kleinman-Low Nebula, and appears greatly affected by newly forming central star IRc2. The blue emission in this representative color photograph is caused by hot gas ionized by the Trapezium stars. This is one of the first photographs ever taken through Japan's new Subaru Telescope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 15, 1999 - Reflections Of Orion
Explanation: The Orion Nebula and its surroundings present skygazers with a wondrous jumble of newborn stars, gas, and dust. Emission nebulae - glowing energized clouds of gas, and reflection nebulae - dust clouds shining by reflected starlight, abound at this photogenic cosmic location a mere 1,500 light-years or so away. This telescopic image reveals an intriguing nebulosity which seems to consist of dust clouds illuminated not by starlight but by the light of the Orion Nebula itself. In non-telescopic views, the bright group of stars near the top appear as the northernmost star in Orion's sword. They are seen here illuminating the nearby dust clouds. Yet the yellowish streamers of dust across the middle reflect the light of the Orion Nebula, which lies just off the bottom edge of the photo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 3, 1999 - Orion's Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is visible as the black indentation to the red emission nebula seen just to the right of center of the above photograph. The bright star near the center is located in the belt of the familiar constellation of Orion. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud which lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth's atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will alter its appearance. The emission nebula's red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. Also visible in the picture are blue reflection nebulae, which preferentially reflect the blue light from nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 12, 1998 - Orion Nebula: The 2MASS View
Explanation: Few astronomical sights excite the imagination like the nearby stellar nursery known as the Orion Nebula. The Nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away. This distinctively detailed image of the Orion Nebula was constructed using data from the 2 Micron All Sky Survey or 2MASS. Now underway with telescopes in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of planet Earth, the 2MASS project will map the entire sky in infrared light. The wavelength of infrared light is longer than visible light but more easily penetrates obscuring dust clouds. 2MASS cameras are sensitve to near infrared wavelengths around 2 microns or about 0.00008 inches. Visible light has a wavelength of about 0.00002 inches. Survey observations in three infrared bands were translated to blue, green, and red colors to produce this composite image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 21, 1998 - Water From Orion
Explanation: Is Orion all wet? Recent observations have confirmed that water molecules now exist in the famous Orion Nebula, and are still forming. The Orion Nebula (M42, shown above) is known to be composed mostly of hydrogen gas, with all other atoms and molecules being comparatively rare. The nebula is so vast, though, that even the measured minuscule production rate creates enough water to fill Earth's oceans 60 times over every day, speculate discoverers led by M. Harwit (Cornell). The water that composes comets, the oceans of Earth, and even humans may have been created in a cloud like the Orion Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 1, 1998 - NGC 1977: Blue Reflection Nebula in Orion
Explanation: The Orion Nebula is visible to the unaided eye as a fuzzy patch near the famous belt of three stars in the constellation Orion. The above picture captures a part of the Orion Nebula that primarily reflects light from bright Orion stars. This reflection nebula appears blue because the blue light from the neighboring stars scatters more efficiently from nebula gas than does red light. The dark lanes are composed of mostly interstellar dust - fine needle-shaped carbon grains.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 27, 1998 - The Great Nebula in Orion
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion can be found just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. This fuzzy patch contains one of the closest stellar nurseries, lying at a distance of about 1500 light years. In the above picture, the red region on the left consists of nebulae designated M42 and M43 and contains the bright Trapezium open cluster. The blue region on the right is a nebula primarily reflecting the light from internal bright stars. Recent observations of the Orion Nebula by the Hubble Space Telescope have located solar-system sized star-forming regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 1, 1997 - Orion: The Big Picture
Explanation: Orion is big. Some of the stars that form the constellation of Orion are part of a giant gas cloud complex that stretches over 100 light years and appears more than 50 times the diameter of the Moon. Components of this cloud include the Horsehead Nebula, the Orion Nebula, the Trapezium open cluster, and small disks containing stellar systems which are just forming. At 1500 light years, Orion is the closest star forming region to Earth. Close inspection of the photo's center should reveal the three stars which form the belt of Orion.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 25, 1997 - Orion's Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most famous nebulae on the sky. It is visible as the black indentation to the red emission nebula seen just to the right of center of the above photograph. The bright star near the center is located in the belt of the familiar constellation of Orion. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud which lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth's atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will alter its appearance. The emission nebula's red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. Also visible in the picture are blue reflection nebulae, which preferentially reflect the blue light from nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 11, 1997 - M42: A Mosaic of Orion's Great Nebula
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, an immense, nearby starbirth region, is probably the most famous of all astronomical nebulae. Here, 15 pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope have been mosaicked to cover the inner 2.5 light years of the nebula and illustrate its diverse nature. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Most of the filamentary structures visible in this image are actually shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. Shocks are particularly apparent near the bright stars in the lower left of the picture. The Orion Nebula is about 1500 light years distant, located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 7, 1996 - Planetary Systems Now Forming in Orion
Explanation: How do planets form? Astronomers are finding out by studying one of the most interesting of all astronomical nebulae known, the Great Nebula in Orion. Insets to above mosaic show several planetary systems in formation. The bottom left insert shows the relative size of our own Solar System. The Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Much of the filamentary structure visible in this image are actually shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. Some shock waves are visible near one of the bright stars in the lower left of the picture. The Orion Nebula is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as is our Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 2, 1996 - Orion's Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The Horsehead Nebula is arguably the most famous nebula on the sky. It is visible as the black indentation to the red emission nebula seen just to the right of center of the above photograph. The bright star near the center is located in the belt of the familiar constellation of Orion. The horse-head feature is dark because it is really an opaque dust cloud which lies in front of the bright red emission nebula. Like clouds in Earth's atmosphere, this cosmic cloud has assumed a recognizable shape by chance. After many thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will alter its appearance. The emission nebula's red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. Also visible in the picture are blue reflection nebulae, which preferentially reflect the blue light from nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 20, 1996 - NGC 1977: Blue Reflection Nebula in Orion
Explanation: The Orion Nebula is visible to the unaided eye as a fuzzy patch near the famous belt of three stars in the constellation Orion. The above picture captures a part of the Orion Nebula that primarily reflects light from bright Orion stars. This reflection nebula appears blue because the blue light from the neighboring stars scatters more efficiently from nebula gas than does red light. The dark lanes are composed of mostly interstellar dust - fine needle-shaped carbon grains.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 21, 1995 - M42: Orion Nebula Mosaic
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion is one of the most interesting of all astronomical nebulae known. Here fifteen pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope have been merged to show the great expanse and diverse nature of the nebula. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Much of the filamentary structure visible in this image are actually shock waves - fronts where fast moving material encounters slow moving gas. Some shock waves are visible near one of the bright stars in the lower left of the picture. The Orion Nebula is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as is our Sun. It takes light about 1500 years to reach us from there.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 25, 1995 - Orion's Horsehead Nebula
Explanation: The black indentation to the red emission nebula seen just to the right of center of the above photograph is one of the most famous features in any nebulae on the sky. Because of its shape, it is known as the Horsehead Nebula. The bright star near the center is located in the belt of the familiar constellation of Orion. The horse head feature is dark because it is really a dense dust cloud which lies in front of the bright nebula and blocks the light. Like clouds in our sky, this cosmic cloud has chanced to assume a recognizable shape. After thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will alter its appearance. The emission nebula's red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. Also visible in the picture are blue reflection nebulae. This type of nebula contains dust which preferentially reflects the blue light of nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 3, 1995 - The Great Nebula in Orion
Explanation: The Great Nebula in Orion, M42, can be found on the night sky just below and to the left of the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. This nebula is one of the closest stellar nurseries - where young stars are being formed even now. Clumps of gas (mostly hydrogen and helium) and dust in the nebula are squeezed together by their own gravity until they collapse and form stars. Some stars we can see here partially obscured by the nebula, are only about 100,000 years old - just babies compared to the 5 billion (5,000,000,000) years of our Sun.


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