From ESO APEX: “Sifting through Dust near Orion’s Belt”
2 May 2012
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“A new image of the region surrounding the reflection nebula Messier 78, just to the north of Orion’s Belt, shows clouds of cosmic dust threaded through the nebula like a string of pearls. The observations, made with the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope use the heat glow of interstellar dust grains to show astronomers where new stars are being formed.
APEX is a collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), the Onsala Space Observatory (OSO) and ESO. Operation of APEX at Chajnantor is entrusted to ESO. APEX is a pathfinder for the next-generation submillimetre telescope, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), which is being built and operated on the same plateau.
Dust may sound boring and uninteresting — the surface grime that hides the beauty of an object. But this new image of Messier 78 and surroundings, which reveals the submillimetre-wavelength radiation from dust grains in space, shows that dust can be dazzling. Dust is important to astronomers as dense clouds of gas and dust are the birthplaces of new stars.
In the centre of the image is Messier 78, also known as NGC 2068. When seen in visible light, this region is a reflection nebula, meaning that we see the pale blue glow of starlight reflected from clouds of dust. The APEX observations are overlaid on the visible-light image in orange. Sensitive to longer wavelengths, they reveal the gentle glow of dense cold clumps of dust, some of which are even colder than -250ºC. In visible light, this dust is dark and obscuring, which is why telescopes such as APEX are so important for studying the dusty clouds in which stars are born.”
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THE BASIC TOOLS OF THE E.S.O.
ALMA Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array
ESO, the European Southern Observatory, builds and operates a suite of the world’s most advanced ground-based astronomical telescopes.