From ESA/NASA Herschel: “Orion’s Rainbow of Infrared Light – Young Stars Flicker Amidst Clouds of Gas and Dust”
This new view of the Orion nebula highlights fledgling stars hidden in the gas and clouds. It shows infrared observations taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Herschel mission, in which NASA plays an important role.
A star forms as a clump of this gas and dust collapses, creating a warm glob of material fed by an encircling disk. These dusty envelopes glow brightest at longer wavelengths, appearing as red dots in this image. In several hundred thousand years, some of the forming stars will accrete enough material to trigger nuclear fusion at their cores and then blaze into stardom.
The nebula is found below the three belt stars in the famous constellation of Orion the Hunter, which appears at night in northern latitudes during fall and then throughout winter. At a distance of around 1,500 light-years away from Earth, the nebula cannot quite be seen with the naked eye. Binoculars or a small telescope, however, are all it takes to get a good look in visible light at this stellar factory.
Spitzer is designed to see shorter infrared wavelengths than Herschel. By combining their observations, astronomers get a more complete picture of star formation. The colors in this image relate to the different wavelengths of light, and to the temperature of material, mostly dust, in this region of Orion. Data from Spitzer show warmer objects in blue, with progressively cooler dust appearing green and red in the Herschel datasets. The more evolved, hotter embryonic stars thus appear in blue.
The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.