GALLERY: Orion’s fiery sword

WISE image of the Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula – seen here at infrared wavelengths in a WISE space observatory image – is a dusty, turbulent region where stars are being born.

THE TANGLE OF CLOUDS and stars that lie in Orion’s sword is showcased in a new, expansive view from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, spacecraft.

The constellation Orion, named for a mythical hunter, is visible in evening skies throughout the world from about December through April. The constellation appears tranquil and still to the naked eye, but in the hunter’s ‘sword’, what at first appears to be a slightly fuzzy star is actually a turbulent cauldron of stellar birth – the Orion Nebula.

WISE captured this vast view of the nebula in infrared light, picking up the glow from interstellar dust heated by newborn stars. The colours green and red in this false-colour view, highlight the warmed dust, while the white regions are even hotter. The energy from massive stars has ‘burned’ through the dust, carving out cavities, the largest of which is seen at the centre of the picture.

Astronomers think that our Sun was probably born in a similar cloud some five billion years ago. Over time, the cloud would have dispersed and the stars would have drifted apart, leaving us more isolated in space. The crowded newborn stars in the Orion nebula are less than 10 million years old – billions of years from now, they will likely spread out.

Adapted from information issued by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA.

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